Tag: CIS

Location is fundamental to the water smart grid

Esri recently participated in the 1st Smart Water Grid Conference in Incheon, Korea.  The focus of the conference was the current state of smart grid water technology, the future of the water smart grid and fostering collaboration between key smart grid companies and technologists.  Repeatedly discussion about the water smart grid hinged on the importance of geography and the necessity of a location platform to bring together the various pieces that comprise the smart grid. Continue reading

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Benefits of the Local Government Information Model for Water Utilities

Why should a water, wastewater or stormwater utility adopt the Local Government Information Model?

Easier Deployment

One of the biggest benefits of a water utility adopting the Local Government Information Model is that it makes deploying the ArcGIS for Water Utilities maps and apps easier, faster and cheaper.  The further you deviate from the Local Government Information Model, and in particular it’s geodatabase schema, the harder it will be for you to implement the maps and apps that are part of ArcGIS for Water Utilities. It will also be hard and time consuming to upgrade your ArcGIS for Water Utilities implementation when we release updates.

Changes you make to the Local Government Information Model schema may necessitate extensive modifications of the maps documents, and changes to apps (web apps, mobile apps, ArcGIS Desktop, etc.) that are part of ArcGIS for Water Utilities.  So the closer you stay to the core Local Government Information Model, the easier your initial deployment will be and the easier it will be to migrate your ArcGIS implementation to new releases or to deploy updates to the maps and apps.

It’s also important to note that when we say “adopt” the Local Government Information Model we don’t mean that you necessarily have to use it as is (or more appropriately – as downloaded).  You probably will need to configure the Local Government Information to meet the needs of your organization.   But the key thing to keep in mind is you should only be making changes to accommodate the true organizational needs of your utility. For example, instead of changing the field names to the field names you’d like to use in your organization, modify field and map layer aliases.   Bottom line, don’t reinvent the wheel, just make changes that are required to meet specific business needs in your organization.

At the very least you need to change the projection to the appropriate coordinate system and set up the domains to reflect the assets in use at your utility.  Small utilities or utilities that are new to GIS may choose to take the Local Government Information Model as is, while larger utilities, mature GIS implementations, or GIS implementations that are integrated with other enterprise system will undoubtedly need to make more significant configurations or extensions to the schema to reflect their organizational needs.  

Water, Sewer and Stormwater Data Modeling Best Practices

The Local Government Information Model incorporates many best practices for water utility GIS.  One of the most important best practices is how to represent a water, sewer or stormwater system in GIS.  

For years Esri had downloadable data models for water, wastewater and stormwater utility networks.  Those data models were the first freely available water utility GIS data models.  They were stewarded by Esri, but built by the user community and became the industry standard.  Globally thousands of water utilities have built their GIS around Esri’s free data models.  

The Local Government Informational Model is the next iteration of Esri’s water, sewer and stormwater data models.  In essence we’ve modernized the data models to reflect how water utilities have been deploying GIS over the past few years and we’ve also modified the schema to fit the requirements of the ArcGIS for Water Utilities maps and apps.  As water utility GIS continues to evolve Esri will regularly maintain the Local Government Information Model to keep introducing new best practices into the user community and functionality into our apps.

Comprehensive Data Model

There is no doubt Esri’s water, wastewater and stormwater data models were an incredibly valuable starting point for water utilities to get their utility networks into GIS.  Since the original data models focused primarily on a data structure for the assets that comprise utility networks, we received feedback that many utilities wanted more guidance on how to model operational data (workorders, service requests, customer complaints, main breaks, capital improvement projects, etc.) and base data (roads edge of pavement, road centerlines, elevation data, parcels, etc.) in their GIS.  The Local Government Data Model solves this problem because it includes a complete schema for typical water utility base data and operational data.  

Over the years, an observation we’ve made is that water utilities struggle with how to model and manage schemas for datasets that aren’t their utility networks or operational data – simply put managing base data can be a challenge for water utilities. For example we’ve seen a lot of utilities struggle with managing roads, parcel, buildings, etc. in their enterprise GIS, especially when these datasets are coming from other organizations or departments.

This is a particular issue for water utilities that serve multiple units of local government such as authorities, county wide utilities, state wide utilities and private companies.  A good example of this is a water authority whose service territory includes three counties.   The water authority needs parcel data that is maintained by the counties.  County A, County B and County C all use different schemas for their parcels.  So the water utility had two choices – leave the parcels in 3 different data layers and use them as is – which makes analysis, map creation and integration with other systems at the utility that need parcel data (such as a customer information system) difficult.  Or invest time to extract, transfer and load (ETL) the parcels into a common schema so they can be used as a single seamless layer across the service area.  The Local Government Information Model can now serve as the common schema in this example.
Easier Data Sharing

We describe the Local Government Information as a harmonized information model – meaning designed to accommodate typical GIS needs across local government.  If organizations that commonly share data all adopt the Local Government Information Model, it will greatly reduce the time and resources spent establishing a common schema and migrating data to these schemas – thus allowing water utilities to focus on the maintenance and management of their authoritative data.

