My friend Dave asked me – “If you could have just one desktop program, what would it be?” The spreadsheet is perhaps the most flexible of all. After all, nearly everyone uses spreadsheets. They are great to store information, sort and add up the numbers. Click the chart button and understand the information better. Then, making it available to others multiplies the value.
Capture information - understand it - share it. That’s a winning formula.
Operations staff use spreadsheets every day for costs, schedules, and lists. Why is there no dedicated spreadsheet department? Because a typical user can do so much on their own – they don’t need to be a whiz to use the technology. OK, you might need an expert to write a tricky macro command. But, how often does that happen? Almost never. Spreadsheets provide obvious business value - so do maps.
Every Operations Center has maps – they create understanding with location. It’s quite difficult to think of an operations activity that ignores place. Location yields perspective to operational activities and concerns. Utilities use maps—they naturally work better using awareness of location.
The lesson for Operations is this - location technology is for everyone. It’s not just for the GIS team. It can be easily applied, much like a spreadsheet, to capture information - understand it - share it.
Staff need many types of data to form a complete operational picture – network details, SCADA, work tasks, weather, sensors, and crew locations. ArcGIS is a modern GIS. It goes far beyond traditional mapping bringing virtually any data together. It does this in ways that make sense for operations – by location.
Rather than handling tasks as they “come off the printer”, coordinating around location adds real value. Leading utilities establish priorities with a greater understanding of the impacts and desired outcomes. They promote workforce efficiency by sharing the same information to all stakeholders.
As complexity increases and customer expectations rise, real-time situational awareness is becoming even more important. With complete data and fresh insights, a modern GIS presents a complete operational picture. It promotes collaboration. Convenient apps enhance awareness in the control room and the executive office. They help field staff and customers alike.
Using GIS in these ways is transforming Operations Management - just like spreadsheets. Please join us for the Enhancing Operations Management With Location Technology webinar on August 19, 2020. Register here. This complimentary 60-minute event will explore how to combine data, support workforce efficiency, and maintain situational awareness. Don’t miss the live discussion with industry leaders applying these capabilities to uplift Operations Management at their utilities.
Grid modernization is an idea that takes on classic utility challenges and new ones too. Many long-standing assumptions about generation, climate, and customers are changing. As a result, utilities are changing too.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) established its Grid Modernization Initiative in response to changes in societal values. The DOE strategy addresses sustainability, security, reliability, resilience, flexibility and overall affordability. That last one is the real pinch point!
Each of the goals is do-able on their own. However, taken together grid modernization is forcing utilities to implement novel and innovative responses. Answers lie beyond the reach of simply doing more of the same. Comprehensive solutions demand elegant new approaches to make changes in the right places.
“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.” ―Malcolm Gladwell
How can elegant solutions be identified? Grid modernization is a transition to new ways of understanding, thinking, and working. Information powers them all (explore).
Data, analytics, and modeling sit at center stage. And, as with most leadership efforts, nothing moves forward without crystal clear communication. Reflect on these areas when assessing grid modernization readiness.
Customary design and planning tools rely on very simplified models of the power system. They use timeworn methods. Quite simply, they are not up to the task. The goals necessitate a real-worldreal-time view of the entire electric system, including customers.
Many new devices are coming on-scene. Adoption must push beyond the proof of concept stage. Management at scale depends on automation. Automation hinges on a digital twin simulation of the physical. Expanded models, adequate to support operational systems, are essential to reaching the goals.
To ensure security and resilience, utilities must reduce vulnerability. The goal is to anticipate, prepare for, and effectively respond to emergencies. Threat locations, impacts, asset details, and weather forecasts must be understood in light of the overall electric system.
Real-time measurements increase situational awareness. They provide inputs for decision support.This relatively new style of information is key when it is tied to assets and customers. The modern workforce can change how they work with a real-time view on their device of choice.
Common power flow, operations, and control systems are often very conservative. Slow to change, many neglect today's brilliant computing techniques. Obsolete concepts break down when it comes to distributed generation, transportation electrification, and energy storage. Only a new information framework can handle the complexities of a modern grid.
