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As a GIS company, our business is focused on providing solutions to challenges. We take careful note of what our clients share with us. Over the years we have heard:

“We simply cannot afford GIS.”
“Our field staff like pen and paper, they find mobile apps like ArcPad too difficult to use.”
“We have too many separate GIS applications we need to manage.”
“GIS applications are too complex, we need simple, focused apps which get the job done. Apps which can be used either in the office or field.”

GIS is undergoing dramatic changes. Changes which are making GIS easier to afford, access and use. In this article we will discuss how this newly emerging world of GIS is helping to solve some of the many challenges faced by electric coops.

Electric Coops: Solving Challenges with new GIS Technology

Electric Coops are today faced with a wide array of challenges. These include:

1. Improving energy efficiency and conservation.
2. Managing assets.
4. Customer/community relations.
5. Emergency planning and response.
6. Government regulations and record keeping.
7. Efficient Meter reading and reporting.

Electric coops are highly consumer focused. Engaging with consumers and reacting quickly are very important. During an emergency, for example, co-ops need to tell people what this means to customers, will they be impacted for five minutes or five hours?. Most cooperatives are smaller than other utilities. Less revenue per mile and a significant rural consumer base presents unique challenges demanding state of the art solutions. The regulatory environment has a big impact on coops. One coop stated:

“Regulatory requirements cost us probably $250,000 a year … (But) just the record-keeping, the way we’ve had to change, the people we’ve had to hire …to keep from getting big fines.”

New GIS applications and platforms are making overcoming many of these challenges easier. Let’s consider 4 key areas of new GIS and how these can help electric utilities.

Cloud Based GIS: More Affordable and Easier

Gone are the days when your organization needs to deal with the complexity and expense of setting up and hosting a GIS internally. Cloud based GIS is now here. That means others maintaining your GIS, simply set up a subscription to Esri’s ArcGIS for example and go. Its as simple as that. GIS subscriptions are very affordable even to the smallest utilities. Internal staff are no longer required to maintain and update your GIS. It has never been easier to administer a GIS and publish maps.

If cloud based GIS solutions are not your cup of tea, with releases like Portal for ArcGIS, you can now host your own version of ArcGIS Online inside your firewall.

No More Data Silos

We once lived in a world where authoritative data was hard to find. Reliable electric main data was over here, updated inspection data over there. A GIS provides a central system for all your data. Your organizations authoritative data or system of record. Anybody in your organization who needs access to any asset or asset related data can simply access your GIS.

Mobile Maps, Mobile GIS Apps

Mobile devices – smartphone, and tablets – are transforming society. Today we all carry miniaturized computers, which know through GPS where they are at all times. Apps which provide interactive maps are extremely popular. GIS not only provides maps, it allows electric coop field staff to more efficiently get their jobs done.

We have been building a simple asset management mobile ArcGIS application for utilities which works both online and offline, is configurable and runs on any device and any platform (Apple, Android, Windows). Its an elegant solution for those who are looking to move away from ArcPad or cannot afford enterprise GIS asset management platforms. Other tools are included with the application including measure, draw, print, and editing tools.

New Configurable Applications for Electric Coops

There has been a new move in the world of GIS to provide focused, targeted configurable applications. Esri have been particularly busy here. ArcGIS for Electric Utilities is a suite of applications designed to solve specific challenges. Whether it is storm response, searching and locating assets, responding to emergencies, generating reports or connecting with customers. There is an easy to set up application designed for that purpose. We’ve been helping a number of electric coops quickly set up and configure many of these applications.

Electric Coop GIS Use Cases

As a company our goal is to provide universal access to GIS data and maps anywhere, anytime, on any device. For electric coops three use cases illustrate the power of GIS in providing solutions to specific challenges:

Asset Management

GIS is location focused technology. It provides centralised storage of asset data, mapping and analysis of this data. GIS is becoming an an essential tool for coops to manage assets. There are many asset management options available, some built into a GIS directly, some third party systems. But having the ability to view the location of all assets, and rich data about each asset is today ever more crucial.

Vegetation Management

Vegetation management can be challenging. GIS provides a powerful way to better manage vegetation. Let’s provide two examples. Tracking spray control cycles can be tough. But using a GIS data can be collected and tracked on each of these cycles. As the diagram below shows when an area has been sprayed: year, weed type, density, area and other data can all be collected, stored and displayed on a map. If spraying is conducted every two years, a GIS makes it easy to query the data and show on a map those areas due for respray.

Coordinating teams involved with vegetation clearing is another area made simpler using GIS. Mobile GIS provides the ability for crews to view the location and notes on work which needs to be done. In the example below we show tree removal. In this case the work agreement for a specific tree is provided. Crews can be guided by the notes, and provide updates to these notes. This data is all centrally stored in a GIS, providing not only a current guide but historical record. Having past data is important given the ongoing nature of vegetation clearance.

Pole Audit and Outage Source

Having good accurate records of the location and an audit of poles is critical. In a situation where there is a problem, time is of the essence. That means quickly isolating the problem, sending crews out to the exact problem location, and providing those crews with the parts they knew to make the repair. GIS provides all the tools needed to gather and store accurate pole information, map pole locations, provide routing information for repair crews, and reporting on work completed. GIS can also be used to share with the public outage information.

Tools like asset locators provide ways for utility staff to search for and locate other assets including fuses, transformers, switches and substations

“New-tilities” is a new term. It refers to the issues confronting modern day utilities. Leveraging advances in technology, particularly GIS technology, will help electric coops overcome many of their key challenges.

Contact us for more information on 801-733-0723.




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