For example a private water utility may serve two municipalities.  If the water utility and both municipalities all adopt the Local Government Information Model then they can all very easily exchange data.   When the water utility needs road centerline and edge of pavement layers from the municipalities than the utility can just import the new data without having to manipulate the schema and will have seamless layers for their service areas.  The same logic applies to the water utility sharing data with the municipalities – when the water utility updates the location of their upcoming capital projects, the utility can share that data back with the municipalities and the municipalities can use it without any schema manipulation.

Best Cartographic Practices for Water Utility Maps

As we’ve discussed in a previous blog, the Local Government Information Model includes geodatabase schema, map documents and specification for services necessary to deploy the ArcGIS for Water Utilities and ArcGIS for Local Government maps and apps.  

The map documents highlight
best practices for displaying water, wastewater and stormwater data in the context that each map is designed to be used.  For example the map documents included with the Mobile Map Template have best practice cartography for displaying water utility GIS data in the field in both a day and night time use map.  The same goes for the map document included with the Infrastructure Editing Template – this is a best practice map document for editing water utility data with ArcGIS Desktop.

Looking to the Future

The specification for the services (map, feature, geoprocessing, etc) necessary for the ArcGIS Water Utilities maps and apps are also part of the Local Government Information Model.  So if other local government entities in the service area of water utility embrace the Local Government Information Model, ArcGIS for Local Government and start to publish services, then water utilities can consume those services for their maps and apps.  In this scenario the water utility may no longer have to import some data into their own geodatabase and can just consume the services right from the organization that is the steward of the data.

We hope you’ve found this exploration of some of the benefits water, wastewater and stormwater utilities will experience when adopting the Local Government Information Model helpful.  We encourage your feedback on the information in this blog, the Local Government Information Model or ArcGIS for Water Utilities.

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Data quality concerns keeping you up at night?

What keeps water, wastewater and stormwater utility GIS professionals up at night?   Could be doubts about your system architecture or capacity, might be fears about data backups and recovery, maybe your backlog of unprocessed as-builts.  A common concern we are hearing right now from the user community is about being sure that your data is good enough to meet the needs of your utility.  This is driving more water utilities to focus on quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC).

Across the industry water utilities are expanding their GIS quality control procedures or implementing formalized quality control if they don’t have any in place.  Water utilities are also reviewing their existing GIS implementation and workflows for ways to increase quality assurance.  At some water utilities these changes are coming out the GIS department, driven by proactive GIS managers and staff.  At other utilities these changes are coming top down from utility management that recognize GIS data now runs throughout their utility like a steel thread or from the IT department as it assess the state of all utility digital data.

But haven’t we always been concerned about data quality?

Continue reading

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How GIS Supports the Core Business Patterns of a Water Utility

No doubt, if you’ve seen Esri present on water, wastewater or stormwater utility GIS over the past year you’ve probably heard us talk about how GIS fits into the “business patterns” of a water utility. We’ve gotten tremendously positive feedback from the water utility community that this framework helps people understand how GIS supports their mission as a utility. We’ve also heard from GIS professionals that this is a very useful framework t to educate their colleagues about the current and potential future contributions of GIS at their utility.

We thought it would be helpful to take some time to review these patterns as we will continue to build upon these concepts in 2011 with the Water Utility Resource Center.


This graphic shows 5 common “business patterns” of a water utility – Asset Management, Planning and Analysis, Field Mobility, Operational Awareness and Stakeholder Engagement. Just about all of the activities of a water utility fall within one or cross multiple of these business patterns

Let’s review these 5 common water utility business patterns and how GIS supports them.

The Asset Management Business Pattern

All utilities engage in some form of “asset management”. Increasingly utilities are creating formalized “asset management programs”. Even without a formal asset management program (and a program in this case doesn’t imply a software program, it means an organizational initiative) many utilities have informal workflows and procedures that guide decision making around managing assets. So from a hunch about what assets need to be replaced or maintained to hard scientific evidence, utilities are constantly making decisions about their assets.

The cornerstone of effective asset management at utilities is good asset information. Whether a utility has a formal asset management program or an informal one, decisions require some level of information about assets – from knowledge in a worker’s head to information in a computerized system.

GIS supports the Asset Management pattern of water utilities through being the authoritative system to store, manage and maintain accurate asset records that are able to be shared utility wide. Simply put, GIS manages asset information.

