by Matthew Crooks
A geographic information system (GIS) provides a powerful tool for analyzing and understanding patterns and relationships with utility data taking the form of maps, charts and reports. It helps utilities perform analysis, manage assets and infrastructure, and understand trends to determine how to operate with optimal efficiency while lowering costs.
Too many utilities, however, compartmentalize GIS to serve one particular purpose, which is the improvement of engineering maps, especially as it relates to environmental risks. As a result, utilities often underuse the full application benefits GIS offers as a solution to geospatial challenges faced by utilities around the world.
• Lowering cost of total ownership = easy maintenance
A more obvious benefit, but no less important, to utilities is lowering the cost of total ownership of a solution. Utilities want the ability to access one simple, easy-to-use solution that isn't expensive to maintain. The solution also should be easy for the utility to upgrade and easy to implement the latest GIS application improvements, modifications and releases.
• Manage network connectivity = asset management
GIS-specific tools help utilities manage the connectivity of their network. Consolidated asset management solutions help utilities visualize and perform analysis on how assets are connected to one another. If a utility has an outage or wants to see how various parts of the network are connected in the field, for example, they can do so in a simple and user-friendly application directly from the control room. This helps a utility better understand what is happening throughout its network and identify the most critical issues that need to be addressed and potentially replaced. In short, it helps a utility be better organized with a complete understanding of its network and operations.
• Eliminate the paper trail = central location
Too much paper results in redundancy, inefficiency and inaccuracy. A GIS application allows utilities to keep all information in one centralized location-a geodatabase. A single location allows utilities to avoid disparate systems that are not connected or integrated in any way. Use the data in your GIS to create a variety of reports that benefit not just your GIS group, but your entire organization. This could, for example, include a list of customers who may be impacted by a planned outage or a report that displays the total length of conductors in the network for regulatory compliance.
• Leverage GIS = fulfill regulatory requirements
Utilities can fulfill regulatory requirements by leveraging parts of a GIS solution. There are regulatory requirements, for example, that require utilities to report on the number of miles of primary or secondary conductor that is in the system, which is generally reported annually. By using GIS, a utility can quickly and easily calculate those numbers. In the past, a utility would have to go into the field each year or try to calculate it using a spreadsheet-a tedious and time consuming process. With some GIS applications, it is a matter of running a report and doing analysis on existing data that already is available in the system. This supports the GIS benefit of storing data in one centralized location and leveraging that information to address real business challenges.
• Using the cloud = back to the basics
Historically, GIS applications existed in platform silos. The GIS provided a desktop platform or a mobile platform or a cloud platform, and those platforms did not easily interact. More advanced GIS solutions offer a well-connected suite that leverages desktop, mobile and cloud platforms, and allows these platforms to seamlessly interact. This creates an ecosystem that gives a utility the power to choose the right tool for the job without being limited to a specific platform. Work being done on a desktop solution in the control room, for example, is immediately shared with a mobile solution in the field. This ecosystem of collaborative platforms ensures all utility employees have the most current network data available.
Applying a GIS application "across the board" of a utility, however, is easier said than done. There are barriers that contribute to GIS compartmentalization, such as complex and non-user friendly applications that inhibit workflow. For utilities, it's about efficiency and reducing the time it takes to record information about assets, to manage those assets, and perform analysis on the information that the utility collects to become a smarter, better-informed operation. Spending the time to leverage a GIS investment and integrating GIS-specific tools that help accomplish and promote efficiency and cost-effective applications helps utilities ensure they are making the most of their GIS investment.
About the author: Matthew Crooks is technical product manager at Schneider Electric. He guides development of the ArcFM product and many of its extensions. He is interested in working with customers to develop gas, water and electric solutions that solve problems and provide business value.