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Staying Out of Trouble with GIS

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In the novel You Can't Go Home Again, mid-twentieth-century American author Thomas Wolfe fictionalizes his hometown. Returning home, Wolfe's main character gets into trouble, angering the townsfolk.

I can relate.

When I ran electric operations for a power company, I was asked to appear as a "special guest" at my hometown city council meeting. Residents packed the public session. They weren't happy. I felt like Wolfe's character.

There were issues. Residents pointed to a rash of power failures from the past couple of weeks. I assured the residents that we were taking their reliability issues seriously. The crowd groaned.

The more vexing issue was the condition of the city streets.

Where the Streets Have Cold Patches

Residents had been giving the council heat about potholes and poor street conditions. The council committed to making things better by instituting an aggressive repaving program.

My power company wasn't making things better.

Days after the city had completed nice paved streets, my crews dug trenches so that we could run underground cables and conduits. One of the councilors noted that I (though he meant my crews) had had the audacity to cover the trench with cold patch, a tar-like material that temporarily covers potholes and trenches. Since the tar is cold, it tends to wear off very easily. It creates little tar pebbles. When a car drives over a cold patch, you hear the material make an awful noise against the car wheel well. City council members and residents wanted to know why my power company was ruining their beautiful streets just days after taxpayer dollars had paid to pave them.

An irate council member reminded me that this happens all the time. I agreed to repave the full street sections we had just recently ruined. And I agreed to have better communication with the city. Yet, despite my best efforts, we continued to experience a lack of foolproof coordination.

What This Story Has to Do with GIS

What does this story have to do with GIS? A lot.

We had a geographic information system (GIS) with work-order schedules. The city had a GIS with pavement schedules. What if the power company consumed the paving schedules from the city's GIS in our own GIS? And what if the city consumed a web service of our digging work orders?

It'd make things simple.

Then we'd ask the GIS to show where the digging and paving are in the same place. We'd simply coordinate the work—that's what ArcGIS does so easily. I like to call it the three C's—communicate, collaborate, and coordinate.

But achieving the three C's was tough back then, at the time of my painful council meeting.

Not anymore.

ArcGIS delivers the technology and processes to break down communication barriers, so organizations and departments can share information and collaborate in real time. Teams, departments, and companies can leverage ArcGIS to securely and seamlessly share map-based information. This is the concept of smart cities.

What is ArcGIS? It's like any platform. Phil Simon explains the idea best in The Age of the Platform: platforms allow people to connect and obtain information. Platforms include Facebook, Apple i-products, and Amazon. These destinations let you communicate, share insights, gather information, and get things done. The ArcGIS difference is that the ArcGIS platform takes advantage of location—like where streets are to be paved, or where utilities plan to dig.

ArcGIS provides utility constituents (customers, regulators, the media, other utilities, first responders) answers to a simple question: What's going on right here, right now, and what's happening later.

I'm Coming Home

At my painful homecoming, a woman with a grim expression raised her hand. She told a story of how I had ruined her daughter's wedding. Me, personally! My crews working overtime on a Saturday had dug up the street outside the church during her daughter's wedding. Their jackhammers drowned out the organ during the wedding march. The street could be fixed, but that memory couldn't. She had no idea we were digging up the street. Thankfully, she never sent me the video of the wedding march.

Imagine if we, the utility, could simply publish a live web map on our website, showing exactly when and where utility work was going to happen. Then customers would know if there was going be work going on near them.

Utilities do that now. Peoples Gas of Chicago has a live website, driven by ArcGIS, that tells its customers where work is going on. Check it out at Scroll to the section on upgrade projects.

ArcGIS provides an easy way communicate, collaborate, and coordinate.

If I'd have used ArcGIS then, I could have gone home a hero and proved Thomas Wolfe wrong.

To learn more about how the ArcGIS fine-tunes customer engagement visit our webpage.

Bill Meehan's picture

Thank Bill for the Post!

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Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 22, 2019 1:03 pm GMT

I don't live near Chicago but I spent a few minutes playing around with the map tool there-- very cool! Way easier to use than I had expected. How often do these maps get updated?

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Oct 22, 2019 6:24 pm GMT

Hi Matt.  Customers typically use live maps that are part of their ArcGIS platform enterprise system.  So they are normally as current as their operating maps. 


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