It’s important to note that it’s common at water utilities for the complete information about an asset to be stored in multiple systems. For example, GIS stores the location, connectivity to other assets and basic descriptive information (material, diameter, install date, operational status, etc) about an asset, a workorder management system (also called EAM or CMMS) may store extended information about the work history for an asset, a financial system may store depreciation and valuation information for assets, a customer information system may store complaints about the function of an asset, etc. Optimally there is integration among all of the systems that store information about an asset and the ability for utility staff to access data stored across multiple systems enabling a comprehensive view of the location, connectivity, status, history and description of an asset.

Going Beyond Managing Asset Information with GIS

In the early years of water utility GIS, the bulk of GIS activity for water utilities was focused on creating and maintaining GIS data about assets and that data was used to make maps. GIS was usually the domain of a few folks in the utility that were tasked with continually updating data to support the creation of paper maps for the field and the office.

Over the years, many utilities have evolved their GIS to much more than just a siloed system to manage asset data to make maps. Around the industry utilities realized that their GIS contained a treasure trove of information that could be shared across the entire organization and used to support many of the information needs of the utility. No doubt, utilities can significantly increase their return on investment in GIS by sharing it around the entire utility and using it to support multiple business patterns.

Planning and Analysis

Historically, when a utility had asset data in GIS, it was a natural evolution to begin using that data to support the planning needs of the utility through spatial analysis.

Water utilities plan for the future and use some form of data analysis to do this. There are normally 2 very distinct types of planning water utilities do – short term planning and long term planning. Short term planning at a water utility is typically focused on creating and optimizing reactive and proactive work orders. Long term water utility planning typically focuses on capital improvement planning and future utility network expansion projects.

GIS supports water utility planning and analysis by transforming asset and operational data into actionable information. So far we’ve focused on asset data; operational data for water utilities is customer complaints, service requests, historic work order locations, etc. Crossing the Asset Management business pattern we described above and the Planning and Analysis pattern encompasses what many in water utility industry consider define as a utility asset management program.

For short term planning, GIS is typically used to support creating and optimizing work orders. Answering questions such as what is the best route to accomplish my daily work tasks and where can I do some proactive work in close proximity to assets that need reactive work. GIS is also used to understand what assets you should do proactive work on and when you should do it. An example is answering questions about which sewer pipes take flow from restaurants that are frequent grease trap violators resulting in the need for pipes to be cleaned more often to prevent fat, oil and grease build up from causing a blockage and overflow.

For long term planning, asset data, performance data and GIS analysis is used to help utilities understand how their utility networks are performing. Then to identify the best replacement and rehabilitation projects to undertake and to estimate project costs to support project evaluation and budgeting. For example, water utilities use repeatable geoprocessing models that take into account many weighted factors to rate their assets on condition, reliability, criticality, performance, etc. This information is then used to help guide where to best spend capital dollars to maximize the value of investments in a utility’s assets. For main extensions; land records, demographic projections and proposed development plans are often used to help guide long term system expansion plans.

Field Mobility

Water, wastewater and stormwater utilities have mobile workers that are out in the field for the majority of their work days. In small utilities mobile workers may have many responsibilities such as meter reading, customer service, installs, maintenance, repair work, CCTV, hydrant flushing, valve exercising, etc and in large utilities mobile workers may be specialized.

Mobile field workers at water utilities need information that is current, optimized for their needs to help them carry out their work and delivered in an easy to use format. Mobile field workers also generate much information that needs to be passed back into the office and managed in enterprise business systems.

The field mobility business patterns includes both work the field crews are performing as well as the processes used in the office to support and manage field crews. There is recognition across the industry that field work is a large part of water utility operating budget and for many utilities there is not enough field crew labor available to meet the needs of the utility. Water utilities are always looking for ways to decrease the time it takes to share information bi-directionally with the field and increase the reliability and accuracy of data coming back from the field. The mobile nature of field crews, the many tasks a field crew may carry out during a given day and the limited exposure by some field personnel to technology present a challenge to utilities that need to reduce field operations costs and increase efficiency.

Water utility field staff are among the most map centric people you will encounter. They think of their work world in terms of map book sheets. So for GIS, the Field Mobility business pattern is about providing water utility field crews with maps and map centric applications that can be rapidly updated and are easy to use. GIS also supports the Field Mobility business pattern by enabling field crews to capture GIS data in the field and efficiently pass it back into the office.

Some utilities choose to create paper or electronic field maps books out of their GIS. Other utilities are deploying mobile GIS applications for field crews that act as an interactive version of the traditional utility map book and also provide decision support and data capture tools. Whether delivering paper maps or interactive mapping applications to the field, GIS is supporting the needs of utility field workers as well as those in the office that need to share information with the field.

Operational Awareness

Talk to a manager or executive director at a utility about their information needs and most often they will say something along the lines of “I need to know what is happing around the entire utility at any given time”. They need to be operationally aware.

The Operational Awareness business pattern is about having an understanding of the current state of operations at a water utility, so this is a real time or near real time understanding of how assets, utility networks and personnel are performing and how they are affecting each other. Being operationally aware empowers water utility managers to confidently make decisions based on accurate and up to date information.

