Building a Modern Utility Through Digital Transformation

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Matthew Crooks's picture
Product Manager, GIS Technology Schneider Electric

Matt Crooks is a technical product manager for Schneider Electric’s ArcFM solution. He helps shape the strategy and direction of the ArcFM Solution which helps utilities succeed with GIS...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Jul 22, 2019

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

The pace of evolution in modern technology is difficult to keep up with, and that is particularly true in the utility industry. With the ceaseless evolution of technical capabilities, it is imperative that utilities are always examining how to optimize their operation.

For utilities considering an upgrade to their infrastructure and digital capabilities, this transition may sound like a huge overhaul. While there is plenty to plan for, including a new platform, data model and interfaces, the value of the transformation becomes clear by examining the benefits delivered by new technology and solutions across the utility chain.

Digital solutions deliver numerous advantages, including increased efficiency, broader bandwidth for data analysis and digital twins for accurate simulations. Modern architecture enables utilities to digitally share their networks, analyze operations efficiently, and access previously siloed information from the field.

In addition to having greater capacity for data proliferation, advanced networks incorporate enhanced topological engines and improved understanding of the components within the architecture, taking operational analysis to the next level. Esri’s Utility Network is built with a services-based architecture, which is a pattern that provides platform capabilities and APIs through web-based services. This pattern is easier to implement and maintain, and superior in platform accessibility. Preparing for this new network can help get a digital transformation off the ground and running.

Through implementation of innovative technology, the potential for improvement in the utilities industry is immense. A job that was previously passed around on paper for a couple of days now takes only hours to execute digitally. To reap all the rewards though, a utility must evolve from top to bottom. From design to the construction of physical infrastructure in the field to managing assets in as-built workflows, utilities are growing by leaps and bounds via digital transformation.

Like any well-built home, utilities require a strong foundation. Design serves as this sturdy framework for a digital transformation. By informing the construction and management of infrastructure, design is the starting block for digital evolution, and triggers a ripple effect to other processes.

Since putting assets in the ground enables utilities to deliver a commodity and generate revenue, design is one of the most critical elements for utilities. Until recently though, utility infrastructure and the design process have been mostly paper based. New digital capabilities are eliminating the need for piles of paperwork to document processes, while connecting stakeholders to streamlined workflows.

Schneider Electric’s ArcFM Solution XI Series is often described as a system of design, a set of connected apps that digitize the design and construction workflow. The series not only provides technology for each phase of work, but it also incorporates digital solutions for the process itself, combining the movement of work and data.

Through the ecosystem of connected apps, the system of design plays a crucial role by defining the architecture, modules, interfaces and data to satisfy specific requirements. In turn, the system automates the design and construction process, digitally transitioning work through each step of the workflow and cutting out extraneous paper documentation.

Pairing the new system of design with Esri’s Utility Network platform provides an open frontier for the modern utility. With advanced solutions and network platforms in place that often come at a lower cost to implement, utilities can achieve faster results and provide additional value for both the consumer and their own bottom line.

Furthermore, an up-to-date network keeps consumers and stakeholders safe by constantly providing an accurate digital representation of the utility. No one must wade through stale, outdated paper documents to determine proper safety precautions. While new checks and balances ensure a safer worksite, digital step-by-step instructions in modern applications are cutting costs and training time for onboarding new employees.

New GIS-based solutions allow utilities to sketch natively within GIS, preventing the need to redraw designs and avoiding the expensive extract transfer load process for converting to GIS. By moving designs and map corrections around digitally and using new commissioning tools that intuitively arrange work, the system of design coordinates the course of work from start to finish.

Templates in modern design apps also eliminate the need for manual selection of each feature in a given job. For example, design templates can develop a gas service by grouping together holes, fittings and other items, saving large amounts of time for the designer. Since designs are then interfaced with work management systems, estimating costs is seamless too.

Next generation design apps streamline design, estimations, construction and as-built workflow processes. They also eliminate the need to manage multiple data models, reduce cost of ownership, and integrate design and planning with other important GIS-driven apps. Through these new efficiencies, some utilities have seen design time for a new service drop by 80 percent.

Working from cutting edge design apps, utilities can quickly create a digital design, BoM and a construction print. From there, the design can be relayed to the field for construction notes, sent to a WMS to keep inventory and asset management up to date, and shared natively to the local GIS. On top of viewing designs in the field, crew members can make live updates from any location. The system digitally verifies redlines and corrections from the field and validates the design as part of the network.

