Using GIS to Provide ‘As-operating’ Views of the Grid to remote users, mobile users, management, executives, and utility customers

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Frank Roberts's picture
Account Manager UDC

Frank began his GIS career in 2001 working in defense mapping. In 2007, he transitioned into the utilities vertical. He has experience in project and program management including PMO leadership...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Oct 12, 2021

GIS is key to sharing information with the right people at the right time both inside and outside your organization. Using ArcGIS Enterprise to power web services has become one of the most common methods to share information within an organization and with external stakeholders. A web-based platform, it enables users to manage and integrate with the various applications commonly used to spatially manage utility assets and allows them to organize and share their work with multiple options whether it be on the desktop or mobile device. ArcGIS Enterprise comes with mobile components that natively run on mobile Windows, iOS and Android devices and support communicating with field crews in a round trip fashion.

Traditionally, utilities have used GIS to manage assets on their network. Additional functionality and the ability to model assets in GIS exactly as they exist in the field, plus the ease of access through webservices, are what you get with Esri’s ArcGIS Utility Network extension. Allowing users to model their GIS in more detail and by publishing the data out of ArcGIS Pro, the GIS can be used to support both engineering and operational systems that require the higher fidelity ‘as-designed’ view of the network. The increasing penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs) on the power grid make for a more complex grid configuration that engineering and operational applications need to manage. The operational systems traditionally own the ‘as-operating’ view of the grid. Leveraging the growing capabilities of their GIS, utilities can provide that as-operating view to remote users, mobile users, management, executives, and customers in the form of interactive operational, analytic, and communication dashboards.  

Growing Use of GIS-based Dashboard Technology

The use of dashboards and the term ‘Digital Twin’ are perfect examples of the desire and growing capability to share this information with a broader audience. 

A prime example of the successful use of this technology is the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University dashboard which was delivered by the Esri Geospatial Cloud. This was widely utilized in 2020 to monitor and track the Covid-19 Pandemic and inform the public.

By gathering data from multiple sources and eventually automating this gathering effort due to the amount of information available, Ensheng Dong, a doctoral student from Johns Hopkins University, was able to present the data in an easy-to-understand format for the public using the system of engagement. The site became so heavily used and popular that it was getting up to 4.5 billion requests a day.

Dashboard Use by Utilities

At many utilities, dashboards built on ArcGIS Enterprise are being deployed to not only view GIS assets, but also to bring a host of data into one view from multiple systems like Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS), Outage Management Systems (OMS), SCADA, AMI and crew tracking systems to name a few. With these dashboards, operators can view multiple systems at the same time to make timely and accurate decisions and assignments. Configurable widgets and the ability to customize and integrate to other systems allows users to see what is important to them all in one view and most importantly, in real-time. 

UDC’s Digital Utility® Solution, Digital Twin for the Grid, leverages the data governance aspects, spatial capabilities and integration capacity of ArcGIS to interface with multiple systems and provide analytical network visualization. The dashboard solution brings interactive widgets that concentrate on particular areas of interest and interact with the map to focus on the metrics and information required for daily grid operations such as outage or asset performance results by area. The Digital Utility® dashboard solution brings main memory based spatial BI functionality and supports the configuration of multiple dimensions to allow end users to quickly see dashboard views focusing on customers and supporting the interactive toggling to outage counts, outage durations, highest loaded feeders and areas experiencing poor power quality issues.

Digital Utility® - Operational Outage Dashboard displaying outages for a specific municipal boundary


The Not-So-Distant Future of Digital Twin Dashboards

Looking forward to the next release of ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes, Esri is making it much easier for IT and GIS Administrators to support their community by making it fast and easy to build, test, and deploy the Digital Twin. 


Kubernetes was initially developed by Google as an opensource tool that is supported by all major cloud providers. The next release of ArcGIS Enterprise, which is scheduled for early 2021, is built on Kubernetes. This new cloud native deployment option for ArcGIS Enterprise is based on the principles of microservices and containerization, allowing GIS Administrators to automate deployments, scale systems, manage containerized applications, and quickly create new instances for their users. 

Kubernetes is an open standard for running containers across a variety of public and private cloud environments. Other cloud vendors have managed offerings like Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), and Digital Ocean Kubernetes. 

ArcGIS Enterprise combined with application containerization technology, like Kubernetes, will offer faster time for deployments by bringing flexibility and efficiency to the deployment process. It allows for speedy automated deployments with high reliability. Building, Testing, and deploying new environments is as simple as a copy and paste, making it much easier to get the users and developers the environment required to fully test new deployments seamlessly. Included with the platform is the built-in Cluster Autoscaler which allows the system to automatically increase and decrease the instances used based on real-time demand. 

There are also many open-source system administration tools available to monitor performance and reduce the IT and operational and maintenance (O&M) costs of managing dashboard deployments. Tools like Kubelet, Container Advisor (cAdvisor), and Prometheus are among the most popular tools that IT and O&M professionals are likely already familiar with. These tools will monitor and adjust resource usage and analyze performance automatically, reporting results to the administrator. These tools will detect and monitor your containers as they are created and removed, allowing the administrator to analyze the health and performance of all containers in any ArcGIS Enterprise environment. Many of the tools not only monitor containers but can also help with tracing and troubleshooting issues, so it’s important to research the tools available to find the correct monitoring tool for your organization.

Serving Real-time Data to Multiple Audiences

Incorporating the Kubernetes Platform within GIS and utilizing Esri’s Utility Network Management Extension will enable utilities to quickly get the resources and environments needed to display their data. Whether it’s a digital twin dashboard that allows utility operators to view data that accurately reflects how the assets are being deployed in the field, or a communications dashboard that displays data to the public like the COVID-19 Dashboard that Johns Hopkins University published, the ability to integrate to other systems to extract data and spatially view the information in real-time is becoming easier. The adoption of new technology and platforms will better enable the GIS community to serve their data in easily digestible formats to all interested parties organizationally, locally, nationally or even globally faster than ever imagined.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 12, 2021

The increasing penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs) on the power grid make for a more complex grid configuration that engineering and operational applications need to manage

Does the distributed nature of the assets make GIS harder to implement and keep up with? Or is it all the same for the tech to handle in the end? 

Frank Roberts's picture
Frank Roberts on Oct 26, 2021

Hi Matt,
Adding DERs to the electric grid is natural part of design and as-built posting. Collecting these in the GIS and feeding downstream systems such as ADMS doesn’t change the level of effort. Bring in potentially multiple sources of energy will provide the opportunity to have more electrical network analysis QA/QC in the GIS and/or integrate with Distribution Planning Systems and ADMSs to do the network analysis with multiple sources per feeder/circuit.

Frank Roberts's picture
Thank Frank for the Post!
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