Why Location Strategy Matters for Utilities

We have a burglar who visits our house regularly. Unlike most burglars, he or she only steals small, mostly unimportant items. Aside from an occasional sock, the stolen goods are almost always tools that I use around the house. I know they are being stolen, since I always remember exactly where I have put a tool once I’m done using it. Then, when I go to use that tool again, it’s gone—stolen. It’s not the value of the tool that is important to me; it’s the time I waste looking everywhere in vain for it. The funny part is that the burglar always returns the stolen items (except for the unmatched sock). The interesting part is that he or she puts the items in a completely different location from where I leave them.

This same thing often happened at the utility company where I used to work. Our crews would carefully and precisely document the location of every piece of equipment that they installed. Yet during a power failure or a project, the equipment—like a transformer, a valve, or a switch—would be mysteriously stolen at some point and returned to a different location. And like my experience at home, the crews would waste precious time looking for the equipment that was supposed to be in one location but was somewhere else. This was especially frustrating in the case of underground cables. Someone apparently was digging up the cables and moving them sometimes 10 feet or more. And during a power failure, customers would have to wait longer for their power to be restored because of the utility’s lack of knowledge of where things were. Finally, this lack of precise location information created safety issues. This reminds me of the time that the burglar at my house returned my box knife. He or she placed it, with the blade exposed, into a box reserved for cleaning rags. I stuck my hand into the box and cut myself—all because of a lack of information about where.

Clearly, the above stories are told, tongue placed firmly in cheek. What they illustrate, however, is that the simple task of clearly documenting where something is can be a challenge, certainly for me at home and for companies with a large infrastructure.

A Superior System of Location Record

I’m often too wrapped up in a project to stop and document where I last left my screwdriver or hammer. Likewise, crews, engineers, and installers are also wrapped up in building things, restoring power to customers, and cleaning up oil spills. They are also challenged to get their jobs done quickly and move on to other tasks. Documenting what they do is sometimes an afterthought and, too often, not done at all. Yet later, they pay dearly for this in increased operating, maintenance, and capital costs and in poor customer service, decreased reliability, and lack of compliance. Just creating a system of record is not enough. Utilities need a better process, enabled people, and superior technology.

The traditional process of getting the data quickly from the field into the GIS has been tough, awkward, and error prone. People are too busy to deal with paper records or complicated computer systems. To continue to maintain an efficient system of record that is complete, up-to-date, and accurate requires collapsing the gap between the field and office.

Advanced Analytics Anywhere, Anytime

The ArcGIS platform facilitates simple processes. It is accessible via common hardware, like tablets and smartphones, and no substantial training is needed. Finally, the platform provides the technology to close the gap from the office to the field. What goes on in the field is readily available immediately in the field—people, process, and technology.

The ArcGIS platform is not just a system of record where the GIS data is stored. It’s for everyone to access anytime, anywhere, and from any device. It’s about creating a total picture of awareness—not just of the assets of utilities, but of the surroundings, weather, traffic, or of all the sensors out there as well. And finally, it’s about making sense of the data and providing analytics and real-time trends of what is going on and where.

Implementing the full ArcGIS platform into utilities—not just in the office, but everywhere throughout the organization—will wipe out those imaginary burglars who move things around. The platform is about using The Science of WhereTM to enhance performance, lower costs, and improve customer service through the common visual language of maps.

To learn more about how location strategy helps utilities companies unlock the insights in their data and run more efficiently, visit esri.com/industries/utilities-communications

Bill Meehan

About Bill Meehan

Bill Meehan, P.E., heads the worldwide utility industry solutions practice for Esri. Author of Enhancing Electric Utility Performance with GIS, Modeling Electric Distribution Performance with GIS, Empowering Electric and Gas Utilities, Power System Analysis by Digital Computer, and numerous papers and articles, Bill has lectured extensively and taught courses at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts. Bill is a registered professional engineer. Follow Bill on Twitter.
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One Comment

  1. 228269dd says:

    Bill this story is as true today as the day I started in 1969.
    How have you been ? I hope all is well
    Denis Deagle