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GIS Data Has Got to Be Right

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To survive profitably, electric utilities need to rethink many of their old habits.

One particularly bad habit is a lack of investment in good data. They need it for solid operations. And efficiency. It’s also the core for advanced technologies. Things like machine learning, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Without good data utilities rely on manual tasks. Like what? Rather than relying on their data in their GIS, utilities just have folks jump into cars. They then go into the field to check to see if the data in their GIS is correct. This is a costly and time-consuming bad habit. Utilities do it a lot.

Wouldn’t it be better to invest in getting the data right rather than wasting time driving around?

Utilities keep critical facility data in GIS. Yet study after study reveals shortcomings in this data. Some do not have a complete record of assets in their GIS. Most do not have processes to ensure the data is timely. And in all too many cases, the asset location is not even close to GPS accurate. In a recent study Is Your GIS Ready For Grid Modernization? Energy Acuity asked utilities how long it takes for information from the field to make it into the GIS. In some cases, they measured the time in weeks, not minutes, hours, or even days. 25% of respondents utilize update processes that exceed 30 days. In another question, the survey asked, how complete is the data in their GIS? The respondents reported just 73% completeness. The price of this lack of precision and completeness is simply a lack of efficiency. This menas higher costs; poor customer service and reliability. It can even mean more accidents. While most agree that GIS is a fundamental component in every utility's IT portfolio, the simple existence of GIS is not enough.

The data has got to be right.

One of the pitfalls in the past has been the legacy of the paper maps. Nearly every utility GIS owes its data from conversion from decades old paper maps. Locations were general. And often only schematically represented. Many made decisions not to convert all the data to their GIS. Why? The cost to migrate the data was too high.

Utilities have an aging work force. Their infrastructure is getting older. They have greater cost exposure, lower margins, and increasing customer expectations. Solar energy erodes their revenues. They question whether its worth it to do a better job of completing data migration. They wonder if capturing difficult assets such as underground facilities, substations, or secondary services pays off. Processes depend on good data. Grid modernization, renewable goals, and the looming explosion in electric vehicles demands it.

Ironically, utilities capture too much information in GIS. I have seen utility GIS data models with pages and pages of attributes and relationships. Yet while most of the attribute information is managed and maintained elsewhere. At the same time, not all the critical assets even exist in GIS. Companies spend a lot of time and effort synchronizing information among various information systems. They have too much information in one place and not enough where they need it.

GIS is at its best when it pulls information from many data sources. This could be from both inside and outside the company. This includes business intelligence and customer information. It also captures data from materials and work management systems. Other sources include asset management, SCADA, distribution management, and network analysis systems. Utilities don't have to store and maintain all the data in GIS. Let those systems do what they do best. Use the GIS to add a spatial context.

The good news is that utilities recognize the critical nature of good data. They see that investment in data quality and completeness is just as important as investment in hard resources. Utilities are adopting field-based GIS, which is much more than a digital version of a paper map. Field based GIS is a window into the accurate condition and relationship of the assets. It gives the ability to capture critical field situations in real time and disseminate that information to decision makers in seconds, not months, weeks, or days. Field based GIS improves data quality. That’s because data errors can be reported and corrected in real-time.

The even better news is that a modern GIS like Esri’s ArcGIS can model utility networks and structures precisely. Esri’s ArcGIS Utility Network can model 3D facilities. It can handle complex configurations. It now models structures to provide a realistic representation of the complete infrastructure as it exists on the ground.

So, the only thing left is to bring the data up to modern standards. Utilities need to shed those old habits. Those habits inhibit the adoption of modern technologies which ease the new transformation.

For more information on how ArcGIS transforms electric utilities, visit our electric industry webpage.

Bill Meehan's picture

Thank Bill for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 26, 2020 11:07 am GMT

GIS is at its best when it pulls information from many data sources. This could be from both inside and outside the company. This includes business intelligence and customer information. It also captures data from materials and work management systems. Other sources include asset management, SCADA, distribution management, and network analysis systems. Utilities don't have to store and maintain all the data in GIS. Let those systems do what they do best. Use the GIS to add a spatial context.

Does this present any issues with resolving potential discrepancies that come up from different sources of data?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 26, 2020 2:29 pm GMT

"Solar energy erodes their revenues. They question whether its worth it to do a better job of completing data migration."

Bill, many good points raised in your article. Since electricity transmission and distribution is still a private monopoly for most electricity customers in the U.S., it's important that all costs are recovered by utilities. What's good for their utility, is good for customers. If strengthening GIS resources is a more efficient way to maintain reliable T&D, both parties benefit.

Connection/disconnection charges are controversial. Though sometimes utilities have been accused of "padding" them, a nominal fee is justifiable.

Normal distribution connection charges shouldn't be controversial, but they are. All customers are reponsible for their share of the costs for maintaining the grid, however, and those with solar panels are just as dependent on a functioning grid as those without - whether they use 1 kWh/month, or 1,000.

Solar Customers Not Covering Grid Costs

Steven Collier's picture
Steven Collier on Jul 6, 2020 2:56 pm GMT

We find that complete and accurate GIS data enables us to greatly simplify feasibility analysis, design, deployment, and operations of fiber to the home/meter/premises networks. Without good GIS data, the process is much longer, more expensive, and less functional.

 

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Jul 6, 2020 6:40 pm GMT

Amen

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