Have you ever looked up directions for a road trip, searched for the best restaurant nearby, or checked the weather radar on your phone? If you have, then you’ve encountered a geographic information system.
A geographic information system (GIS) is a platform for gathering, managing, and analyzing data that can organize layers of information into visualizations using maps and 3D scenes. For utility companies, a GIS can lead to large gains in efficiency, safety, and situational awareness. A modern GIS can provide automation of inspection reports for patrolmen, visualization of planned construction for engineers, and even be used to provide alerts if severe weather is approaching important assets. However, it is not always a walk in the park to implement and maintain.
GIS Implementation for an Electric Utility in response to NERC Facility Ratings Alert
In the case of one electric utility we recently partnered with, the need to implement a GIS came about following a NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) Facility Ratings alert. The Facility Ratings alert called for Transmission Owners and Generator Owners of Bulk Electric System facilities to review their facility ratings processes. This alert, coming on the heels of a large outage experienced by another provider, also required these entities to take a number of steps to ensure that methodologies used at the time of design were sufficient for current conditions.
While this electric utility was committed to the reliability of the electric grid and safety of its customers, this was no easy undertaking. First, they had to gain approval from the TRE (Texas Reliability Entity) on the approach for gathering the required information and coming into compliance. As if that wasn’t hard enough, then came the most challenging part – identifying the locations of all transmission lines and gathering the required data.
At the successful conclusion of this exercise, in which data was captured through use of survey grade GPS devices, a member of the project team astutely asked what should be done with all of the great data. Wouldn’t it be useful for Maintenance to be able to quickly identify where aging wood poles were located and when they were last inspected, or for Engineering to quickly understand the voltage of lines that covered a particular area of the provider’s service territory? These are just a few examples of many questions raised that the electric utility now had the data available to answer.
This momentum led to the birth of a new idea: implementation of a GIS. After gathering requirements from stakeholders across the enterprise, it became clear that Esri, a market leader in GIS technology, provided the platform that would equip this electric utility with the ability to realize the many benefits and opportunities that arose due to having access to location data for its assets. Esri’s ArcGIS Enterprise platform would provide mapping and visualization, analytics, and data management capabilities. A powerful GIS application would soon replace handmade paper maps and Excel spreadsheets improving cross-functional collaboration and timely access to large geospatial data sets across the enterprise.
The selection of a tool however is only the beginning of the journey. The modern, agile GIS platform was not created and seamlessly implemented overnight. Rather, it was earned through years of experience planning and delivering enhancements to the platform. Below is an overview of insights which will promote the success of a GIS implementation or take the administration of an existing GIS to the next level.