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Asset Management Starts with Great Data

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When I worked for the power company, I liked to ride around town with my colleague Paul.

Paul was a troubleshooter. He hung out in his bucket truck waiting for something to go wrong on the grid. Once someone reported a problem, Paul would get a message from the dispatcher to race to the location of the power failure. He would then quickly locate where the failure occurred; radio in an assessment of the damage; then, if possible, fix the problem. Or in more complicated situations, he would assess the damage and contact the dispatcher to send help.

To make such an assessment, he needed to know everything about the electric network—the location and type of each switch, transformer, lightning arrester, and sensor. He needed authoritative data from the company's geographic information system (GIS). And what he needed most was access to up-to-date information. He didn't always get it.

Me, Myself, and My Maps

One day while driving around with Paul, he came upon a line switch that didn't look right. There was no reported power failure, but he wanted to investigate it. He hesitated. He clearly didn't want me—the boss—to see something. But I probed, and he finally came clean.

Paul reached under the seat of the truck cab and pulled out a huge stack of papers. They were worn map sheets, inspection reports, and feeder maps, which were either created from the GIS or were original hand-drawn maps. The map sheets had very neat red markings all over them.

Naturally, I asked him why he kept his own private set of maps and records. He knew that I had been the champion of the company's GIS project. He broke the news that many of the troubleshooters kept their own set of maps. They didn't trust the mapping department or the GIS to keep the maps updated. Plus, the mapping department didn't put some of the important stuff on the maps, such as some hazardous situations. He figured that if he handed over the map sheets, his life and work would get more complicated and perhaps less safe.

I couldn't blame Paul. The mapping department was carrying a large backlog of work. Often when they printed a new map sheet, it wasn't up-to-date. Paul and his fellow troubleshooters stopped giving information to the mapping department altogether because to them, it was a waste of time. But the problem wasn't only that Paul didn't share vital information with the mapping department—it was that he didn't share that information with anyone. And he wasn't alone.

Not only did other troubleshooters—who covered the same area as Paul on different shifts—not have his intel, but asset managers, planners, maintenance people, and reliability engineers lacked access to data as well. Had they known what Paul knew, these other groups could have acted and potentially prevented failures. Paul's approach was narrow and related only to his job.

Breaking Data Free

Today, GIS isn't a computer application to automate the creation of a digital form of paper maps, like the kind Paul hid under his seat. Rather, it is a geospatial infrastructure, much like the social media platforms people use daily, that was built to share, collaborate, and integrate with all kinds of systems and data. That means literally anyone in the company can access location information about assets, weather, traffic, social media, or customer complaints. They can access that information on any device, anytime, anywhere.

Many utilities still work in information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) silos. I recall asking a utility customer where they kept the information about their pad-mounted transformer inspections. Their answer: a stand-alone data file. That's the digital equivalent of hiding paper maps under the seat of a truck. Like Paul, people did what they needed to do to help with their individual jobs.

Today's utilities face enormous challenges. They can ill afford to keep duplicate, out-of-date, and inconsistent data.

How Does This Impact Asset Management?

Asset management isn't just about keeping data about assets. It has three core concepts:

  1. Knowing the behavior of assets through their complete life cycle
  2. Monitoring the performance of those assets
  3. Optimizing the assets to balance financial and operational considerations

To do this, everyone in the utility needs to share information. Silos need to be torn down. Paul, in effect, hid the condition and accurate location of vital assets.

Imagine if Paul had ArcGIS—a true geospatial infrastructure that brings together location and enterprise asset information in a single environment, where the location, condition, and state of the asset life cycle can be shared, analyzed, and acted upon.

When Paul finds a problem with a switch, he can pull up the information on his mobile device, show the location, trace the network, and correct any data errors right then and there and take a picture. Paul can even have real-time access to what's going on with the switch. From that moment on, everyone in the company who has access to ArcGIS sees Paul's observations.

The ArcGIS geospatial infrastructure, like social media, can consume and deliver data to the IT and OT systems at a utility—busting those silos.

What does this have to do with solid asset management? Plenty. Asset managers can use machine learning and big data analytics to instantly adjust their plans. They then can track the life cycle performance of their assets. Asset management is about making sure that the company's very expensive assets provide the highest value to the utility. Asset managers assure that those assets produce the highest operational and financial value. Inconsistent, duplicate, hidden, missing data inhibit asset optimization.

Nearly everything a utility does relies on location. That's why the ArcGIS geospatial infrastructure assures great data for asset management. Imagine liberating data out from under the seat (figuratively, of course) of your employees' trucks. 

Find out more about how ArcGIS modernizes electric utility asset management by visiting our landing page.

Bill Meehan's picture

Thank Bill for the Post!

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Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 10, 2019 1:22 pm GMT

They didn't trust the mapping department or the GIS to keep the maps updated. Plus, the mapping department didn't put some of the important stuff on the maps, such as some hazardous situations. 

What a great example about how the human side of new technological solutions (both with customers and, as in your example, with internal employees) comes into play. Behaviors and even psychology must always be considered, otherwise humans will 'get in the way' of the technical solutions (where, really, it should be framed that technical solutions MUST work within the confines of natural human behavior to be considered effective solutions). 

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