Three Ways GIS Strengthens Asset Management

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: used with permission
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
  • 205 items added with 247,099 views
  • Jul 29, 2019

This item is part of the GIS in Utilities - Summer 2019 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

When I first worked for the power company we were a very functional organization. We had engineering, operations, construction, maintenance and customer care departments among many others. We later converted to a process-oriented company. One of those processes we implemented was asset management. We reorganized around processes instead of function. We assigned employees to process teams, not functional departments. It helped crush organization barriers and silos.

It helped the company focus on the complete outcomes, not just completed tasks.

One of my employees, Stanley, a seasoned veteran, was the boss of a major transmission and distribution service center. He was responsible for restoration, construction and maintenance. He knew every inch of the electric grid in his area.

He complained a lot.

He could never understand the rationale of the engineers downtown. They created projects that his crews had to build. Yet they never seemed to address the multiple issues that plagued him. He would tell me about leaning poles, ancient transformers, corroded guy wires, overloaded poles and rusty transmission towers.

The engineers complained a lot.

They never understood why the operations people complained so much. They were planning for long term load growth. They were upgrading the system for automation and what was later to be smart grid. They saw the big picture.

They did agree on one thing. The financial people never gave them enough money. And they never understood what they were doing.

Who was right? The problem was their frame of reference was functional. No one was looking at the grid from a full life cycle perspective. Once we created an asset management process, we began to see why Stanley, the engineers, and the financial people were both right and wrong. Stanley knew that certain assets were sure to fail. The engineers knew that if they didn’t upgrade to higher voltages or upgrade the cables, they would surely fail as well. The financial people knew that if they didn’t contain costs, we wouldn’t remain a viable business.

They were all working on the same grid, the same system. Yet, their desired outcomes were misaligned. All wanted better reliability and resiliency. And affordability, sustainability, security and flexibility. The foundation of grid modernization.

The problem with asset management is that it is not well understood. Ask ten people what it means, and you get ten answers. It needs to be simple. It needs to be explained to Stanley, the engineers and the CFO in three easy steps.

  1. Understand the complete life cycle of assets. One of the pioneers in Asset Management, John Woodbridge liked to say know your asset from “lust to dust.”
  2. Monitor the asset performance
  3. Optimize the financial, risk and renew vs. replace cycle

The key to asset management is transparency - seeing Stanley’s, the engineer’s and the CFO’s view. That’s where GIS comes in.

Life Cycle Management

Location is the great equalizer between Stanley, the engineers and the accountants. It is also the great silo buster. Now in one view, Stanley, the engineers and the accountants can see the impact of maintenance, failure, obsolesce, running costs, losses and spare parts availability. They can see the external influences, such as weather, salt contamination, vandalism. You name it. The GIS unifies the asset management view around location.  ArcGIS is a location intelligence system.  It provides a bridge between IT and OT. It works closely with the company’s EAM and work management systems.  Very simply ArcGIS sees what others can’t. You can miss the connection between Op-Ex, Cap EX and earnings from a functional perspective. ArcGIS provides insight into the stages of assets, from procurement through retirement - from “lust to dust.”

Performance Monitoring

Sensors are everywhere. Their costs are plummeting. I like to call this the IoT (internet of things) revolution. Some people call this the internet of everything. The problem for the grid management is that the sensors and the OT systems are not coordinated. Utilities get monitoring from their core operational technology systems (SCADA, Generations Control, AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) System, ADMS (Advanced Distribution Management System)). Utilities also have video surveillance, cyber security, and AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location). In addition, billions of people are tweeting, facebooking, youtubing and instragraming. People are also sensors. These sensors are everywhere.

Where is key.

ArcGIS organizes these sensors (including the sensors from the utilities OT systems) by location. That leads to discovery and insight. This give a much fuller view of asset performance and the key to discovering failure. No other system can do that. Again, ArcGIS is a silo buster.


Once information is presented simply, the Stanley’s of the world, the engineers, the financial people, and countless others in the organization see trends and patterns that otherwise would be hidden. ArcGIS fine tunes decision making. It sharpens understanding of exactly what’s happening in the grid now. And what may happen in the next minute. Tomorrow. Or in ten years. Then utilities can balance operational, expansion and financial needs – that’s what asset management is all about. In a nutshell.

Using ArcGIS to strengthen asset management might not stop Stanley, the engineers and the financial people from complaining about it each other. It will sure lead to better decision making.

To learn more about how ArcGIS strengthens asset management, click here: Esri Best Practice Asset Management

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 29, 2019

Who was right? The problem was their frame of reference was functional. No one was looking at the grid from a full life cycle perspective. Once we created an asset management process, we began to see why Stanley, the engineers, and the financial people were both right and wrong.

Data comes to save the day! It's amazing what happens when you have the ability to actually analyze what can/should be done rather than rely on anectdotal evidence and arrangements wher perhaps it's just the loudest/squeakiest wheels who might win

Pardis Khavari's picture
Pardis Khavari on Sep 10, 2019

Thank You Bill for starting the conversation as a part of a sales pitch.

I can share with you that after 23 years in the Systems Structures, and Components – SSC ageing and asset management, the picture you presented only reflects half the participants, benefactors and stakeholders.  Corporate sponsors, regulators, generation asset owners, and generation planning, or in your case dispatching agency is missing from your formula.  

  1. Senior staff and decision makers need to know the overall risks, costs, and NPV to make a decision.
  2. Regulators demand to know the risk and reliability of the asset so to give you license to operate or extend operation
  3. Generation asset owner need to reflect their vulnerability and deal with reliability and prioritize work and expenditure to maximize the generation run time
  4. Generation planning folk need to know the outage cycles and needs for derate and downtime to deal with the dispatch of the electricity.  So, ageing and asset manager has to have the project and outage profile to feed the planning process.
  5. By extension the power dispatchers need the ageing and asset reliability picture so to ensure continuity of the electrical supply

In my experience all the program and processes have a shallow view of their immediate vicinity and lack integration capability.  Hence, there is a silo mentality in strategic asset and ageing management. Another factor overlooked is that the Ageing and Asset management processes has to go hand in hand. Equipment Reliability, Obsolescent and Critical Spares Management processes are the other close associate processes.



Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Sep 10, 2019

Hi Pardis,

I agree 100%.  There are far more stakeholders than maintenance, engineering, and financial folks.  ISO5000 et al suggest transparency is critical to solid asset management. My little story only illustrates that even groups that work closely together often don't see that others point of you. 

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Bill Meehan's picture
Thank Bill for the Post!
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