GIS supports utility operational awareness by enabling utilities to have a web map based view into the current state of operations. We’ve heard over and over from water utility managers that a map based view into their organization is the easiest way for them to understand at a glance what is currently happening at their utility. An interactive map is also an easy way for utilities to take information from multiple business systems and present it through a common application.

What do water utility managers want on their interactive maps? Most want their utility networks overlaid with locations of recent callers, new service requests, open workorders, out of service customers, crew locations, limited SCADA information, recent sewer over flows, planned capital projects, etc. They would also like to be presented with KPIs and metrics derived spatially, utilize heat maps to spot trends, be able to see historic operational data on demand and be able to zoom far enough in to see all of their utility assets in detail as necessary.

Thinking about data that utility managers need to be operationally aware brings about an important point. Much of that data comes from other enterprise business systems used at utilities and can be spatially enabled by a GIS so it is placed on the map.

Stakeholder Engagement

Water utilities have many external stakeholders such as customers, elected officials, regulatory agencies, other utilities in their service area, etc. The Stakeholder Engagement business pattern encapsulates how utilities interact with external entities that are affected by the utility.

Across the industry, the trend is for water utilities to more proactively engage with stakeholders through public outreach programs, providing more transparency while delivering information in a way that minimizes the possibility of misinterpretation. Modern water utilities recognize they need to utilize the internet and social media to communicate with their stakeholders. Presenting up to date information via interactive maps is a powerful medium to communicate with the technology savvy stakeholder.

Utilities use GIS to support Stakeholder Engagement by creating and delivering static and interactive maps. For years GIS has been used by utilities to make maps that were submitted either electronically or as a hardcopy for regulatory agencies. Utilities have also used GIS to make static maps available as an image file or PDFs on their websites. Now utilities are creating public facing web mapping applications for their stakeholders to support things like customer self service, capital project coordination, service interruption incident management and transparency into utility performance.

We hope that you’ve found this exploration of how a pattern based framework for how GIS supports the needs of water utility useful. As always, if you have any comments on this blog please share them.



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Using Maps to Communicate with Water Utility Customers

In late March I was at AWWA’s combined Customer Service & Information Management & Technology (CS/IMTech) Conference in Portland, Oregon.  Since this is a combined water utility technology conference and a customer service conference I had some very interesting discussions with customer service professionals about technology.  We had a good number of customer service folks stopping by the ESRI booth either because they saw the value of sharing information with their customers via web based mapping or because their utilities had invested in an enterprise GIS (often begun to support asset management) and they recognized customer service could easily leverage this investment for additional benefit.  We also had some people stop into our booth that had seen or heard about our Customer Interaction Template – http://waterutilitiestemplates.esri.com/customerinteraction/  (a big thanks to Lisa Ragain for spreading the word about using the template for boil water notifications to the customer service community).

This dovetails with the trend we’ve been seeing of increasing interest in GIS from customer service and public outreach staff at water, sewer and stormwater utilities.  I wanted to focus this blog on some thoughts on using interactive browser based maps for public communication and outreach.

Challenges for public communication and outreach

We’ve heard from utility customer service and public outreach professionals that some of the challenges they face in communicating with stakeholders (ratepayers, the public, environmental groups, local media, and other government entities) are effective communication, authoritative communication and rapid communication.  A browser based interactive map is a great tool for utility customer service and public outreach staff to overcome these challenges.

Here is a great example from Twitter that illustrates why customers benefit from an interactive browser based map.  This is a series of tweets during a recent boil water alert in a major city.  Incidentally, if you want some great insight into how your technology savvy utility customers think, search twitter for main breaks or boil water alerts, it’s a very enlightening exercise.


Effective Communication with Customers

Effective communication hinges on being able to easily convey information to your customers and have them understand it and draw the proper conclusion.  When communication happens around a safety issue (boil water alerts for example) this heightens the need to provide clear & concise information so that it enables customers to act properly and also to manage their fears.

A large reason why maps are so much a part of our lives is because they are an easy way for human beings to convey and understand information (that’s a fundamental premise of the “The Geographic Approach”).  Also we are in an age where society at large has gotten comfortable with visualizing spatial information in an interactive map in a web browser.   So it should come as no surprise that utilities can use maps to better communication information with the public and the public understands this medium of communication.

For many utilities sharing map based information with the public on their external webpage is nothing new.  But historically this was done with static maps (meaning that they were a PDF or an image file like a .jpg).  Good examples are utility service area maps or maps of future capital projects, often times done as part of a report or study and then re-used as content for a utility website.   Because these maps are static you can’t explore them (zoom in or out, see street labels, determine your location relative to the data on the map, etc).  As interactive web based maps are increasingly part of our daily lives no doubt some utility customers are unsatisfied and unimpressed with static map content on utility websites. 