Atop the technical needs, is the necessity to communicate better with every stakeholder. Employees, regulators and customers want to see the plans and the progress. Colorful new visualization techniques can be used to communicate ideas more clearly.
Information systems to support grid modernization must operate at scale. They will include more detail, external data sources, real-time inputs, and advanced analytics. However, changes to information technology infrastructure cause ripples.
When I worked at the utility, I had to reject several interesting point solutions that did not fit well into the enterprise. Today, services-based architectures enable enterprise solutions to integrate well while respecting security protocols for both applications and data.
Esri helps utilities address the information solutions critical for grid modernization. Location technology ties utility information together. ArcGIS Utility Networks enable elegant approaches to each of the above considerations. They do it in cost-effective ways. To see how location technology supports grid modernization, download our free e-book.
Everyone wants to return to normal from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Many wonder - What is okay at the current recovery stage?
A group discussion about recovery took a turn for the worse. I asked - “Does anyone know what stage of recovery we are actually in today?” No one was confident in this simple yet essential information. Information feeding public health procedures was contradictory. It was not current or clear-cut.
Utility safety, like COVID-19 recovery, rests on clear concise communication. Many accidents result from communication mistakes. Customers get dropped unintentionally by switching errors. Lineworkers are injured when they contact energized equipment.
Misidentified equipment and out-of-date maps are two causes that sadly reappear again and again These are avoidable. Employees need current information to remain safe.
When it comes to safety, you do not take someone else’s word for it. You check for yourself. You verify switching and blocking instructions with your own maps and resolve any discrepancies. I heard this every day over the utility radio. Field staff and dispatchers cross-checked each other and adjusted for any oversights. They all need the very latest network maps.
For most of my career, I maintained one of the special circuit map sets – so I had the newest updates. These rode in my car in dedicated boxes right next to my hardhat and boots. I kept them up to date, just like the sets in the trouble trucks. However, even in the very best-case scenario, these yellowed papers were a full month behind.
This is the information age. Within arm’s reach, we have a device that puts all human knowledge in our hands. The real-time state of the electric system can be communicated immediately and securely to everyone that needs to know.
Mobile apps put current maps in the field. Similarly, they also bring immediate updates back from the field. ArcGIS location technology shows field employees details of the equipment right where they stand. They can even see real-time data like equipment loads and temperature (example).
Clear communication is vital in everything we do. For COVID-19 and utility work, current information steers proper procedures and safety.
What if the map update time was reduced to zero with mobile apps? Every user would have live information to make the best decisions for safety and service.
Underground cable failures are the worst outages. Pick your least favorite place for corroded cables – direct buried, 1970’s cable in preassembled flexible conduit, or maybe collapsed ducts. These all turn fault locating and cable repair into a nightmare.
With a grim outlook for permanent repairs, attention may turn to temporary measures. Anything to get the customers back in service! Those bring safety concerns. I have used traffic ramps, cable tied to trees, 24 hour guards, and jet turbine generators more than once. What practices and tools can help manage old cable and improve asset management?
I recently visited a utility engineering office. A large paper map hung on the wall – the cable replacement plan. Millions of dollars! All in one region, faded yellow highlighter outlined the neighborhoods for replacement over the next five years.
I asked why. Those areas were based on campfire stories. Tales of extended outages that “made it into the newspaper” years ago. Today that would be on Facebook. The focus on this region was based on hazy executive promises to “do something about it”. The plan was not even based on cable age - it was an enduring kneejerk reaction driving asset management.
Obvious questions revealed opportunities for improvement:
Is this the oldest cable? Not necessarily.
Are other areas in need of work? Surely.
Is this the best area to focus on? Debatable.
What would be better?
If the idea is to replace old cable, it would be better to determine where cables are oldest. That would at least be defensible when asked - Why is the utility working there and not over here?
What would be better?
Age is not always the best indicator of asset health. Better yet would be to consider the current asset condition. Include the last periodic inspection, or data gathered the last time a crew did their safety inspection before normal work. Adding knowledge of past faults and historic failure rates would be very insightful. Definitely better.
What would be better?
Not all cables are used in the same way. Some extend to only a few customers – some serve critical loads. Radial sections have no switching options. Looped segments enjoy alternate feeds making restoration much faster and easier. Prioritizing work based on asset criticality and restoration effort would take cable replacement to a whole new level. Now we are getting somewhere!
