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Episode #66: 'Are You Overlooking a Critical Tool for Solving the Most Pressing Challenges Your Utility Faces?' with Jaime Crawford of Critigen [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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  • Jan 26, 2022
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Mapping out the world of the utility with accurate and granular data has rapidly become one of the most essential functions for power providers to ensure they are providing reliable, affordable, and even clean energy to their customers every day. If you walked the halls of a utility industry conference just a decade ago, you may have been met with vague or uncertain answers when asking to chat about the geospatial programs at these companies, whereas today GIS departments are regular and necessary for utilities to continue to deliver on those goals.

How did the world of geospatial data grow so quickly, and what exactly do GIS tools bring to the decision-makers at utilities? Those are the questions that Jaime Crawford of Critigen is here to answer as she joins the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast. Jaime is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Industries at Critigen and she joined podcast host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester to highlight the critical role that GIS plays and share insights on the forward-looking applications that even the most geospatially advanced utilities may not yet recognize. Further, Jaime was able to make an important announcement regarding her company that the Power Perspectives Podcast is eager to share with our listeners, and we dig into what this announcement says about the state of the industry today.

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Thanks to the sponsor of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: Critigen

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TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price: 

Hello, and welcome to this week's episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast, the show that brings leading minds to discuss the latest challenges and trends, transforming and modernizing the energy systems and the utility industry of the future. Now, let's talk energy. I'm Jason Price, Energy Central Podcast host and director with West Monroe coming to you from New York City. And with me as always, from Orlando Florida's Energy Central, producer and community manager, Matt Chester. Matt, in a fun wrinkle for today's episode, our guests will be announcing some significant news that will likely create a ripple across the industry. Are you ready for this?

Matt Chester: 
You're right, Jason. I think this is the first for us. I know from our conversations already with today's guests, that we're going to be learning some really important information about the upcoming direction of the utility sector. So not only we're getting some pertinent present day information, but I think more importantly, we're going to be getting some insight into the future.

Jason Price: 
Agreed, and I'm excited as well. So let's get started. Today we'll be shining a spotlight in the critical role that geospatial technology serves in many of today's challenges that energy and utilities are trying to solve as we move toward accelerating decarbonization. What does fancy mapping have to do with our work to reduce climate change? Well, this technology has a lot to do with it. Geospatial technology can be a major difference maker for initiatives related to renewables, carbon neutrality, infrastructure management, worker safety, and much more. As we will learn in today, we are at a pivotal moment when the role of geospatial is expanding dramatically. In fact, many of the highest priority initiatives in utilities, strategic plans simply aren't possible to achieve without the help of geospatial technology.

Jason Price: 
And while we've had guests on Power Perspectives, talk about the technology advancements and proliferations of GIS, we've not explored the applications and the critical role it serves for our utility of the future. So I can't think of a more suitable person to have on the show to explain this further than our guests today. Jaime Crawford is the senior vice president of strategic industries at Critigen. Which works with you utilities to leverage location based data and geospatial technology from major initiatives. Jaime and her team oversee Critigen's work with utilities and energy companies in strategic ways across their operations. Also mentioned at the top of the show, Jaime has an important announcement to make in the world of geospatial technology, and we'll discuss this as well. So Jaime Crawford, welcome to today's episode of Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

Jaime Crawford: 
Thanks so much, Jason and Matt. I'm really excited to be here. And thanks for inviting me.

Jason Price: 
It's our pleasure. Jaime, thank you for joining us. This is a timely topic because geospatial has such an important role to play and yet it largely flies under the radar in our industry. Can we step back for a moment and explain what location based data is and why geospatial technology is important for utilities?