With a GIS you can create your own browser based web maps.  These can be interactive and dynamic – customers can zoom, pan, look up by address, etc. so they can freely explore the data you are sharing with them via the map.  Since the utility is deploying the web based map, you can create the map (choose the data you are sharing and the cartography) to convey the information the way you want.  You can also take advantage of scale dependencies for layers and dynamic labeling.  So no more complaints about not being able to zoom a map in to determine your location relative to the information on the map or and no more issues with street labels.

If a utility is already deploying browser based GIS maps for internal use, then they have some of the data, knowledge and IT infrastructure in place to use the same GIS technology to provide browser based maps to the public.  Of course you need to take into account IT and data security and shouldn’t share any information with the public that could make your water or sewer systems vulnerable.



Authoritative Communication

One of the tenants of the internet and specifically social media is that it gives anyone who wants to share information a platform to communicate.  This includes water utility stakeholders.  Sometimes stakeholders are creating and sharing information on the internet about a utility that the utility also maintains for its own internal use.  So stakeholders are creating information for their use (often to support a point of view) that a utility already has and does not share.   In this scenario the utility is the authoritative source of data and the data the stakeholders are creating and sharing may not be correct or up-to-date. 

These two links are examples of stakeholders using maps to share information about a utility (in this case identifying where main breaks have occurred) – LA Main Breaks Map from the Los Angeles Times & LA Main Breaks Map from Southern California Public Radio.  No doubt the utility is the most accurate source of information on main breaks in their service area, but in this example stakeholders have created their own versions of this information and are sharing it on a map.

The internet also allows well-meaning stakeholders to step in and fill what they perceive is an information void.  Here is good example of using a map to do this – Are you affected by the boil water advisory? Use this map to find out

Please keep in mind that neither of these examples are a criticism of a utility or the entities that have put this information onto the internet.  It’s just meant to illustrate the point that information about utilities is being created and shared on the internet by stakeholders, often times in the form of interactive maps. Also by no means do I want to suggest that volunteered geographic information isn’t valuable for utilities. But information that a utility is the only true authoritative source of should be shared by the utility, not managed by the stakeholders or the public.

So how can browser based GIS maps help overcome the challenge of authoritative communication?  Quite simply the utility can publish interactive browser based maps through their GIS, becoming the only credible source of this data and eliminating the need or temptation for stakeholders to create and share data that may not be correct.  A utility could make their published interactive map accessible only through the utility’s webpage and can include their logo to let stakeholders know the information is directly from the utility.  A utility can also include some form of metadata (information about the data on the map) and a disclaimer on the map to let the public know the appropriateness of use.

Timely Communication

Increasingly customers of all businesses (including utilities) expect information on the internet to be up-to-date.  This is especially true in an emergency situation. 

A utility emergency usually has multiple pieces of information that have a location.  These locations may be an exact point – a water main break, maybe a series of points – customers experiencing basement backups, or could be a polygon – a boil water area.   The same concept holds true for planned utility operations that affect customers such as hydrant flushing or valve exercising activities that might disrupt traffic or make their water cloudy for a short time.

So even though these emergency situations are defined by locations (and may change rapidly) some utilities might only use textual descriptions to convey location information to stakeholders.  For example you may see at the top of a utility’s web page “Boil Water Alert in Southwest Area of Service Area” with some streets given to bound the boil water area.  We’ve heard from some utilities that the way the implemented their external web page leaves them with the ability to rapidly change only certain text items on their landing page.  Unfortunately it’s hard for many people to translate a textual description into a mental map, especially during an emergency.

Utilities may also give a link to a static map of the affected are in a PDF or image file (odds are that static map was produced with GIS).  While commendable that a utility is using a map to convey this information, a static map can frustrate stakeholders as well, because (like the Twitter example at the top of the blog) they don’t get enough information from the map.

A browser based GIS map can also help overcoming this challenge (and can also help you comply with increasingly stringent emergency notification laws).  A utility can simply publish an interactive map with the layers of data that describe the event on a simple base map.  That is exactly what the Boil Water Event Viewer in the Customer Interaction Template is intended to show you how to do.  Once the map has been published you can put the URL for the dynamic GIS map onto your webpage.  So if you only have the ability to rapidly change text in your utility’s webpage, than you can just the URL with your textual description of an emergency event.  As the event unfolds and you need to change the map, you can just edit the data layers that you published on the map and the map is automatically updated.    When the event is over, just remove the URL and take down the map service.  With ArcGIS you can quickly publish these web maps and update the data you are displaying.   Because the interactive map is published by the utility you are the authoritative source of map based information during the emergency.