What would be better?
Top it off with information about the environment. Soil conditions, imagery, weather, and customer demographics all bring new perspectives. Optimize the whole asset management process. Balance asset performance against cost, resources, reliability, and compliance. So much better!
Enterprise asset management (EAM) systems handle many aspects of the asset life cycle. However, they are blind to the spatial relationship of assets between each other, outside influences, or customers. Understanding these connections is essential to optimized asset management.
The data often rests in different systems – in silos. What is needed it to unite asset data with the network connectivity model, outages, customers, environmental factors. See all the data in one place – organized around location. It is the one thing in common.
Most utilities already use GIS for asset management in some capacity. Yet, how they use it is changing. ArcGIS is a complete GIS. Complete means it contains all the elements needed to solve asset management challenges, not just make conventional maps.
These capabilities unite asset information. Combining asset health data and real-time feeds show how the network is performing. With location as the centerpiece, a total view bonds maintenance, capital, and operational strategies to improve key performance indicators and business results.
The next time you see an engineer go to look at the faded cable replacement map remind them it could be better. Optimize the process and get that information in a web browser, a phone app, or right in CAD. Use location technology.
The first ESRI virtual User Conference July 13-16, 2020 (UC) is now over. The theme, How GIS is Interconnecting Our World struck a chord with over 86,000 people. As the hundreds of on-demand demonstrations, technical sessions, user presentations, and partners unfolded, it was clear that understanding precedes action. Furthermore, the best way to gain that understanding is with what is arguably the most powerful technology in the world – GIS.
Normally in San Diego, Esri would expect under 20,000 attendees. The virtual format opened the impressive content to new viewers and many additional people from customer organizations. 71% of participants were first-time attendees, and involvement from outside the US was significantly up over prior years.
For the first time, users had ready access to virtually all the ESRIstaff in every discipline at UC. This was a fantastic opportunity to answer every question and chat with experts.
At the plenary sessions, everyone had a front-row seat! Jack Dangermond inspired viewers and showed several captivating videos that demonstrated how ArcGIS is being applied around the globe. The plenary sessions can be viewed on YouTube.
The virtual map gallery is publicly accessible and continues to be a big hit showing some of the best digital cartography at UC. Anyone can get a crisp ESRI T-shirt at the new online Merch Store without traveling to San Diego and waiting in line at the convention center.
It wasn’t the same as a live gathering, but in some ways it was even better. How else could you get to every session you want to see? And, review it again later?
Trends in GIS
Reflecting on the week, several trends emerged.
GIS applications are becoming dramatically easier, more powerful, and more available. The true power stems from frictionless access to virtually everyone – utility employees, executives, field staff, customers, regulators, and the media.
Geospatial Hubs are organizing information sharing - improving relationships, collaboration, and cooperation.
GIS systems are becoming more interconnected creating a geospatialinfrastructure to address business and societal needs and create value.
GIS is becoming more real-time, connecting sensors, the IoT, and remote sensing. This boosts situational awareness from the control room to the service truck in the field.
Geographic science is gathering more knowledge. It helps understand more data inputs and greater complexity. Most importantly, it applies additional knowledge to solving real problems and meeting strategic business objectives.
It would be impossible to capture all the exciting new developments. Here are a few that caught my special attention:
ArcGIS Pro is more tightly connected to Autodesk tools like BIM360. Users can now connect to CAD data stored in the cloud, use CAD within GIS, and even push CAD updates to GIS including #UtilityNetworks. Non-spatial objects in ArcGIS Utility Network accurately model complex fiber networks, conduits in duct banks, and other forms of connected information. Deilson da Silva explains this starting 6:25 in this video.
ArcGIS LocateXT extracts location information, text, and dates from unstructured documents and adds it to maps. Think about MSWord, email, csv, txt, pdf files, and all the useful information they contain in your organization.
ArcGIS Pro Time Series Forecasting Advanced tools ingest space-time data like energy usage and use machine learning techniques to make accurate predictions about the future.
