Is Grid Data Ready for Modernization?

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: ID 111448418 © Artur Szczybylo |
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
  • 136 items added with 193,115 views
  • Mar 18, 2019

Data scientists apply an amusing idea called GIGO—garbage in, garbage out! It means that faulty inputs prevent reliable advanced outputs. Dependable grid data fuels the much-anticipated improvements to the electric network. Is today's grid data good enough for this modernization? Workforce mobility apps sit in a prime position to help take out the trash.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology is a foundation for grid modernization activities of many kinds. Energy Acuity conducted a 2019 electric utility survey asking a timely question: Is your GIS ready for grid modernization? The results have some surprising implications for utility data and workforce mobility practices.

What is an acceptable error rate for data supporting advanced real-time grid management? Would it be .001 percent, .01 percent, or 1 percent? Most survey respondents reported error rates that are much higher than these. Over 75 percent of utilities put their error rate at over 2 percent, with plenty of them being over 5 percent. One error in 20 devices is 5 percent—that's not even in the right ballpark!

Sure, the definition of an error and the acceptable rate can be debated. But to safely support a resilient network, the count of errors is going to have to be a pretty low number. Mobile workforce apps easily unfold a largely untapped opportunity to boost data quality.

It's straightforward to leverage low-cost devices for data validation and collection while also furthering workforce safety, communication, and efficiency. Improving data quality is an outstanding activity during the early phases of grid modernization. Look to smart mobile solutions to improve data management, timeliness, and quality.

Data Management

Eighty-five percent of survey respondents already exploit GIS in the field to some extent. Mobile solutions take many different forms. Some simply view reference information; others update attributes from a streamlined list of choices, and the most advanced apps deliver graphic redlining and editing.

Despite mobile editing solutions being well proven, half of the respondents have yet to do any mobile editing at all. Nearly 35 percent still redraft data from CAD or paper sketches rather than leveraging mobile options. Mobile opportunities to improve data management are just waiting to be seized.


According to the survey, about half of the utilities update their records within a 10-day window, while the other half suffers from delays measured in weeks or months. Mobile apps immediately capture data at its source, reducing both delays and errors. Incorrect or incomplete network data detains the outputs needed to power informed decision-making.

Mobile apps take a cue from social media—once a change is made by anyone, those changes are immediately visible to all. In the field, utilities can collect reliable data that is quickly returned to the organization.

Utilities can boost productivity and data reliability with mobile alternatives that replace paper-based, manual data collection workflows. As a bonus, any corrective actions performed on equipment can be initiated on the spot without the problems introduced by crumpled paper notes.


The vast majority of utilities still manually transcribe notes from the field. We certainly have the technology—it's time to update the data capture process and improve grid data quality.

Safe work practices always require performing visual inspection and verification of electrical facilities before working on them. Every day, each worker has golden opportunities to either validate or correct grid asset data. Steadily eliminate those pesky errors. Forward-thinking utilities find errors, make corrections, and fill in the data gaps as part of normal work.

Don't commit limited resources to third-party data collection services until you make the most of in-house workforce capabilities with up-to-date mobile tools.


Field mobility solutions deliver breakthrough ways to collect and capture data. They also expand workflow management with navigation and repeatable workflows. Sharing data in real time with other users and operations dashboards increases collaboration across the organization.

Esri offers a menu of mobile GIS choices including business partner solutions for utilities of every size. They're easy to implement and require little or no training to operate.

Don't feed a grid modernization program with garbage. Use modern workforce mobility applications to improve and supplement the crucial network data on which modernization rests!

To learn more about how ArcGIS and grid modernization visit how ArcGIS powers grid modernization

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