No doubt you’re starting to hear a lot about ArcGIS in the Amazon Cloud at the ArcGIS 10 release.  This type of public notification scenario is a perfect use case for an elastic GIS publication environment that is stored in the cloud and won’t impact your internal GIS publication environment behind your firewall.

Have any thoughts on this? Please share them.

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GIS and Enterprise Asset Management

One of my favorite topics of discussion is the relationship between GIS and enterprise asset management and in particular Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) Systems.  This discussion happens with increasing regularity as most water utilities now have multiple computerized systems that store information about their assets and GIS is part of their system of record for asset information.

Breaking down silos of information

If you think about it, for years utilities have had pieces of information about their assets in multiple places.  For example paper as-builts (or perhaps even linens or mylars) describing what was constructed (or should have been constructed), maybe old project records with financial information that describe what it cost to put assets into operation, in other places paper work orders that described the level of effort to keep assets functioning.  You could rightfully call these silos of information – they all may be describing the same asset, with different primary pieces of information (and most likely some overlapping and contradictory information) and perhaps at different times in an asset’s life-cycle.  There was no interconnection between these information sources and often no senses of which was one was more correct or authoritative.

We’ve now moved into an era where most utilities have taken advantage of information technology (in some form) to store and maintain their information.  Instead of manual drafted paper maps utilities use GIS, instead of handwritten ledgers to track payments utilities use billing systems, etc.  Common IT systems used at water utilities are billing, financial, workorder (CMMS), GIS, SCADA, CIS, LIMS, etc.

Utilities still have pieces of information about their assets in multiple systems, but now they are computerized systems.  This means it’s still possible to have different descriptive information about an assets, costs associated with an asset, performance of an asset (perhaps describe by SCADA data or indicated by customer complaints) in multiple systems and that data may conflict.  So it continues to be a struggle for many utilities that still have to go to multiple systems to get a complete understand of their assets and it may also be a struggle to know what is authoritative information when data in multiple systems conflict. 

Some utilities are overcoming these challenges by specifying how their enterprise IT systems must work together.  This often takes the form of identifying where data is at a utility, how it’s maintained and then determining how systems should integrate with each other to share information and what systems are the “system of record” meaning they own the data.  It’s important to note that you may have multiple systems working together (properly integrated) that form your system of record.  So the “system of record” determination may happen on a field by field basis.

Enterprise Asset Management

The interesting thing about enterprise asset management is that it’s both a concept and now the name of a class of software commonly used at utilities and facilities.  A few years ago a trend started in the utility and facility industry where vendors of workorder and CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) began to refer to themselves as “Enterprise Asset Management Systems”, reflecting that the systems that create workorders and manage maintenance tasks (both planned and unplanned) rightfully should participate in the enterprise IT environment.  But this has also added to a lot of confusion about how assets are really stored and managed in the enterprise IT environment at most utilities.  While now called EAM systems, workorders and maintenance tasks are only part of what a utility needs to truly manage their assets.

From our experience with large water and sewer utilizes, enterprise asset management is something that is only achievable with multiple systems at a utility that are properly integrated.  After speaking with many utilities big and small, it seems like what utilities want for enterprise asset management is the use of integrated information from multiple systems to enable a utility to best manage their assets.  It’s the best data from each system to describe what an asset is, how it affects others related things (customers, service levels, other assets in your network), what its condition is, maintenance history, cost to build, cost to maintain, criticality, etc.  That data should be maintained in a way that it’s created or maintained one time and then stored in the appropriate system in a way that’s transparent to users.  So enterprise asset management as a concept is really the ability to access and use the right pieces of information (and that information needs to be descriptively and temporally accurate and authoritative) from enterprise IT systems at a water utility.

GIS, Enterprise Asset Management and EAM Systems

So how does GIS play a role in enterprise asset management?  Spatial location is typically the one common aspect among all of the data at a water utility.  We can understand the relationship between customers and distribution or collection system assets by their spatial location and interconnection.   A map is often the easiest way for humans to aggregate many sources of data together to visualize them all and understand how they affect each other.   When we spatially enable our utility data we can then use the analytical power of GIS to gain a better understanding of how our assets are performing and how they affect our level of service and our customers.  From years of working with utilities, we’ve seen GIS consistently be the gateway where large amounts of asset data enter a utility and where its basic characteristics (location, size, installation date, material, etc) is maintained.  So maps from GIS are the place to visualize, analyze and explore many pieces of asset related data and also enable you to propose ways to manage your assets better (maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement) and understand the impact.

Interestingly, when you look at how modern EAM systems (workorder & CMMS) are implemented at water utilities, they almost always have a GIS integration component that includes a toolbar in desktop GIS to keep assets in sync between the GIS and the EAM and also uses server based GIS to give a spatial view of assets and workorders to utility staff that are dispatching and managing workorders.  So the way EAM systems are integrated with GIS underscores the concept that enterprise asset management is about utilizing the best information from each system that stores data about assets.