Jaime Crawford: 
Thanks, Jason. Location based data really covers a wide range topic. It can be anything from an address or a GPS coordinate to data that was created using aerial imagery or satellite imagery. And what you hear in the industry quite often is that 80% of data with an organization has some type of location component to it, and corresponds to a place on the earth. So within the utilities, most location data represents things like poles and pipe and the attributes that are associated with those features. So geospatial data is used to model the utility system by mapping those assets. And it's used also on a daily basis to manage and monitor, inspect your systems. It's also used to plan future system improvements and to help risk modeling. Utilities will also find that location data is critical into making major initiatives around renewable energy and net zero successful.

Jason Price: 
All right, fantastic. But this technology has a long history in our industry. Every utility has its own geospatial team, but previously they had been more limited in role and capacity than today. So why do you see this change occurring?

Jaime Crawford: 
Maybe I'll start with a little bit of History. Utilities have always had maps, many times it was a paper based systems. And then they went through an effort to digitize that into a CAD or a GIS based system. So that was the first step in transitioning from that paper into the digital form. Surprisingly, many utilities still have a mix of modern GIS with a robust database, but they still rely on scanned drawings that represent detailed information about their systems. Most GIS teams are associated or aligned with an engineering department and really focused on meeting the needs of that specific group. And while there is a trend to send out web maps to a lot of different departments within a utility, GIS is still under utilized. And we really need to get it moved from what I refer to as the basement to the boardroom. Maps are really just the tip of the iceberg on how geospatial technologies can be used to address the challenges that utilities are facing today.

Jaime Crawford: 
GIS has being integrated with a lot of other critical business systems and operations, but we're still in the early stages. And there's huge potential to apply this technology to solve a lot of problems with utility. Utility leaders are really seeing a proliferation of spatial data and applications all around them, and want it integrated with their daily operations. A couple of examples, obviously around aging infrastructure, we know that that's an ongoing problem within utilities. So we need to understand their assets, what is at risk, and making sure that things are being maintained and inspected at the current frequency. We also need to make sure that utilities are prepared to respond to extreme weather events, this is happening more often. You're seeing wildfire in the West and flooding and storms in all parts of the country. And being prepared to handle that, really having an understanding of your system in a spatial way really helps utilities prepare.

Jaime Crawford: 
Another area is aging workforce. So many utilities rely on their field crew that are out there that have been with utilities for 20, 30 years. That workforce is starting to age. So we need to get that information out of the heads of the field workers and into your databases across the system. Then lastly, as we're starting to see a transition to more and more renewables, siting of those facilities, as well as understanding your existing system and network connectivity and flow are going to be critical.

Jason Price: 
All right. So definitely we're approaching a critical mass in our industry. It's almost like a standard that every utility has to operate from. And certainly even though there are some utilities where that paper based notepad with the drawings are sitting underneath the driver's seat of field operator, there's much more reliance and dependency on moving this to a technology platform, totally get that. And most forward looking utilities are going to see the much larger impact they can have and will elevate it in a strategic way. So that brings us to some news that we teased out at the beginning of the intro. News which underscores how geospatial is growing in importance and impact. So Jaime, I give you the floor.

Jaime Crawford: 
Well, great. I'm really excited to share this news with Energy Central. We really believe at Critigen that the industry is at a tipping point and really ready now to fully embrace the usage of location based data and solutions. As a response, we are expanding our services and solutions around mapping and location intelligence. And as an investment in our vision, we've decided to change our name to Locana, and focus on everything location. The name we find pretty interesting. It comes from the root words, locus for location and ana, which is a collection of information on a place person or thing. And really feel that that name better represents the vision that we have and the impact that we want to have in the world.

Jaime Crawford: 
So our expanded vision will challenge us to discover new ways to apply geospatial technology and data within a utility, as well as other industries that would gain value from this technology. And as I mentioned before, we feel that geospatial technology could be used more extensively within a utility. And our focus is to work with our customers to leverage the existing investment they've already made in GIS and identify areas to apply location intelligence that will be a game change for the utility.

