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Why 'The Science of Where' 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 am done using it. Then, when I go to use that tool again, it is gone—stolen. It's not the value of the tool that is important to me; it's the time I waste looking everywhere for it, in vain. 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 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 narrative is tongue placed firmly in cheek. What it does point out, however, is that the simple task of clearly documenting where something is can be a challenge, whether at home and or at companies with a large infrastructure.

Why is that?

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 stuff, restoring power to customers, and cleaning up oil spills. They are also challenged to get their jobs done quickly and move on to other things. 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.

Clearly, the answer is to create an efficient geographic information system (GIS) of record. OK, you already have that. So why are people always complaining about the lack of quality of the data? Just creating a system of record is not enough.

They need a better process, empowered staff, 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.

The ArcGIS platform facilitates simple processes. It is available on common platforms, like tablets and smartphones. It just works; no real 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 kept hostage. It's for everyone to access in any platform, anytime and anywhere. It's about creating a total picture of awareness—not just of the assets of the utility but of the surroundings and the weather or the traffic or the temperature or of all those 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.

It's not only about documenting exactly where things are. It's also about creating a process that makes sure that the location and vital data about critical assets is accurate and authoritative.

Implementing the full ArcGIS platform into the utility—not just in the office, but everywhere—will root out those imaginary burglars who move stuff around. The platform is about using science to enhance performance, lower costs, and improve customer service.

To learn more about The ArcGIS Platform, download our latest e-book Making the Connection at http://go.esri.com/electric_ebook.

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