ArcGIS Utility Network Pays Off your Technical Debt – Part 3

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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  • Sep 8, 2020

In my part 1 and 2 blogs, I proposed that technical debt is about the cost of running a process inefficiently. That cost is in money, wasted effort, compromised customer service and accidents. The father of the Wiki, Ward Cunningham coined the term technical debt. His premise was that software if not created well leads to work inefficiencies. And this results in wasteful or unsafe performance. I extended the term to mean wasteful performance due to legacy processes.

Work Arounds Create Technical Debt

I’ve been in the electric utility business for much of my adult life. I’ve witnessed how people find ways to do their work despite the obstacles placed in front of them. Those obstacles create work arounds and technical debt. Like printing work order sketches. Scratching out as-built changes on those sketches on the fenders of trucks. Checking data in the field because designers don’t trust corporate records. Collecting information from many sources. Piecing data together to make decisions. Dealing with bad data, work rules, out of date and duplicate records and siloed information systems. Work arounds become imbedded in the culture.

People even fail to recognize them.

I call these failures scotomas. A scotoma is a medical term indicating a blind spot - like tunnel vision. It can also be a psychological term meaning, failure to see what is before our very eyes. Kind of like a mental blindness. Scotomas happen when people get so used to doing something, that they cannot even fathom doing things differently.

Innovation and transformation occur when clever people see what others can’t. They peel away those mental scotomas and crush the work arounds.

The Dream of the Digital Twin

When I worked for the power company, I pioneered the GIS. I dreamt of a digital model of the electric system from generation to the customer meter. This would include all the parts and pieces that make up the network – structures, conductors, trenches, cable trays, switches, you name it. It could be used for work management, network analysis, outage management and asset performance. Literally, an all-purpose digital representation of the system. I didn’t know it then, but what I was thinking about was what is now called the digital twin. I even imagined a full 3D representation.

What the culture demanded were better electrical prints, ones that looked and felt like the old hand drawn maps. The maps had to have all the labels that the old ones had. They were even printed in the same sizes as the old prints. The grid system that was created in the early days of the twentieth century was preserved. Even the real time systems like OMS and ADMS, retained the siloed processes. My vision of the GIS as the digital twin didn’t fit within the narrow confines of the legacy processes.

What did we do instead?

We configured the new technology to serve the old processes. The technical debt we incurred was hidden.

The Utility Network Crushes Work Arounds

In fairness, the new technology at that time had plenty of limitations - No 3D capability, limited modeling ability. It was light on analytics. And, hard to share information digitally to the broad community.

Those limitations have evaporated. The ArcGIS Utility Network has changed all that. The digital twin can be a reality if we peel away the scotomas of our pre-conceived notions of how things are done. The utility network models in 3D. It can precisely manage structure networks and complex switches. It can create detailed substations and power plants. One-line switching diagrams are now automatically generated from the geographic representation. Information can be immediately shared with anyone, on any device. Integration with asset and works systems are seamless. Everything is based on web services.

The ArcGIS Utility Network is not simply an upgrade. It is an opportunity to do the things that dreamers dreamt of. It is the opportunity to see the work arounds for what they really are – payments for technical debt. The utility network drives innovation and transformation. How? It helps utilities see the possibilities of killing the bad habits of embedded work arounds.

See what ArcGIS and the ArcGIS Utility Network can do for Design and Engineering.

For more information on how utilities can use the ArcGIS Utility Network in ways they have never been able to do, before click here.

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Thank Bill for the Post!
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