Esri's New Utility Network Furthers Digital Transformation

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
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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  • Jan 9, 2018

For Sale – Compact Disk Cabinet – Very good condition. Holds 1000 CD’s or 500 DVD’s. Shelves can be adjusted for assorted sizes to accommodate 250 VHS Video Tapes. Can even accommodate 8 track music tapes. Best offer over 10 cents. Can be shipped anywhere in the United States for $300.

So far, no offers.

When I worked for the power company, I was in charge of engineering, design and construction of a new energy management center. This included state of the art hardware, software and display technology. The project included a brand-new building to accommodate the latest technology and work flows. Everything had to be modern. One of the hundreds of details in the project included finding a new way of housing the thousands of electric network operating map sheets. These were maps that showed the electric network drawn in. The problem we faced was that the operating sheets were odd sized. Over the years, ANSI (American National Standards Institute) had instituted standard sizes for engineering drawings. For example ANSI standard A is the common page size 8 ½ inches by 11 inches. ANSI standard B is 11 inches by 17 inches. The operating map sheets or prints as they were called were something like 14 inches by 20 inches. Consequently, procuring new cabinets for these odd sized prints was problematic, since cabinet manufactures only made cabinets that fit ANSI standard plans. We had two options (three really, but that’s for a little later). The first was to drag the old wooden cabinets from the old building to the new ones. The second was to have custom made cabinets made. We choose option 2.

The hidden third option was the unspeakable. Digital transformation! Forget cabinets. Forget prints. Change the way we think about information on a physical piece of paper. Well before the new building was designed, the company migrated the map sheets to GIS. Yet, instead of using GIS to view and manage the network, the operations personnel had the GIS print out the map sheets to look exactly like the old hand drawn sheets. To further discourage change, the GIS produced map sheets were the exact same odd ball size as the old sheets. Thus, we needed odd ball custom designed cabinets to hold the odd ball GIS produced map sheets.

We had worked out an interesting way of updating the old map sheets. The map sheets were mounted on metal plates– you guessed it. They were custom built to match the size of the prints. Then we mounted clear plastic sheets on top of each map sheet. So, whenever someone needed to document a correction or update of the map sheet, the user would use a red marker to document the change on the clear plastic sheet. Sort of a mechanical red-line layer. So, if we had simply redesigned the prints to be printed out to ANSI standards, we would have had to create a whole new set of metal plates and make new plastic overlays. Plus, we would have had to migrate all the red line overlays. It was just too much.

We chose legacy. We built new cabinets. Change is tough.

The reality of today’s electric GIS’s at utilities is that they retain a deep legacy of work flows that depend on analog processes and materials. The old GIS electrical operating map produced by the GIS looked just like the paper map that preceded it. The fundamental problem was and still is that the GIS is being now being asked to do much more than the old paper maps ever were. The electric GIS is being asked to pass network information to complex modeling systems and outage management systems. It is being asked to maintain detailed asset information for design processes. It is being asked to be the system of record for plant accounting. And at the same time being asked to produce pretty maps that replicate old maps. It’s a conflict between being electrically correct and cartographically pleasing. For years, Esri’s network management solution did a terrific job of balancing those two requirements. However, to do so, some compromises had to be made. It only recognized two dimensions. After all, a map is an abstraction of reality. As Chris Columbus taught us, the world isn’t flat. Poles are not really circles on the ground. Transformers are not triangles or x’s. Advanced network functionality was limited to desktop users.

Today everyone uses maps on their mobile phones. We are used to scale dependent displays. Zoom in and you see more detail. Zoom out and you see less. Click on your favorite Mexican restaurant point of interest and you get information about their daily taco specials. We’ve been used to this for years now. Imagine if we had to print out these maps to see all the data about our favorite locations? Yet, the legacy of the electric GIS is to do just that. Using legacy analogy thinking, we work hard to manage transformer label locations. We cram annotation around every feature. We are anal about the line weight of every representation of conductors. Some of us continue to build custom made cabinets!

Today forward-thinking utilities are breaking the legacy of paper and analog driven processes. They view GIS like any other decision support system. They avoid custom applications. They see that it’s all about the data, openness and functionality and not at all about the paper.

Esri will be releasing its new product called ArcGIS Utility Network Management Extension. Of course, it will produce pretty maps on paper. But at its core, it is designed to provide electric companies (and gas, water and other network companies) the ability to better model their network. We call it providing greater network fidelity. It recognizes the world is not flat indeed. It honors the reality of a three-dimensional (four if you count time) world. While it has many, many new features, my favorite traits all begin with the letter C.

Cross platform: the new product is built on web services. Today advanced network capability is limited to advanced GIS users on the desktop. The new product capability now will be available on any device, regardless of operating system.

Connectivity: the new product gives users the ability to connect data about devices independently of physical co-location, if they choose. Or, they can let the software connect devices that are co-located in three dimensions.

Containment: the new product recognizes that things are inside other things. Such as transformer in vaults, cables in conduit and fiber strands in fiber cables.

Digital transformation is about technology sure. It is also about behavior. About changing behavior. So, if you want to hang on to your precious CD collection, I have a nice cabinet for sale for you. (See above). That way, whenever you want to hear a cut off your favorite Beatles album, you can scurry through your collection to find it. Or, for those that have embraced digital transformation, you can just holler at your music device to play any song you want, whether you own it or not and have it streamed and played within seconds. If you want to preserve your electric operating prints, you can buy a nice custom designed cabinet. For those who have embraced digital transformation, you can call up the network on your mobile device (any one, Windows, Android, iOS, Desktop – whatever) collaborate with your colleagues, the media, emergency responders, real time systems), perform advance network capabilities and move on.

Digital transformation is about advanced technology, like the complete ArcGIS platform. But that’s not enough. It’s about behavior. It’s about shedding old habits, killing scared cows (like keeping old VHS tapes) and looking at processes in a brand new way.

For specific information on Esri’s new ArcGIS Utility Network Extension, please visit\utility-network


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Bill Meehan's picture
Thank Bill for the Post!
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