I Sound Like a Broken Record about IIJA and GIS

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: ID 61426303 © Nadezhda Andriyakhina |
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...

  • Member since 2002
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  • May 12, 2022

The term “sounds like a broken record” dates back to when people made phonograph records (remember?) out of a breakable material. A crack or broken record caused the phonograph needle to get stuck in a groove. That part of the song is repeated over and over. Sometimes I sound like a broken record.


I often start a presentation about GIS with the expression, “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the term GIS?” When presentations were mostly in front of live audiences, the crowd would usually yell out “Maps.” Thankfully, live audiences are now becoming a reality. In the world of Zoom and Teams, when the entire audience is behind the silent cloud curtain, I imagine the audience yelling out maps in their home offices or converted bedrooms. Maybe when the silence is broken by a lone person yelling out “Maps,” the only other sound is a dog barking or a wife, husband, or roommate yelling back, “What?”

While the heart of GIS is mapping, it is so much more. When I repeat myself, like a broken record, I’m not alone. My colleague and friend Pat Hohl writes,” limiting GIS use to a digital replacement of paper maps is a profound underutilization—a lost advantage to address a challenging environment.”I have written many times that a GIS is transformational. Some utilities still believe that a GIS is an application to make utility maps better and faster. Maps like the old paper maps. That’s good and bad news. The good news is that utilities are using GIS more and more. Still, the bad news is that utilities continue to focus on the physical aspect of the map. The paper map. They focus on the look and feel. How to manage white space. What information to include on the map. What scale and size of the map. Sure, we often create pdf versions of the map, but they are, after all, electronic versions of paper maps. Utilities still print out maps and hang them on walls.


GIS allows people to capture all kinds of location information, such as imagery, lidar, demographic, weather history, and real-time data. You name it. It then provides the framework of inspirational insight. It hands out ah-ha moments like crazy. It connects apparently unrelated information.

My favorite example is how utilities can reach definitive conclusions about their equity programs. Analysts assemble digital maps that show precisely where concentrations of vulnerable people live. They can then overlay those regions with their network restoration activities or investment plans. And connect and obtain insight. Often their response is, “we never knew we were underserving this demographic, or even better, their response might be, “yes, we are serving this demographic fairly.” This simple notion is transformational.


The newly passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) requires funding recipients to look at these very things. GIS shines a spotlight on these issues to help them make the right investment decisions that comply with the statutes.

IIJA also requires funding recipients to examine areas of desperate need for network hardening and lack of resiliency. GIS answers the question: where is my network most vulnerable and what do I need to do to fix it?

Finally, GIS alerts policymakers and decision-makers on what to do. How? Show them the map! GIS delivers digital mapping just like social media. I used to work for a power company for years. I know that the simple sharing of up-to-date network information can be challenging. Not having current and accurate data in the office and in the hands of mobile workers has implications. Lost productivity. Longer restoration times. Safety issues. Violations of regulations. Repeating myself, GIS is not so much about the look and feel of a paper map. Instead, the value is its ability to access information, create awareness of what and where something is happening, and analyze what might happen – all in real-time.


It’s still worth repeating (like a broken record). A modern GIS is a framework for transforming how utilities work. Since all projects need to capture data, understand situations and share information, utilities will need GIS to help them secure funding from IIJA. Esri calls the use of ArcGIS the geographic approach.

As utilities continue to use the geographic approach, they can rip up their old notions of paper maps. Then I can put that old broken record to rest.

Learn how ArcGIS transforms the utility business here.

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Todd Carney's picture
Todd Carney on May 24, 2022

Bill, thank you for this fascinating post. I learned a lot from it. A lot of times it seems that there are clear answers out there, yet for one reason or another people adopting these solutions get in the way. What can we collectively do to make people listen more to these ideas?

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on May 24, 2022

Hi Todd, thanks for your kind comments. I don't have a clear answer for you, but I suppose we continue to post blogs, respond to editorials and just plug away communicating. The key to successful influence is repetition.  Thanks again for your comments.


Bill Meehan's picture
Thank Bill for the Post!
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