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All I Want to Do

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
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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...

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  • Nov 26, 2021
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Wayne was one of my favorite customers. Why? He had a direct way of chiding me about our GIS. He would say in his southern drawl. “Bill, all I want to do is to add a pole.” Wayne would occasionally add an adjective before the word pole. At the heart of what Wayne was saying is that sometimes we, all of us, in technology want our customers to adopt the very latest in high-tech methods. Wayne was no slouch when it came to technology. His team implemented some pretty sophisticated systems. But what Wayne was telling me is that the work that many utilities needed to be straightforward. And they need a simple way to do that.

My wife gets frustrated with her smartphone regularly. After lots of complaining about the phone misbehaving last week, I said, Just buy a new phone. And she did. The problem was that she continued to have problems with the new phone. I would say when she complained. “No. No. You have to re-install the app because you got a new phone and all the settings, like the passwords disappeared.” She, in her frustrations, used the same line that Wayne used. “All I want to do is to place my Amazon order as I used to on my old phone.” The smartphone company’s process of uploading from an old phone to a new one didn’t get it. It made things tough. They needed Wayne to advise them.

I’m an avid reader. I love using my reader device. It was so much more convenient than carrying around a bunch of books. I load magazines and newspapers. Just the other day, the maker of the device decided to revise the user interface completely. Why I’m not sure. There used to be an arrow you touched when you wanted to go back to the last place you visited. They took the arrow away! Or they hid it. I’m pretty tech-savvy, but I couldn’t figure out that if I’m reading a newspaper article from the editorial section and want to go to the editorial page, I must go to the very beginning of the section. I cried out in despair. “All I wanna do.” What I want to do is go back one step!” Please don’t make me go all the way back, then navigate to where I left off.”

All I Want to Do is See My Stuff on my Mobile Device

Frankly, GIS has a checkered history of being too complicated for most utility workers. To get the most out of it, you needed to be a GIS expert. Not anymore. To quote my mentor, Scott Morehouse of Esri, former Product Development Director, “simple scales, complex fails.” Scott persistently challenged his staff to work toward simplicity. The good news is that utilities can have it both ways. They can have a precise model of their utility network. Or when all they want to do is locate assets on their phone, they can, just like they do when looking for the closest pizza joint.

The even better news is that utilities don’t have to compromise rigor for simplicity. ArcGIS Utility Network is functionally rich but can deliver simple solutions. Solutions for those that want to know where the closest outage or which crew is nearest the failed cable. How about knowing which customers will give them a hard time whenever they want to trim a tree in their neighborhood. Modern GIS can answer all these questions and more. It can let mobile users edit the data in one click, satisfying Wayne’s demand, “All I want to do is add a pole.”

Giving customers simplicity requires great engineering. It’s hard work. Apple did it. They focused on making using computers intuitive and fun.

Smaller utilities with limited staff need to get off using paper forms and maps. But often, the work to build a GIS can be overwhelming, especially went all they want to do is automate fast and simple. How about a GIS solution you just plug in? No servers, no loading software. Easy, fast.

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Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Dec 2, 2021

Unfortunately I think there is a tension between what the customer (Wayne) wants - something simple, user-friendly that works, and what management and tecchies desire. For example, management often wants something flashy to show how cutting edge their company is, and the ICT and design teams perhaps want to use the latest technology. So the actual UX gets sidelined a bit, resulting in a less accessible front end for the ordinary user.

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Dec 6, 2021

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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