ArcGIS Analytics for IoT – Suzanne Foss explains how to work with big data, data in real-time, or near real-time, to drive insight and take action.
Site Scan for ArcGIS is taking off as a cloud-based solution for automated drone flight planning, and image processing and analysis, that leverages the existing GIS. Drone image data immediately available throughout the organization. It can be published on a map to ArcGIS Online to communicate and share. ArcGIS can now work with stacks of imagery to perform trend analysis, prediction, and change detection.
Thank you for being our customers and business partners. Esri was founded to help solve some of the world's most difficult problems. We support our users' important work with a commitment to science, sustainability, community, education, research, and positive change.
Please consider joining the Esri GeoConX event in the fall. The 2020 GeoConX Conference is going virtual. The world's largest and leading utility and telecom GIS conference will be an immersive virtual experience for the GIS community.
Let’s all look forward to the great work we will review together next year at UC in 2021.
In today's broadband economy, geospatial technology matters more.
New technologies such as self-driving cars, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) increase the need for high-bandwidth, low-latency networks. With 5G comes a never before seen dependency on location. In today's broadband economy, geospatial technology matters more.
Identifying the right places and mapping key locations into a new network are the easiest ways to improve the service provided, increase customer satisfaction, and drive loyalty to a network. To make this process easier and deliver more accurate results, telecom providers need to understand the geospatial needs for 5G service across large sections of the nation and even the world.
Download the latest Whitepaper from Esri Telecom Team Today
“Simple Scales and Complex Fails”. It is a phrase that many working in the Utility Industry are very familiar with. But is it always correct? As Utilities continue to strive to achieve their Digital Transformation objectives, they are being met with significant disruption. In the quest to deliver solutions quickly, some have deployed light weight custom applications. Applications that have custom point-to-point integrations. While these were simple solutions at the time. It is often these legacy bespoke software and integrations that are anchoring a Utilities ability to be agile and move forward at speed. It is also these custom solutions that are increasing total cost of ownership, preventing system upgrades, and resulting in additional cost for future projects. These types of simple solutions are failing.
As utilities continue to embark on their digital transformation journeys, they are looking for innovative ways to leverage their technology investments to align with their digital strategies. We are now working in unprecedented times when simplicity and speed are more important than ever. This is why world leading software companies like Esri and SAP are partnering to deliver Enterprise platforms that modernize your information, architecture and deliver COTS solutions at scale. Esri and SAP applications work native together and are based on a configure first approach. These applications are designed with the end user in mind and transcend organizational departments. By breaking down silos between geographic information systems (GIS) and IT Utilities are transforming their business. These Solutions are simple to deploy and are based on Service Oriented Architectures. Because they are built on a spatial platform, they can be deployed to whoever needs it, when they need it, and at scale.
Customers who combine spatial and corporate enterprise systems have a clear competitive advantage and differentiation. They achieve better insights, make better decisions and are more innovative; ultimately pushing spatial decision making into their business processes. The result is enterprise scale location intelligence. This is a critical component in a customer’s journey to becoming an Intelligent Enterprise. Esri and SAP working together brings the Science of Where to the Intelligent Enterprise. Mapping and location analytics from Esri spatially enable SAP business data, allowing organizations to be smarter. Your organization’s data is no longer limited to spreadsheets gathered from disparate databases. Now you can visualize and analyze data in new ways and transform it into actionable information.
ArcGIS puts collaboration and flexibility at the center of an organization's GIS. It pairs industry-leading mapping and analytics capabilities with a dedicated Web GIS infrastructure to organize and share work on any device, anywhere, at any time.
Enable comprehensive location analytics and data visualization for the enterprise.
Esri & SAP Co Innovation Lab (COIL) Virtual Event
Please join us at the SAP and Esri Geospatial Co-Innovation Virtual Event for Utilities on Tuesday, May 5, 2020
We have assembled a team of SAP and Esri experts as part of an SAP Co–Innovation Lab (COIL) virtual event to demonstrate and discuss some of the benefits and key capabilities made possible by the integration of our respective platforms
Provide innovative value to your organization by combining spatial and business data
Organizations can now run SAP HANA as the underlying multi model database service and take advantage of increased performance, lower total cost of ownership and easier integration of enterprise data with spatial data either on premise, in the cloud or in a hybrid deployment.
