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It’s a Matter of Trust: Using Location Intelligence to Make Utility Data More Accurate…and Drive Efficiency

image credit: Istock purchased by Critigen DBA Locana
Dianna Herbst's picture
Marketing Director Critigen

With more than 20 years’ experience leading, motivating, and managing teams in areas of strategic market development, sales planning, public relations, and communications, Ms. Herbst leverages...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Dec 14, 2022
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Can you trust the infrastructure-related data that every aspect of your operations relies upon? Did that transmission line get installed the way your systems say it was? Are those poles located where you think they are? Will your crew find what they are expecting to find when they look inside that junction box or dig up that pipe? Did that subcontractor perform the maintenance the way they were supposed to? Too often the answer to those questions is “no.” Or just as challenging, the answer is too often “maybe?”

The unfortunate reality is that most utilities do not have data they can trust. The infrastructure-related data that is the foundation for their operations is either long out of date, incomplete, inaccurate or full of contradictions. For utilities, the volume of inaccurate data is daunting, given that it involves geographically distributed infrastructure including utility poles, water lines, underground and above-ground cables, vaults, transformers, gas line connections, water pumps, DERs and so much more. These data problems are not trivial. Utility operations rely on this data, not only during normal operational conditions but particularly in emergency situations.

The source of these data problems is not a mystery. Manual, paper-driven processes are the culprit. Utilities GIS systems too often don’t receive accurate information. Or they receive it too slowly. Or the information they receive is incomplete or contradictory. To compound that problem, utilities often have more than one GIS systems in their operations, and those GIS systems often don’t agree. The impact is enormous. Because there is no single body of data that can trusted, and because so many data points are not accurate, teams are forced to make educated guesses about the truth. Even then, the true truth typically isn’t determined until a truck is rolled to evaluate the infrastructure in person. All of this causes massive inefficiencies across the organization, with a lack of trustworthy information paralyzing processes ranging from day-to-day maintenance tasks to high-stakes emergency response efforts.

All of this is despite the best efforts of everyone involved, from the field crew to the GIS departments, who wrestle with these data issues all day, every day. The problem is structural, not a shortcoming by those involved. But there is a solution, and both field crews and GIS teams are the key players in solving it.

By equipping work crews with location intelligence-powered mobile devices, utilities can validate data in the GIS system each time those team members are on a work assignment. Location intelligence applications on these devices capture accurate information before, during and after a work assignment, even when the device is not online. When they first arrive at a site, they use these devices to capture accurate information that on-site and in-the-office team members use to make more informed decisions about the work to be done. Then after the work crew carries out work orders for maintenance or construction, they us utilize the location intelligence applications to re-capture information about the site post-project to ensure that the GIS system accurately captures those changes.

This automated process is far faster, more accurate and more reliable than the manual processes I discussed above. This provides a trustworthy source of digital information that is immediately available to the entire chain of decision-makers involved in that project. It is information they can trust, and information that helps them make better decisions in a far more efficient way.

Day by day, project by project, this enables utilities to make their data steadily more accurate and trustworthy. With every truck that rolls, they are giving every department in the organization a data set that can be trusted more. The benefits are enormous: far more efficient operational processes, including faster progress on implementing work orders, fewer truck rolls to send crews onsite, fewer processes that need to be re-done due to faulty information.

 

Discussions
Brandon Raso's picture
Brandon Raso on Dec 14, 2022

Thank you for posting Dianna! 

Dianna Herbst's picture
Dianna Herbst on Dec 16, 2022

Your welcome Brandon Nice Article. 

 

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Jan 3, 2023

Interesting point. The reality is that individuals often view information that comes from a computer as true but in many cases, it is more a guesstimate than 100% accurate. Behind every report are developers who do their best to create programs that virtualize business processes. Something often is lost in the translation, and utilities need to account for it as they deliver services and manage their infrastructure. 

Brandon Raso's picture
Brandon Raso on Jan 5, 2023

Hi Paul, 

Thank you. In my experience, utilities have more than one source of truth when it comes to assets and asset location in the field. Whether it is circuit feet or pole location, there are too often discrepancies and multiple systems that need to be analyzed for accuracy.  Yes, developers and our IT support can virtualize workflows, however that doesn't solve for incorrect data from the field. 

The level of accuracy, as an example, has changed with lower cost GPS accuracy, compliance regulations, and handheld devices driving more efficient workflows. We live in an “on demand” world where we know when and where my pizza is in route. In the 80’s and 90’s, the field required an address to a service whether it was normal operations or emergency response. Today we can guide field personnel to the exact location within feet, resulting in efficiencies anywhere from time saving to recording workorders and passing that information back and forth from back-office operations to the field.

Given the age of utilities and their assets, there is a need for field validation on almost every work order. My point being, let’s trust the field worker to capture asset information, provide a means that it simple and effective for communicating back to those in operations hosting the data, and make it available to those that need it for precise decision making.

Paul Korzeniowski's picture
Paul Korzeniowski on Jan 25, 2023

Very true. The reality is information is collected in a wide variety of systems that were not designed to talk to one -- and often don't. Cleansing the data is complex, often expensive and time consuming undertaking,. While energy companies would like to integrate the systems, often they don't because they have trouble making the business case. 

Megan Crout's picture
Megan Crout on Jan 9, 2023

Thanks for the perspective, Diana! Another way to achieve accuracy and efficiency is to use uncrewed aircraft for inspections and work monitoring. Most systems are equipped with GPS that can provide the exact location of poles and other infrastructure. Food for thought - might also be able to accomplish more than just location efficiency.

Dianna Herbst's picture
Thank Dianna for the Post!
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