Want to share your experience or thoughts on this?  Feel free to post a comment.

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The Geographic Approach to Water Utility Customer Self Service


Hopefully you’ve had a chance to try out the first version of “Water Utilities Citizen Service Template” in the template gallery.  We’re about to release a new update to the template that includes some great enhancements.  We’ve also decided to rename the template to something more descriptive, the “Water Utilities Customer Interaction Template”.  Currently we’re testing the installation and configuration instructions, but in the meantime you can try the new template here – http://waterutilitiestemplates.esri.com/CustomerInteraction/

The intent of this template is to demonstrate how a water or wastewater utility can use a web based mapping application for better customer self service.  Web based self service is nothing new, many companies and governmental entities have include forms, information and applications on their websites designed to empower customers or constituents to do some form of self service.  The benefits of web self service are well known and proven – cost reductions, faster response and increased customer satisfaction.  Of course to make that happen you have to use the right technology and also the right workflow behind the technology.

Another way that we’ve been thinking about web based self service for water utilities is that it’s a bi-directional sharing of information.  Meaning that customers may have some information they need to share with a utility and the utility may also have some information that it needs to share with customers. 

The first version of this template was really focused on the customers sharing information with the utility, or more appropriately making a request of the utility for some service.  For example notifying the utility of a leaking valve in the street or a hydrant that appears like it’s damaged. 

The second release of this template introduces ways that utilities can use a web based map to share information better with their customer (and that’s why we changed the name). We’ll save a more detailed exploration of why and how water utilities should be sharing information back with customers and the general public for another blog.  We think it’s a compelling enough topic that we want to explore that on its own.

Now let’s get back to the topic at hand, the Geographic Approach to Water Utility Customer Service.  It’s a simple premise, and builds on the general concepts of the “Geographic Approach”, just about everything that a water utility owns, operates or serves has a geographic location and can be mapped.   Through mapping your assets, customer and operational data you’ll gain a better understanding of how they impact each other.  Service request and the work orders they generate are a key pieces of operational data that have a spatial component and should be mapped or tied back to an asset that has a location. 

Part of the geographic approach for water utilities is the fact that it’s easier for human beings to understand information when it’s in the form of a map.  Maps provide a richer context then information that is just textual or tabular.

So, what does the geographic approach mean for customer self service at water utilities? It means if you are deploying customer self service capabilities to your website, you should include a web based interactive map if there is a spatial component to the information being communicated.

Some examples of where a water utility could benefit from an interactive map for customers self service are:

  • Service requests – A well designed and simple to use web map for service request should be less confusing to customer than a text based form.  For example, we’ve seen a number of customer service request web pages that rely on some text based forms that key off an address.  But most water utility assets don’t have an address, what they have is a spatial location.  It’s confusing the customer to make them try and figure out the nearest address for something they are requesting service for.
  • Asset status – while the thought of doing this still keeps some utilities up at night, we are seeing the start of a trend in the industry towards giving a limited view into the location and operational status of certain water utility assets to the public.  A good example of this is fire hydrant operational status maps.
  • Operational information – Leaks, workorders, project work areas, and service outages.  This is dynamically changing information that also has a spatial component.  You’ll sometimes see this type of information posted on a water utility webpage as text or maybe with a polygon on a static map in a PDF.
  • KPIs – Some utilities track KPIs by spatial areas such as operational area or by city council district or the like and share this information back out with the public.  You’ll often see this information presented in a table, but its spatial information and can be better presented to the public in an interactive map.

Lastly, if you’ve been looking at both the Water Utility and the Public Works Resource Centers, you may have noticed that we have the same Customer Self Service template posted on both.  No, that’s not because we are lazy… it’s because any entity that needs to take service requests around assets can benefit from this template.  That’s also why when you download this template you’ll find service requests for general public works as well as water, sewer and stormwater.  When you configure the template you can just remove service requests that aren’t applicable to your organization and add additional ones that are.

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Where Are Your Customers?

At first glance, that might seem like a silly question to a water, wastewater or storm water utility.  After all, how hard is it to find your customers…. they are in your service area, connected to your infrastructure and you have an address to send them bills.  But do you really accurately know where you are providing service to?

We are seeing a trend where water utilities are recognizing the importance of accurately knowing where they are providing service to (your real customer locations) and also understanding that there are many facets to accurately establishing your customer locations. 

So what do we mean by customer location and how do you store that in your GIS?

For the purpose of our discussion here, by customer locations we mean the location where you as a utility are providing service to. This is the location where you are distributing flow to in a water system or where you are accepting flow in a sanitary sewer system

There are some common approaches that we see utilities using to store customer information in their GIS.  Just like any GIS data model, you should pick an approach to store your customer locations that fits your utility’s specific needs.

