5 Winners and 2 Losers of Utility GIS

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: ID 167493806 © Rawf88 |
Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions, Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

  • Member since 2002
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  • Jan 19, 2021

When I worked at the power company, my biggest frustration was this. There were too many places to gather information about the business -- just to make a decision. This was true in planning, maintaining assets, and restoring power. Even the seemingly simplest work, such as figuring which transformer feeds a customer always seemed to be a struggle.

ArcGIS to the rescue -- mostly. Here are 5 winners and 2 losers of utility GIS.

WINNER - Single portal of truth

This is sort of a digital twin of the utility. GIS pulls all kinds of the data together in one place. When you need to know something about the state of the network, just go the GIS. Before, we had maps and databases of all kinds. We had standalone, real-time and corporate IT systems. While the GIS doesn’t replace the IT systems, it provides a portal to gather information in one place – in the form of a map.

WINNERSpatial analysis.

The old maps, databases and forms were all about documentation. Sort of a kludgy system of record. There were duplications and inconsistencies. That’s probably why institutional knowledge was so critical. People knew where the distribution network was vulnerable. But what happens when they retire or leave? GIS provides analytics. It determines trends, patterns and relationships. ArcGIS enables machine learning and advanced visualizations like augmented reality. Spatial analysis cultivates discovery.

LOSER - The legacy of paper.

The GIS has improved substantially in functionality and performance from those heady days of migration. Yet the shadow of those migrated old paper maps still haunts GIS. Even today, some utilities view GIS as a map making machine. Sure, they improved the process of a making maps, but some still cherish the old paper map forms, even though they are digital. Until they fully embrace GIS as a strategic information resource, GIS will be underutilized.

WINNERGIS mobility.

If in fact the GIS is the digital twin of the electric system, then the data from on-site crews must show up in the GIS, like right now. Not two days from now. Or a week, month or years from now. Esri did a study recently that asked utilities how long data from on-site work found its way into the GIS. 25% said it took more than 30 days. 10% reported it takes longer than 90 days. Most employees work outside of the office. So, getting the GIS into the hands of the mobile workers in the form of smart phones and tablets gets on-site changes into the GIS in seconds. Not hours or days.

LOSER -   Data quality.

Three problems. One, the modeling of the network in the GIS is often not correct. Legacy paper maps were sloppy about detailing the exact electrical connectivity. Utilities converted them into their current GIS. Two, major pieces of the network are simply missing, like substations and structures. The data about downtown dense secondary network systems are rarely in the GIS. Even low voltage mains and services are either absent or modelled incorrectly. Three, legacy processes slow rapid updating. If the information is out of date, quality suffers.

WINNER – Web services enabled.           

ArcGIS uses web services extensively. This makes editing and viewing simple on any device. Integration with other platforms is a snap. After all, everything is located somewhere, so the GIS is the logical place to consume location data stored in other systems. ArcGIS can consume other services, such as weather, traffic, lightning, imagery, demographics and just about any location-based service. It can even ingest services from other utilities. For example, the water department of a city or town can publish web services of the location of water mains. Those services can be consumed in real-time by the electric or gas utility. Whenever the city updates their GIS, the utility sees those updates immediately.

WINNERThe ArcGIS Utility Network.

The UN models electrical devices (and gas and water too) correctly. It provides detailed modeling of terminations. It models physical structures (like duct banks and conduits) and maintains relationships. Utilities can represent their electrical substations in 3D. The UN can model distributed energy resources (DER), such as solar, wind, microgrids and even central power plants both schematically and physically. Utilities can incorporate their one-line diagrams directly into the GIS. That makes the GIS a single pathway to truth.

ArcGIS captures all kinds of information – services, real-time data from sensors and information from corporate IT systems. We can better understand the network’s behavior. And we can share that information broadly. Frustration relieved, decision making elevated and work satisfaction restored. Now we have the tools to turn those losers into winners.  For more on how ArcGIS transforms utilities visit our website.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 21, 2021

Was quite curious who the 'losers' here would be-- cheekily done! I think we can all celebrate the demise of bad data quality, and I guess there may be some folks who didn't want to see paper relegated to a legacy (friends from Dunder Mifflin, perhaps?), but we are in fact living in an increasingly paperless world!

Bill Meehan's picture
Thank Bill for the Post!
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