POINT OF VIEW SERIES- I
GIS: Lifeline for Utilities
Importance of GIS in “Best Managed Utilities”
Background ............................................................................................................................................................... 2
GIS touch points in Business Processes ............................................................................................................. 3
Guidelines for GIS Implementation ...................................................................................................................... 5
Many the Power Transmission & Distribution companies in India has taken numerous strategic
initiatives aiming at providing reliable quality power supply to consumers at affordable rates and
increase level of availability. They are facing significant challenge in meeting the targets due to:
An aging workforce nearing retirement
Capex required to modernize the aging network assets
Energy sustainability, environmental concerns and regulatory pressure
To support the three challenges, utilities have shown positive thoughts to implement a robust IT
system to reduce cost (both CapEx and OpEx); increase network reliability; meet regulatory
obligations; and improve customer service. Amongst all the component of the IT project Enterprise
GIS has shown positive adaptability amongst the Utilities employees. The main reason being that
GIS provides the underlying means to display manage and operate this vast array of spatially
dispersed equipment in a single Platform. Thus with Enterprise GIS being the core of the utility IT
framework, it has enabled them to go ahead in bringing reforms to move towards the vision of
“The Best Managed Utilities”. The most effective way to achieve this is through the development of
a robust and realistic implementation strategy, Value based business case and a benefits-delivery
roadmap. This document has been prepared keeping GIS users of various understanding level in
mind and is intended to help them in the effort to create the best strategy for GIS implementation.
GIS touch points in Business Processes
Organizations who leverage their geospatial network infrastructure data widely across their
organization realize the most significant benefit. Although benefits are realized within the
planning, design and as-built functions through improved data management, the real upside is in
exploiting the network infrastructure data within such business functions as sales & marketing,
customer care and network operations.
GIS Touch points
Network Plan & The ability to plan and design well-engineered network upgrades is probably
the key business process supported by network infrastructure management
solutions. Through GIS one is able to:
Once the network upgrade has been designed, it still needs to be constructed
and deployed. The process for managing the network build needs to be
understood to ensure the network infrastructure management solution can
support the complete end-to-end process. This could include:
Design cost-effective network upgrades
Account for existing network utilization
Enforce technical constraints to ensure accurate network designs
Ensure a standard approach to network planning
Enforce corporate wide business rules are followed
Reduce cycle time for planning new infrastructure
Manage planning jobs through the evaluation and approval process
Clearly document the network design for review and use by multiple
Exchange of data (e.g. Bill of materials) with procurement systems used
to purchase required equipment
Generation of job packs containing all the details (network designs,
connectivity diagrams etc) needed by engineers responsible for building
Access to data in the field and the ability of field engineers to upload
information on as-built changes to the original design.
A key element of keeping a network healthy and able to provide reliable service
to customers is a well-organized pro-active monitor, maintenance and repair
process. The ability of existing (and future) systems to support these processes
needs to be evaluated. For instance, does the system support:
The planning and management of a program of pole inspections
Tracking of equipment health
Correlation of network faults to determine geographic problem areas.
GIS Touch points
Even with the best maintenance and repair operation, there will always be
faults in the network that require reactive response to alarms etc. The network
infrastructure management solution should be an integral part of the network
operations process in order to:
Availability of network information in the field is critical to the efficient running
of the network. Applications (current and future) that support field engineers
should be evaluated from a process point of view to assess their usability for
field engineers performing their day-to-day tasks. Issues that need to be
Exchange of data between the central database and the end user
device (e.g. Ruggedized laptop, handheld)
Usability of interface when performing tasks
Ease of use – you should strive for simple options that minimize the
amount of data displayed, the number of options available etc.
The ability of the customer care team to keep customers informed of network
issues is a key element for increasing customer satisfaction and hence reduce
customer churn. The system could support customer care processes in the
Locate the geographic position of the root cause of the problem
Provide network information on the location, equipment, connectivity
etc to be repaired
Schedule and dispatch field crews to resolve the problem.
Pro-actively informing customers of network problems when a fault
Scheduling pro-active maintenance to reduce customer disruption
Providing customers with information on the range of services available
in their geographic area
Improved qualification of service provisioning to specific end customers
Responding to customer queries about engineering work being done in
There are multiple financial business processes that need to be supported by
network infrastructure management solution that can bring bottom-line
rewards to the business. These could include:
Assessment of network asset status and depreciation
Analysis of network plant locations for tax reporting purposes
Capital cost calculations for planned network upgrades
Guidelines for GIS Implementation
Enterprise GIS provides numerous benefits such as effectively managing assets spread across in
large geographic areas, improved access and reduced redundancy of GIS data across all
departments, better utilization of resources reducing maintenance and support, and more
effective decision-making. An enterprise GIS addresses departmental needs collectively instead of
individually. Because an enterprise GIS must serve the enterprise and be integrated into its
operations, there are several key considerations when implementing an enterprise GIS organizational (i.e. organization vision and business process), technical (i.e. IT standards, system
architecture, and hardware and software configuration), and resource (i.e. GIS technicians,
developers, and managers, and help desk supports).
To ensure the enterprise GIS solution fits with the overall organization vision and goals, a
Strategic Implementation Plan must be developed before actual development begins. The
implementation plan must be developed in accordance with the results of the gap analysis and
risk assessment. Typically, a phased approach that consists of incremental milestones is preferred.