Jason Price: 
Interesting. It seems some of the motivation of this name change, Locana, is based on the reflection of how critical location based data is becoming in business and utility specifically. Is that a fair assumption?

Jaime Crawford: 
Oh yeah, you're definitely correct. Really there's this convergence of new demand, new data types, and new expectations. They've really all the geospatial world. And we're seeing a widespread demand for novel approaches to mapping and location intelligence. So everyone is now used to seeing maps on their smartphones and whether it's in their car or they're ordering food. So there's this now expectation that it's available. And the new workforce is expecting this technology. So we need to make advances in that area.

Jaime Crawford: 
There's also the continuous explosion of spatial data, and that's been for years. But now the number of sensors, wearables, data coming from vehicles and satellites really require solutions to make it more accessible, consumable, and actionable. So again, that imagery coming in or now drones. And so now what do you do with that data? The volume and frequency now can be overwhelming to IT departments for sure. And we feel that we've got a unique perspective and skills to be able to help utilities access the right information at the right time and turn it into information so that they can make decisions.

Jaime Crawford: 
And then the last trend that we're really seeing is an emerging requirement to blend nimble and focused apps with enterprise business application. End users want simple applications, they don't want to have to be trained for two days to figure out how to use something out in the field, they want easy, simple to use. But it also has to be integrated with the back office applications. So they're able to get the information that they need to do their jobs, perform the tasks, and make sure that the results from the work they did can actually get back into the enterprise systems. So with these three things, we really, again, feel like there's been a little of a tipping point in the organization and are just really excited to be in the industry right now. It's a very exciting time.

Jason Price: 
So with the new name change to Locana, do you have a mission statement and can you share it with us?

Jaime Crawford: 
Oh, for sure. I think it's short and sweet, but definitely to the point, we believe that mapping and location intelligence can help solve the world's most pressing infrastructure, sustainability, social, and business challenges. As the geography geek that I am, just can really, truly embrace that. I've been 20 years in the industry and really have seen tons of examples of where that's really the case. But we're really wanting to take it to the next level now.

Jason Price: 
Okay, fantastic. Well, given that, let's dive into some of the ways that utilities should be using geospatial in a more strategic way. Green energy is making headlines left and right, so I have to imagine renewables represents a major area for geospatial, is that correct?

Jaime Crawford: 
Yes, it is correct. And geospatial technology has played a role in site selection for renewables for quite some time. I even started my career out doing a lot of projects around site selections for large scale wind farms and solar farms. So finding a site that has both the wind potential or solar potential, but also viable from a land use and ownership perspective. Environmental impacts, and cost to connect to the grid all require a robust GIS system and spatial analytics capability. So that's been something that's been around for quite some time, along with geospatial technology being able to be used for calculating solar potential for rooftops so homeowners can make some decisions about whether or not they want to invest in that asset. Those are some examples of how geospatial has been used for renewables for quite some time.

Jaime Crawford: 
But I think there's now some opportunities to expand on some of those traditional usage. I was pondering the other day about climate change. So some of the solar and wind potential that was determined many years ago potentially are changing. So having the ability to update those models so operators can predict and have some visibility into what future solar potential wind potential are. And again, a lot of those weather inputs and terrain inputs, environment inputs all have a spatial component to them. And then together, GIS can really make a lot of those predictions.

Jaime Crawford: 
There's also a need for small scale site selection. So as part of our vision of Locana, we really want to be able to bring some new solutions and services to the market. We think this is an area that we want to be exploring in the future. We feel there's some creative approaches for utilities that could be used for smaller renewable sites. So for example, identifying locations with low construction costs that are either close or already connected to a grid to place smaller scale wind and solar. So that's a lot of data collection and we really feel we've got the tools and capabilities to provide some of those solutions together for utilities to expand the areas where they could have renewable generation.

