Grappling with data? You may be overlooking your GIS system


By: SGN Staff


Over and over again, I hear from my utility friends that they are drowning in data. They know there are solutions hiding in all that information, but they barely know which questions to ask much less how to find the answers.


So when I stumbled on this blog post by Bill Meehan, I asked if I could share it with you. He points out that your GIS system may be the fastest path to those answers. And not just answers to historical questions (where is that transformer?). But also to planning questions (where should we site a new substation?). In other words, if the data is confusing, try mapping it as a first shot at making sense.


Bill works at Esri, the world leader in GIS technology, so his answers are not disinterested. But you don't have to use Bill's products to benefit from his insights. If you are struggling to make sense of Big Data (or little data for that matter), your easiest solution may be that familiar mapping system you have in place already. - Jesse Berst


By Bill Meehan


Electric utilities face a new world -- one in which the infrastructure is aging along with the workers. The price of everything keeps going up. Customers want better and faster service, but some of them cannot pay their bills. Natural disasters seem to get nastier each year. Governments continue to dole out more and more regulations. The community wants better service, lower emissions, and fewer mishaps. It’s a political nightmare to raise rates. Plus, the new smart grid devices are smothering utility operators with data.


In short: utilities cannot continue to operate as they have been. Utilities need a better way to do business. GIS can help.


GIS Responds to the Tough Questions

GIS uses utility data to show patterns and reveal insights. It answers questions -- where will infrastructure fail? -- so operators can make better plans for the future. Utilities use GIS to organize and share vital information, such as the exact location where tree limbs are rubbing electrical wires or where insulators are cracked. GIS shows field crews where to find broken or damaged assets. All of this, GIS makes available in the simplest and most logical way possible: on a map.


A map makes it easier than ever to get a clear picture of what’s going on. Now GIS maps are on the web and in the cloud. This means that we have figuratively peeled map sheets off of office walls and placed them into people’s hands. GIS maps allow real-time data to flow to decision makers as well as field crews and customersâ€"anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone. What does this mean in terms of all that smart grid data? It means, utilities can take that data and map it.


But, not so fast. Many utilities see GIS as a way to improve engineering maps. Or maybe GIS helps represent electric equipment digitally for some particular application. Rarely does a utility use GIS to guide business. It turns out that utilities can use GIS in almost every part of the utility business, from power plants to smart meters. GIS is really good at helping utilities sort out things like what new materials are needed, how to satisfy customers, and where to build a wind farm.