Maturing of GIS - Baby Steps to Quantum Leaps: EC Member Questions Answered

Posted to UDC in the Digital Utility Group
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Tom Helmer's picture
Executive Solution Architect, UDC

Executive Solution Architect for UDC and SAFe® 4 Certified Agilist (SA), Tom has over 25 years of experience designing and integrating utility solutions around GIS and related technologies,...

  • Member since 2008
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  • Mar 15, 2023

We hope you enjoyed the recent Energy Central Power Session, Maturing of GIS - Baby Steps to Quantum Leaps, hosted by Pat Hohl and Bill Meehan from Esri and featuring SSP, TECO Peoples Gas, and UDC's Tom Helmer as panelists. A number of audience questions were collected during the live event. UDC wanted to follow-up to share those questions along with answers provided by Tom and the UDC team.

Q&A from Maturing of GIS – Baby Steps to Quantum Leaps

Q: Between the Utility Network OTB tools and third-party tools, are utilities capable of upgrading to the UN without risking workflow efficiency? In other words, are products/tools currently mature enough to support an already sophisticated GIS?

A:  Yes, a sophisticated GIS, one that the organization has invested in maximizing the adoption of GIS data, GIS applications, GIS integrations both to and from existing business systems supporting workflows and adopting GIS technologies to create new workflows, should be supported. 

In addition, the market has been very proactive in supporting the advanced functionality adopted by forward-thinking utilities. Most organizations will be able to increase the sophistication of their implementations if they are willing to leverage the full capabilities provided by the ArcGIS Enterprise platform and Esri partners with expertise in areas like services-based editing and advanced network modeling.


Q: One of our GIS challenges is differences of opinion on whether a GIS can really be a full EAM system. Can you talk a little about GIS capabilities for things like asset condition assessment, outstanding issue tracking, work planning, and work management. Is GIS growing into those spaces, or is it more of a visualization tool for that data than a system to manage that data?

A: We would ask you to reach out to UDC to see how well GIS can be used to Plan, Create, Schedule, Dispatch, Perform, Monitor and Report and integrate with traditional EAM systems for closing and recording labor and material used. GIS can support surveys, inspections, routine maintenance and ad-hoc 'one-timer' events as they arise. With the wealth of niche cloud-based image analytics using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), the GIS can easily support condition assessments as a service.  These same underlying technologies are now part of ArcGIS Enterprise Platform, and we have clients using the GIS AI and ML technologies to do their own condition assessments.


Q: We only have about 12 crew people. They insist on either telling me about a change or drawing it on paper. I have not been able to get them to use apps. How do you get resistant field crews to use apps?

A: Managing change at any level can be challenging and it often takes time to fully adopt new technologies within organizations. Our clients at The Energy Cooperative (TEC) shared their insights on the topic of digital transformation and change management at the utility. For TEC, key factors leading to digital adoption in the field included: strong support from leadership, providing the right tools to make their job easier from the start, including field members in the process, and allowing team members to embrace the change at their own pace with a gradual rollout approach. We invite you to read more from TEC on our website at


Q: What are some of the biggest challenges utilities face leveraging their investments in GIS to impact positive business outcomes?

A: Every utility is different, but there are three common roadblocks that keep utilities from fully leveraging their GIS at an enterprise level. The first is caused by a lack of partnership between the business and IT organizations, which either leads to technology that is not based in business need or business created applications that don’t meet the IT requirements. The second is a shortsighted or outdated view of GIS, one that does not recognize GIS as an enterprise system. This results in a lack of support for integration and application development. Finally, organizations can be reluctant to changing current workflows, so implementing new methodology can be tough.

Enlisting a partner to help generate an Enterprise GIS Roadmap that provides benefits, budgets, and a calendarized set of business releases for allocating your budgets is a good way to demonstrate and maximize the value of your GIS investments across the organization.


Q: What methods have you been using to improve the GIS data quality? Have you tried to automate the process? Is it successful?

A: We recommend implementing best-in-class business processes and supporting high value integrations and data acquisition processes. We have successfully implemented a wide array of data quality methodologies from third-party applications to scripts, and in the new ArcGIS Pro, Attribute Rules. Many of these checks are automated to reduce manual effort and to ensure all the data is consistently evaluated. It’s important to understand where in the workflow to apply data checks, as they can increase processing time (although well worth it!).

In addition to having automated tests and tight attribute population control, there are two other key components to consider. 1) Measuring quality – implement a scoring system as part of the QA/QC, doing this will confirm the actual quality level and 2) Reviewing trends from automated QA/QC tools to identify gaps – keeping a record of errors over time, including which features and attributes those errors occur on will help determine potential “leaks” or “holes”. You can then use those insights to tighten up things like attribute rules as an example.


Q: Is Engineering and Design inbuilt within the ESRI product or do we need to have some external design tools?

A: Esri Partners have used ArcGIS SDKs to build third-party design tools or offer CAD-based design tools that once approved are automatically loaded into the GIS in the 'design' status. You will likely want a third-party application to help with engineering and design tasks. Many of them integrate directly with your GIS to allow a streamlined workflow and help keep data consistent across the enterprise.

Get More Answers

UDC welcomes additional questions you may have regarding the evolution of GIS and enterprise systems within your organization. Please post your questions below or feel free to reach out to Tom Helmer and UDC’s Energy Central experts and contributors.

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UDC is a spatially focused company centered on automating utilities. We provide a full set of GIS services and Digital Utility® solutions supporting operations and increasing reliability for utilities.

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