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Four Utility GIS Tipping Points | Utilities Demand More

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Utility GIS is at a tipping point. What worked for the last 20 years will not be adequate for the next 20.


Utilities face increasing competition. They must tackle decarbonization, decentralization, and digitization. Their assets continue to age. They face new technology: the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, drones, and augmented reality. Consumers demand immediate attention. Mother nature's attack on the grid is snowballing.

These challenges have location at their core.

Twenty years ago, GIS was about automating the mapping process and providing a degree of electric connectivity. The scales are now tipping to a more precise, collaborative, insightful, and information-rich GIS.

That's what Esri is delivering to meet these challenges.

Network Precision

In the past, cartography trumped network model precision. Esri's GIS supports both. It aligns with international industry standards such as the common information model (CIM). This includes separate structural modeling. It has standard data models. Connectivity is both explicit and implicit. It models terminals and complex switches. It replicates past, present, and near- and long-term states.

Breaking the mold from paper network maps, utility GIS now includes the long-ignored third dimension. This delivers reality-based visualization. It accurately models complex urban networks. It embraces all elements of the power system.

The tipping point—Esri GIS captures an enlarged role in overall network management and precision.


GIS needs to behave like social media. When an update to the network occurs in the field, those changes need to be seen by anyone in the company. Esri's new network technology is based entirely on web services. This provides universal access to the GIS system of record on any device, anytime and anywhere. This breaks the ancient habit of thinking about networks by staring at a paper map sheet. It aligns to how people and organizations work and collaborate using technology. This includes all stakeholders: the media, the government, customers, contractors, market operators, regulators, and labor leaders.

The tipping point—Esri GIS is emerging as the system of collaboration for utility workflows.

Location Intelligence

Interconnected information, processes, and workflows happen at the same time. Esri's GIS is not just about maps or even network models. It is about discovery. It is about gathering new information that is critical for business success. Often that information is hidden. Esri GIS has the unique ability to provide analysis based on location. It answers questions: Where are network vulnerabilities? Where are emerging issues? Where will the next crisis occur? Where will electric charging stations emerge? Where will solar installations occur? Where could the network fail should distributed resources accelerate in a region? Where will customers demand better service? Where will wildfires threaten network integrity?

The tipping point—Esri GIS lets utilities see what others can't.

Information Richness

Simon Sinek is one of the great thought leaders of our time. He stated:

"More information is always better than less. When people know the reason things are happening, even if it's bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly. Keeping people in the dark only serves to stir negative emotions."

There is so much information available to utilities today. Yet that information comes from different sources. It exists in different organizations. It has different forms. It comes from all kinds of devices, such as IoT sensors, drones, and satellites. It resides in marked-up, as-built substation drawings buried in piles in remote buildings.

Esri GIS can access data from neighboring utilities, like other electric, water, gas, and telecommunication companies. It can include market operators. It consumes data directly in real time using web services. It can learn about potential hazards from first responders. In addition, it isn't limited to the conventional network data owned by the utility. It accesses data from external sources. That data may be unstructured and big.

Esri GIS can manage and analyze high-resolution imagery, uncovering the clues hidden in vegetation growth, insect infestation, flooding, landslides, and erosion.

Even building information management (BIM) data is easily incorporated into Esri's GIS. The integration of CAD and GIS is accelerating rapidly.

To paraphrase Sinek, having this wealth of information incorporated into a modern utility GIS gives utility executives, managers, and skilled workers so much more awareness of their network in relation to its surroundings.

The tipping point—Esri GIS consumes information so that stakeholders are never kept in the dark.

Common Myths

Here are some myths about moving from a legacy GIS to the new Esri GIS:

  • The new precision GIS network model requires migrating twice. Not true. Utilities can migrate directly from their legacy GIS to the new model.
  • The data model does not support advanced applications like state estimation, load flow, advanced distribution management system (ADMS), and volt/VAR optimization. Again, not true. Esri GIS has always driven the data for these network apps. It now adds more precision and three dimensioning.
  • Electric utilities are not migrating to the new model. The truth is, many have already, and many are in the process of migrating. Why? Doing so makes better business sense.
  • Software partners will play a smaller role in the future. The opposite is true. As Sinek stated, "More information is always better than less." There is so much to do now. GIS is gaining a greater role in offering partners a greater opportunity.

Electric utilities realize that the industry is at a tipping point. So, too, is utility GIS.

Learn more about how GIS is a lot more than mapping or logical network modeling by downloading our free e-book.

Bill Meehan's picture

Thank Bill for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 20, 2020 11:16 pm GMT

Electric utilities are not migrating to the new model. The truth is, many have already, and many are in the process of migrating. Why? Doing so makes better business sense.

For those that haven't yet migrated or are in the middle, what's the typical duration that such a migration takes? How big of a lift is it for utilities?

Sean Clark's picture
Sean Clark on Mar 3, 2020 4:47 pm GMT

Bill, excellent point about acquiring and managing the vast amounts of data pertinent to a client's operations in ever better fashion.  It is indeed critical that clients have as much of the appropriate available data in their hands in order to make informed decisions, and ESRI is at the forefront of doing just that - providing 21st-century data acquisition and management.  Unfortunately, many organizations rely on "16th-century" methods of analyzing the data and making decisions, relying on expert, but fallible, staff.  Fortunately, new "solutions engine" platforms like AMMI's PRISM (PRedictive Intelligent Solutions Modules) system are providing that back-end data analysis and decision-making capability to data acquisition and management systems like ESRI's, and providing clients with virtually error-free, highly predicatable and incredibly fast data analysis and solutions development at a fraction of the cost and manpower commitments of existing methods.  The benefits should be incredible and very timely, considering the current flight of expertise and knowledge from most organizations due to the retirement of Baby Boomer professionals. 

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