Best of all, we'll show you how to do this without disrupting your current GIS or IT environment.
This SAP and Esri COIL event is exclusively focused on the utility business, the ideal attendee is a GIS director/team lead and/or IT director/team lead responsible for your implementation. You'll find the most benefit if a representative from each team can attend.
Esri and SAP are helping organizations harness the spatial context of their business data to discover new insights and share location intelligence with everyone who needs it. By integrating Esri and SAP technology, you can improve operational efficiencies, advance your decision-making capabilities, and meet key business objectives. Deliver information through rich user-friendly maps and apps accessible on any device, anywhere, anytime. You can also integrate Esri maps and spatial analytics directly within SAP business, mobile, and business intelligence
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic is affecting everyone. People and utilities adopt new behaviors – almost daily. They ask themselves not only “how do we get through this?” But also, “What good can be harvested?”
Staying close to home, my wife and I went for a long walk on Sunday afternoon. We have taken two more since then. When we come out of this trying time, some new actions will stick– like more Sunday afternoon walks. In a way, it has been beneficial to be forced to think differently about quality time together. We saw the value in doing things in a new way. We will keep this habit.
The Edison Electric Institute said, “a large percentage of a company’s employees (up to 40 percent) could be out sick, quarantined, or might stay home to care for sick family members.” A workforce deficit of 40 percent would challenge long-standing comfortable work habits and patterns. Utilities cannot close their doors. They must maintain safe operations. Moreover, what if a storm hits?
Utility staff are resilient. We serve our customers – every time. We rise to the occasion.
My engineering staff started asking about working from home in the 90’s – it never really caught on. Now, just like that - employees are working from home. Field employees are each taking a separate vehicle to worksites and working staggered shifts. Some are taking company vehicles home and reporting directly to their first job rather than to a central meeting point. It makes sense.
Limiting virtually all gatherings and meetings tests our conceptions of communication and collaboration. And, it just blows up the paperwork culture.
Employees are not able to turn in paperwork in the same way. Some are using the postal service to deliver their papers to the home of the person that handles it next. Sub-optimal at best! Mail service is being disrupted in some countries upsetting this seemingly simple paperwork workaround.
In their personal lives, utility employees shop, file taxes, bank, pay bills, and enjoy entertainment electronically – remotely. Could a utility do more things like this – of course.
What value could be added to workflows? Plenty!
Entering data directly at its source, without paper, delivers several benefits. Errors drop and throughput increases. Less handling cuts out delays in data entry. Timeliness of information skyrockets. The entire organization enjoys a real-time view of activities improving management and business decisions.
Most utilities rely on GIS in some way. However, some still view this as a “Maps and Records” responsibility - not grasping its superior communication principles. A modern GIS plays a critical part in communication. It pushes and pulls information specific to each person’s role and interest. Even external stakeholders like customers and local governments get exactly what they need. And, it does all this while addressing hardware and data security in a comprehensive manner.
Common Communications Using GIS
Assign and close work assignments
Examine current conditions and reference information
Consume status dashboards
Access public-facing web maps and apps
Navigate and track locations
Communication is essential – it is the foundation of leadership. These resources bolster every utility employee. For example, the call center sees the current status of daily work. They also understand large project progress, and storm response. Mobile communication tools that rejuvenate existing workflows also scale up readily for emergency response. Utilities that see GIS this way use it to drive their tabletop exercises. All emergency staff practice with the same tools they will use in actual conditions (see an example). Because they are straightforward, foreign crews easily use them too.
COVID-19 impacts are increasing daily and likely to affect utility work for some time. Utilities are reaching for ways to keep employees and customers engaged. They need ways to manage information without handing papers from one person to another. Customers want to know what is happening. Employees need to get information without walking down to the wall map in the conference room or a co-worker’s cubicle.
ArcGIS is a fully modern GIS. It has wonderful communication capabilities that can be stood up very quickly. These help organizations adapt to changing conditions. The next time you take a walk at your home office, consider how advancements in communication could result in permanent improvements to existing workflows.
To find out how a modern GIS can improve communication, visit the electric utility page.