Jaime Crawford: 
Another area geospatial technology can contribute is with distributed energy resources. With an increase in solar panels on more rooftops, these resources will have a larger and larger impact on the grid. I was reading recently a study from the US Department of Energy, they published a study last year on the locational value of distributed energy resources. And if utilities really understood the potential value of those resources based on location, they could start targeting those areas and provide incentive programs. So that's an area that I think utilities could really start looking into.

Jaime Crawford: 
Another area for renewables is really on the operations side. So just like utilities are integrating GIS with their controls and enterprise asset management system for distribution and transmission, utilities could do the same thing with their renewable generation sites. Having insight into the current output of each asset or where the failure has occurred in a spatial context can really expose patterns that may go unseen on a spreadsheet. Those are just a few examples on the renewable front.

Jason Price: 
Great examples that you provided, thank you for that. So let's talk about moving from renewables to the net zero emission goals that utilities are pledging. They are making major progress by focusing on lowest hanging fruit, which you covered. What role can and does geospatial play in accomplishing those broader net zero goals past the early wins?

Jaime Crawford: 
Utilities are really faced with some significant challenges over the decades to come, I think everybody realizes that. Geospatial data and solutions are primed and ready to be used to solve those problems. I think the most significant area that GIS can play a part in is really to help model and understand the system that utilities have in place. So data, data, data is the big thing. Detailed information about your system become even more important. And the spatial aspect of your system will be critical with the increased amount of energy coming from renewables. As energy transition occurs, we'll go from one direction system to a bidirectional flow of power. Understanding that both from a modeling perspective and a safety perspective is going to be really important. So utilities must have good data quality on both their network and visibility into behind the meter resources.

Jaime Crawford: 
They may also understand some of the weather and patterns and be able to predict the impact on power generation as the weather changes. I think you've probably seen this in some utilities, there's now people on staff that are really meteorologists now. And as you know, weather information is inherently spatial and luckily can be easily integrated into most GIS applications. When we start transitioning and talking about the gas utility. Again, there's a change in the market to blend in hydrogen with more natural gas system. And in order to do so, you really need to understand your network, both including the piped materials, as well as how the system flows and how it can be isolated. So again, back to the data front, really having quality information in your GIS to help model and predict how the system is going to operate are going to be critical moving forward, especially as we move into meeting the goals around net zero. So geospatial technology is really going to give the utility a 360 degree view of their operations, which includes their asset, their people, and external factors like weather.

Jason Price: 
We're also seeing the business model of the utility morph, if you will. Some are getting into broadband and telecom, conducting M&A activity, and such. So could you talk a little bit about the untraditional utility geospatial activities that you're seeing going on in our space in recent times?

Jaime Crawford: 
We're seeing a lot of M&A activity. And we've actually been lucky to be a part of a couple of those projects recently. But unfortunately, a lot of those as utilities are planning for that acquisition of asset data from a different utility, they're underestimate feel or some utilities feel like it's just a lift and shift. Like I'm going to take the GIS from one utility and just copy and paste everything over and put it into my new one. And that can be problematic because no two utilities really have the same systems or data models or approaches as much as you would like to hope. And no two GISs are necessarily the same. So meaning utilities have different software platforms, they have different data models, they have different integration approaches.

Jaime Crawford: 
So with all that said, we had a great opportunity recently with an M&A activity at South Jersey Industries. They had acquired Elizabethtown Gas from Southern Company. And South Jersey Industries had outsourced their GIS for their South Jersey gas operations, so they didn't even have their own enterprise GIS. So they took it as an opportunity. So as part of these acquisitions, I think there's tons of opportunities to advance your systems as those programs are happening. So they took the opportunity to build their own new GIS system from the ground up and actually their GIS department. So it was more than just the tools and data, it was hiring and building out that capability within their organization.