The plan must be reviewed by all stakeholders and adjusted before final approval by all
The System Architecture of enterprise must fit the IT environment and operate within the
standard and policy of the organization IT infrastructure. In addition, the architecture must
produce performance levels that help end users meet their specific operational goals. A successful
system architecture should be based on organization IT standards, leverage existing
infrastructure, support future business workflow, and provide performance measures of all
processes. The system architecture design should be developed after evaluating the latest
technologies for benefit and risk. The system architecture should include network configuration, as
well as detailed hardware and software configuration.
The Data Model is the heart of enterprise GIS and must meet the operational and
functional requirements of an organization. The data model must also support the
requirements of the GIS software and shall be extendable to integrate with other IS, such as the
Customer Information System (CIS) and Outage Management System (OMS). The data model shall
also support symbol display and the data maintenance process.
The capture and migration of data is a key element of most initiatives to establish a
consolidated, central network infrastructure management solution. As well as sourcing the
base data (e.g. landbase) it is critical that the network data is in an accurate and consistent
format. This data is often captured from a myriad of different sources including network surveys,
paper records, existing GIS systems, network inventory databases, and network operations
systems. The data from each of these needs to be collected, cleansed (i.e. data inaccuracies and
anomalies corrected) and reconciled (e.g. data in the network infrastructure management system
could be different from the on-line view of the network held within the network operations team).
When conflicts arise decisions need to be taken on what is the master data and how will these
conflicts be corrected – some of this reconciliation can be automated, but often a business process
needs to be established to get the required consensus and sign-off for alterations to the data.
Data Access & Maintenance
An enterprise GIS is built for Data Access and sharing throughout an organization. GIS
deployment issues need to be addressed in the early stages of implementation. In a utility
company, there are two typical groups of users: users with a stable LAN connection and mobile
users. Current GIS software allows many utilities to manage access to the GIS database through
LAN connections. Internet technology such as GIS web server or web services can be used to
rapidly deploy GIS data to the entire organization with relatively low cost.
After building the GIS, Data Maintenance is another major issue to be addressed. The questions
that need to be asked are who, when, and how to maintain the GIS data. As most legacy systems
only allow single-user editing, one department in the organization normally handles all data
maintenance. Because GIS provides multi-user access and has complex relationship rules, it is
more efficient to decentralize the data maintenance responsibilities to multiple departments and
maintain a centralized approval process.
System integration requires careful planning and active participation and coordination of
stakeholders across departments within the organization. Discussions of system
integration need to be conducted early in the project. Data model development and system
architecture design tasks offer two ideal forums to discuss system integration issues. The planning
may be time consuming and tedious as it requires detail inventory of database structures and
identifying common key fields to relate information across information systems. However, if
implemented properly, system integration provides the largest return on investment (ROI) for an
For utility companies, some of the common systems that GIS integrates with are Work
Management System (WMS), Customer Information System (CIS), Financial Accounting System
such as SAP or Oracle Financial, and Outage Management System (OMS).
Lately, many organizations are taking advantage of information portal technology to build an
enterprise information dashboard that integrates information published via web services from
various IS. Each portal is fully integrated with others presenting a well of information at the
fingertip of each user. This type of architecture is also called Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).
Organizations implementing web services in SOA environment will realize significant competitive
advantages as they leverage the power of spatial information management.
During enterprise GIS implementation, the GIS implementation team not only needs to provide
solutions to meet end user business needs, it also must educate end users on overall GIS
capabilities and promote spatial data analysis in GIS to solve business problems in a more
effective manner. This is a very important task that provides significant benefits to an organization
and yet has often been overlooked in enterprise GIS implementation.
When determining the hardware environment needed for the network infrastructure
management solution many aspects need to be taken into account including:
What operating system(s) will need to be supported?
What hardware configuration is preferred (e.g. Traditional client-server, distributed or thin
client (citrix) architecture)?
How flexible does the solution need to be in order to operate on a heterogeneous mix of
platforms and architectures to suit individual departmental requirements?
What are the numbers and types of users, volumes and types of data, usage patterns, and
distribution of office locations and network infrastructure that need to be supported?
What tasks will each of the elements of the hardware solution be used for (e.g. Database
server, file server, application server, web server)
What is the appropriate sizing for each server and client machine in terms of processer,
memory and disc size etc?
What is an effective backup strategy to ensure successful disaster recovery?
What mechanism will be used for high availability and failover?
Resource planning for post implementation phase should occur early in the project
planning. Because providing a technical solutions and planning data conversion occupy
the attention of an organization in the early phases of the project, resource planning for post
implementation has often been deemed lower priority.
One is a centralized approach establishing a GIS department/group staffed with a GIS
manager, analysts, and mapping technicians.
Another approach is to decentralize the requirement of GIS operations to IT and business
areas. The IT department provides support as individual business areas update GIS data
layer(s) for which they are responsible and develop applications to meet their needs. While
this approach may produce cost savings, it often leads to lack of standard and accuracy in
the GIS database and duplicate efforts in developing custom solutions.
The third approach is a hybrid in which a GIS group (often within IT department) provides
technical resources to control data quality and develop custom tools for business units
that will update data layers relevant to their operations. IT helpdesk handles first-tier
technical support and training. If managed properly, the hybrid approach can offer a more
effective way to manage an enterprise GIS.
An organization must select an approach based on best fit to the organizational vision
and company culture. Regardless which structure is adopted, the GIS group should
develop a transition plan assisting end users to embrace the enterprise GIS and use it in their daily
work process. A transition plan typically includes workshops with end users, training and feedback
sessions, and system and application rollout plan. Proactive communication with end users is the
key to a successful transition. While communication of project status should occur as early and as
frequent as possible, technical training should be scheduled shortly before release of the
enterprise system. It is recommended that the transition plan be signed off by all stakeholders.