For water utilities we commonly see customer location stored as a meter feature class (if you have meters) or with a feature class called customer, premise location or service location.  With a geometric network, these feature classes are snapped to lateral which are snapped to mains.  An important distinction for many utilities is that billing location of a customer, where the bill is sent to, is often different than the location you are serving that customer (premise or customer location). 

For wastewater utilities we commonly see customer locations stored with a cleanout feature class, a customer or premise feature class or if a combined water/wastewater utility then water and wastewater both may use the meter feature class from the water distribution network.

Of course if you don’t have your water or wastewater networks in GIS yet, or don’t even have a GIS, customer locations are a great starting point for building a GIS system.  It is relatively cheap to record them and you’ll immediately get high value from having those location accurately measured. 

Some common attributes we see for customer location feature classes are: unique ID, customer type, active, customer name, premise address, customer phone number.  Unique ID is should be an ID that will allow you to join your customer locations with your billing system so you can visualize consumption patterns. 

Benefit of accurately locating your customers:

Some of the ways we’ve seen water and wastewater utilities benefit from accurately knowing their customer locations are:

  • Reducing non-revenue water – We’ve seen accurate customers as a critical data component to reducing non-revenue water.  A simple example of reducing non-revenue water with accurate customer locations is to create a map that shows all of your customer locations and then to look for where places (such as a buildings) that should be a customer location but are not.  Another way to use customer locations to reduce non-revenue water is to join your billing data to customer locations and visualize customer consumption by creating a thematic map of graduated symbol sizes or colors.  In this case you are looking for active customers that have abnormally low consumption and may have a defective meter.  Anecdotally we’ve heard from a number of ESRI customers that the simple actions above have made significant reductions in non-revenue water.  We’ve also seen some very sophisticated analysis using consumption data linked to customer locations and metering data to try to identify zones within a water distribution system that may a high amount of water loss due to leaks.
  • Allocating demands – More accurate customer locations will yield better demand allocation for hydraulic models, especially when linked to consumption data.
  • Estimating flow – For wastewater utilities, more accurate customer locations can be used to better estimate flow through being able to more precisely calculate the EDUs flowing into pipes from upstream. 
  • Better Customer Service – For example you can gain better insight into how customer complaints and customer service requests track back to the actual infrastructure that they are served by.  A good example of this is water utilities that are using their customer locations in GIS to track the location of water quality complaints over a multiyear period back to common pipes or water sources that could be the cause of an issue.
  • Improved routing – More accurate customer locations will yield better routes for field crews, saving fuel and time.
  • Validating premise addresses in other utility systems – We often hear from utilities that while they have very good billing address data for customers in their CIS or billing system, that premise locations (stored as an address) in these systems is often wrong.  So better premise address locations generated with GIS can be used to fix bad premise locations in your CIS (you should have one system of record for premise locations, but we’ll save that discussion for another day).
  • Better emergency notifications – We’ve heard a number of horror stories from utilities that have an emergency notification system that has not notified customers during an emergency because their customer locations are bad.  2 common ways to notify customers during emergencies are doing a broadcast notification (notifying all customers in a service area or a municipal boundary) or doing a target notification based on the pipes that serve a customer (just notify customers that are affected by a broken main because you know they are served by that main).  In both of these examples accurate customer locations are key to being able to perform emergency notifications.  

So how do you get your customers located accurately?

The most common way that utilities initially get their customer locations into a GIS is through geocoding their billing roster.  When geocoding any address data, the 2 critical components that determine the quality of your geocodes is the input address data and the dataset that you are geocoding against. 

We’ve heard from a lot of water utilities that the premise locations in their CIS or billing system are of dubious quality and often time there is not a lot of consistency in how the address fields for premises were used.  So while billing address data is usually of high quality (otherwise you’d never get paid) premise location is not accurately stored because it was perceived to be of less importance.  In this case, step one would be to try and fix some of the issues in the address data you are trying to geocode before you geocode the address data.  This may include trying to standardize the input address data (street abbreviations, data structure, etc).

You also want to use the best dataset available to geocode against.  Increasingly we are seeing water utilities licensing commercial dataset for geocoding.  Particularly they are choosing to license datasets that frequently updated and have the ability to geocode down to a rooftop level.

We somtimes see water and wastewater utilities use parcel centroids as the first step to establishing customer locations.  So if you can get a good dataset of parcels in your service area you can use GIS to calculate the centroid of each parcel as the first step to establishing customer locations.

Also we are increasingly speaking with water utilities that are GPSing their meter locations and curb stops during meter replacement projects or wastewater utilities that are GPSing clean outs during field data collection projects.

No matter what automated process you use to get your customers on the map initially, no doubt you’ll have to do some data clean up.  For example, you will probably have to do some manual data creation and editing to establish customer locations at commercial and industrial locations or for multi-unit housing.  Also you must develop a workflow to keep your customer location dataset in GIS up to date.

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