Jaime Crawford: 
So we were able to help them migrate their data from the Esri geometric network, which is an older system that Esri has, to their new utility network model, and deliver a very modern GIS platform that South Jersey Industry can build upon moving forward. So it's integrated with their enterprise asset management system. And now South Jersey Industries is deploying, what I was referring to earlier, those nimble applications that are integrated with their business systems. So they're delivering these focused applications, relief management, material tracking and traceability, and many more. So again, I think there's a lot of activity in the market. I think there's some opportunities that utilities could take when they're merging together, different databases and different systems together into a new enterprise system.

Jason Price: 
I like that example you gave because that follows up with my next question, which is basically a utility may not realize the value and role that a geospatial technology can play in overcoming some of the challenges. So what advice and suggestions do you have to utility to think about the possibilities of such a technology? And how does one take the next step?

Jaime Crawford: 
Well, I might be a little bit biased because I am a geospatial professional. So I think geospatial and GIS should really have a larger seat at the table. As I mentioned before, I think taking it from the basement to the boardroom is really important. Unfortunately, today a lot of utilities don't have a senior leader that is empowered to make decisions within an organization or it is distributed across a bunch of different groups. So I think really having some strong governance for a GIS team, including both the IT and the business side, is extremely important. Making it more about more than just about making maps. Maps again are just the tip of the iceberg. And if we really unlock the power of maps and location intelligence, there's a lot of opportunities that can be had within a utility. I think that we could be leveraging some investments that we're making on those core platforms.

Jaime Crawford: 
So I think as most of our listeners know, they spend a lot of money on standing up an enterprise GIS system to edit and manage the database and do the core things around asset inventory and those types of things. But I think there's a lot of applications that could be deployed if there's a seat at the table for a GIS leader within the organization. So asking those questions, having the leaders within the other groups asking about, how could we apply geospatial technologies help solve these problems? I've had a lot of examples where we went to different utilities and there's mapping supervisors or an IT leader from a support structure.

Jaime Crawford: 
But there's not one person that's looking out for the overarching strategy for GIS across the entire organization. So that's a pretty big job because it includes a lot of IT related tasks, but also business focus. And you also have to understand where the technology is moving in the future. But I really feel like there's a role to play at a more senior level, whether it's a VP level or a director level. But really having that opportunity to share the vision of what GIS could be at a utility is going to be really important moving forward.

Jaime Crawford: 
Then obviously there's always the part of data, data is always important. I think utilities need to look for creative and innovative ways to keep their data up to date or have a self cleaning system in place. Maybe I'll give an example of that, is having some tools or processes in place. You have field crews that are out on a daily basis working on the system, trying to get information from them or while they're out in the field, make it easy and simple and have processes and tools to get it back into your GIS department's hand to make those improvements. So making sure that you have easy to use applications and processes, as well as potentially the use of some AI and artificial intelligence to help make improvements to your data as well. There's always room for improvement on data. And as I mentioned before, I think that's going to be really critical in meeting the needs of net zero moving forward.

Jason Price: 
Sure you've been at this for a while, so can we ask you about some of the fun and unusual applications of geospatial in the industry? You've worked with a lot of utilities, so I'm sure you've seen some very creative applications. What comes to mind, if any? And how does it speak to what the future might hold for geospatial in the utility industry?

Jaime Crawford: 
I think one example that I've seen recently is for a West Coast utility that has some hydro facilities. And so they manage a lot of forests. They're actually using GIS to help calculate some carbon offset. So again, as we're moving to net zero, there's going to be a variety of different ways that we get there, and no one way is going to do that entirely. But I think this idea of managing your holdings, whether it's land holdings or asset information, and trying to figure out how best to utilize it are going to be really important. The use of drones, I think everybody is seeing there's different applications. I think there's a lot of utilities now that have their own group that is just responsible for flying drones for either data collection or inspections, are really interesting. There's new sensors that are going on drones to identify corrosion on transmission lines that are probably not even visible to the eye. So those are pretty exciting. Also sensing methane leaks via drones as well.

