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Spaced Out

Geospatial applications are laying the groundwork for the next round of infrastructure development and customer interaction.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2007

“Utilities are looking to take institutional knowledge in the head of a designer or engineer that’s been doing their network/facility layouts for the last 35 years and creating a rules- or standards-based design process,” says Alan Saunders, senior industry manager, telco and utilities, at Autodesk. “In many cases, over half their asset structure can be over 50 years old and nearing the end of their useful life. They have a lot of replacement work to do, so they’re going to get hit with a double whammy of having to do more work with fewer resources.”

As utilities grapple with aging infrastructure and outage management, they are evaluating their GIS and considering the best way to keep up with the shifting demands of the electric-power industry.

Costs and Payoff

The amount of money spent on implementation of GIS ranges widely, from less than $150,000 in some instances to the tens of millions at some utilities. But whatever the price tag, GIS is essential to utility operations, says Edward L. Henson, IT project manager at Dominion Resources Services Inc.

“From a poles-and-pipes perspective, we have billions of dollars worth of facilities,” Henson says. “Everything about our business is geographic—placing [infrastructure], inspecting it, and sending field crews out to look at these things. We need to get the right resources to the right location as quickly as possible.”

GITA says that costs of GIS at utilities have been difficult to pin down over the years, because of technological obsolescence of earlier applications. With a disclaimer that “the wide range of project life spans, many of which have migrated through multiple generations of technology, will significantly skew comparisons of costs with outer project parameters,” GITA says that its current data reveals that 20 percent of the survey respondents spent more than $1 million on core GIS software, while 27 percent spent less than $150,000. Costs for GIS applications are similar—24 percent of respondents have spent more than $1 million, with 58 percent spending less than $150,000. The association notes that 22 percent of the respondents to this year’s survey began their projects since the year 2000, 51 percent in the 1990s, 22 percent in the 1980s, and just 4 percent in the 1970s.

GIS expenditures are being spread across fewer companies, Henson says.

“As with a lot of software markets, in the early days there were a lot of specialized players,” he says. “Now there are just two or three dominant players.”

He notes that in the early days, GIS revolved around design and CAD functions, but now it is integral to planning and operations, and

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