Modern design apps employ high-fidelity networks and use ADMS equipment catalogs, allowing companies to design, collect and send data in hi-fidelity format. Additionally, mobile capabilities increase fidelity via barcodes and GPS data augmentation. This is vital to supporting the increased data requirements from control room systems.

With a strong design prepared, utilities can commence construction and the process of physically putting infrastructure in the earth. Construction work usually runs through the hands of field crews, and they frequently leverage precise maps to complete their jobs.

Utility-scale mobile GIS solutions now provide instant, intuitive access to data for an entire utility workforce. Advanced technology connects field crews with maps, material lists, network information and jobs coming from the engineering team, so they can accurately and efficiently perform their duties. These platforms include turn-by-turn navigation, asset search functions, isolation tracing, work location activation and full offline support.

Modern networks can also bring utility-scale GIS to field crews and guide them through key steps in the process, while taking notes on the construction developments. From preparing a safe worksite to understanding design details, sketching redlines and making map corrections, this new technology serves as an all-inclusive aid to field employees at each twist and turn.

Schneider Electric’s ArcFM Mobile solution empowers any business to collaborate between field and office in near real time with accelerated workflows. The solution reduces operational costs by minimizing manual processes, paper maps and duplication of work while allowing the workforce to focus on their job instead of software. A Midwest utility has seen an 88 percent reduction in time for user training with ArcFM Mobile, compared to a previous mobile GIS solution.

Since field crews can do all their work digitally via new solutions, such as ArcFM Mobile, data is quickly sent to the next step in the process and logged by the system. The crews can constantly view network data and distribute information from the field to keep the rest of the company updated.

As-Built Workflows
Whether you’re constructing in the field or managing assets, innovative technology is revolutionizing how work gets done. Modern applications are opening the door to a new era of network editing.

New enterprise solutions allow operators to visualize, navigate and manage their utility network’s assets in a reliable application. Within these apps, GIS editors can maximize efficiency through a graphical, data-rich information display. The map-centric, intuitive format of these solutions makes it simple to model, design, maintain and manage information.

Modern editing applications provide quick sketching tools, network analysis, decision support and more. Validation assistants can also speed up error resolution and reduce backlogs, while other features decrease outages and optimize reliability.

As with the latest versions of all apps in the ArcFM XI Solution Series, new editing platforms are faster and more scalable than their predecessors. Users experience an advanced level of performance that accommodates larger networks and expedites complex operations. Thus, new programs generate quicker turnaround for end users getting work done, and faster updates to mission critical systems like OMS.

Spatial asset management is streamlined with new digital solutions. Commissioning, editing, checking and analyzing can be coordinated in one application to optimize workflow.

One Synchronized Platform Breeds Efficiency
Each step in the utilities process has experienced unique improvements through new technology, but going digital in every capacity compounds the benefits of innovation. The ability to move work around digitally between steps increases overall responsiveness, efficiency and safety. The full enterprise becomes faster and more economical.

Connected platforms also strengthen data quality. Sketching natively within GIS and maintaining digital records help prevent data loss, reduce data errors and boost accuracy.

Digital technologies are improving safety and compliance by supporting a single version of the truth. Utilities can streamline transmission and distribution compliance reporting using a single data source, tracing from source to meter. Timely reporting eliminates the need for duplicate data maintenance, and the universal platform consolidates management of assets, hazards, operations, events, weather and more.

With new technology emerging every day, utilities need to make paradigm shift in thinking and mindset on how to tackle problems and meet requirements. New capabilities are optimizing operations in ways the industry could not have anticipated.

Some companies have created pilot programs which allow utilities to run a test to get a sense of what a full digital migration will take. These programs illustrate the user experience by implementing the solution’s data model on a small chunk of data while providing some training along the way, so utilities can explore all the possibilities across their enterprise.

Staying ahead of the pack necessitates profound technical advancements to business and organizational activities. Considering the evolving landscape, where does your utility stand amongst the competition? Are you ready to not only take the next step, but to leap forward through digital transformation?

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 22, 2019

Each step in the utilities process has experienced unique improvements through new technology, but going digital in every capacity compounds the benefits of innovation. The ability to move work around digitally between steps increases overall responsiveness, efficiency and safety. The full enterprise becomes faster and more economical.

This seems to be a really key point-- the investments can and will only pay off more and more when digital becomes a core principle rather than a secondary thought of improvements that are added here and there

Matthew Crooks's picture
Thank Matthew for the Post!
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