Jaime Crawford: 
So that is pretty exciting use of technology because it increases efficiencies, but also keeps our field workers safe. Those are a couple of fun examples that I've seen. But I also, maybe I'll put in a little bit of, I love to see utilities do more of this. The customer is super important. I put my customer hat on all the time. Would love to see more information from utilities about energy conservation opportunities. If there's some type of outage, sharing more information out when my field tech is going to be at my house, what are we doing about a post-storm? So more of that on maps because I think everybody can relate to a map and consume it very quickly. So I think doing more with mapping on customer engagement is going to be huge. And then as customers become consumers, I think there's going to be some interesting use cases around that as well.

Jason Price: 
This is a great discussion, a really fascinating topic, Jaime. Thank you for sharing the news about the name change to Locana and it's expanding work in supporting utilities to leverage geospatial in such a strategic way. We look forward to you and our community members keeping these important conversations going in Energy Central. Please continue to be active in the Community Central platform. And thanks again for joining us.

Jaime Crawford: 
Thank you so much for having me. It was a great discussion.

Jason Price: 
You can always reach Jaime through the Energy Essential platform, where she welcomes your questions and comments. On behalf of the entire Energy Central team, thanks to everyone for listening today. Further, we want to thank Locana for making today's episode possible. And with Jaime Crawford on the call, Jaime, why don't you kick off the new name change and the mission and description of Locana to our community members.

Jaime Crawford: 
All right, thanks Jason. Locana, the location data and technology company, provides services and software products to solve the world's most pressing business, climate, and social challenges. With over 30 years of experience, we are a global leader in both enterprise GIS implementations and innovative application development using proprietary and open source technology. By taking a location first approach to problem solving, we build, implement, and connect solutions for our public and private clients in a wide ranges of domains, utilities, land, and facility management, conservation, international development, and technology to name a few.

Jason Price: 
Thank you, Jaime. And once again, I'm your host Jason Price. Plug in and stay fully charged in the discussion by popping into the community at energycentral.com. And see you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

 


About Energy Central Podcasts

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. At least twice monthly, we connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network community member to discuss compelling topics that impact professionals who work in the power industry. Some podcasts may be a continuation of thought-provoking posts or discussions started in the community or with an industry leader that is interested in sharing their expertise and doing a deeper dive into hot topics or issues relevant to the industry.

The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ is the premiere podcast series from Energy Central, a Power Industry Network of Communities built specifically for professionals in the electric power industry and a place where professionals can share, learn, and connect in a collaborative environment. Supported by leading industry organizations, our mission is to help global power industry professionals work better. Since 1995, we’ve been a trusted news and information source for professionals working in the power industry, and today our managed communities are a place for lively discussions, debates, and analysis to take place. If you’re not yet a member, visit www.EnergyCentral.com to register for free and join over 200,000 of your peers working in the power industry.

The Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a Business Development Executive at West Monroe, working in the East Coast Energy and Utilities Group. Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.  

If you want to be a guest on a future episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, let us know! We’ll be pulling guests from our community members who submit engaging content that gets our community talking, and perhaps that next guest will be you! Likewise, if you see an article submitted by a fellow Energy Central community member that you’d like to see broken down in more detail in a conversation, feel free to send us a note to nominate them.  For more information, contact us at community@energycentral.com. Podcast interviews are free for Expert Members and professionals who work for a utility.  We have package offers available for solution providers and vendors. 

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Thanks once again to the sponsor of this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast: Critigen

Discussions
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Linda Stevens's picture
Linda Stevens on Jan 25, 2022

I really like this quote from Jaime Crawford,   "Well, I might be a little bit biased because I am a geospatial professional. So I think geospatial and GIS should really have a larger seat at the table. As I mentioned before, I think taking it from the basement to the boardroom is really important."  This is difficult for many GIS professionals. How do we get executives to embrace location, not as a nice-to-have but critical? 

Barry Jones's picture
Barry Jones on Jan 31, 2022

great podcast!

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