“Without integrating operational data with traditional IT data, I don’t think the industry would be any further along than it was five or 10 years ago.”
~Steve Ehrlich, Space Time Insight...
Geospatial applications are laying the groundwork for the next round of infrastructure development and customer interaction.
an important part of customer interaction with the utility.
“Customer service [departments] have some [use for GIS], but geospatial is not as important to them day-to-day. The vast majority of customer calls are handled automatically. The applications are, however, integral to outage management.” Henson points to Dominion’s Web site, www.dom.com/news/outage_map.jsp, where customers can see a map of outages across the utility’s service territory.
Indeed, GITA lists “Touble Call/Outage Analysis” as the number one GIS application for utilities.
Although GITA cites a “distinct trend toward multivendor environments” and toward multiplatform GIS implementations—approximately 70 percent of the 386 survey respondents were sharing data between various systems—the survey shows Autodesk is the preferred GIS vendor in the electric-utility segment.
The company is aiming to keep its lead with updates to two of its geospatial solutions, MapGuide Enterprise 2008 and Topobase 2008. The MapGuide Enterprise update adds Web architecture and capabilities that the previous incarnation of the product—available for more than a decade—did not have. The 2008 incarnation also incorporates a year’s worth of input from the open-source community.
Autodesk designed Topobase 2008 with segment-specific modules, including water, waste water, and gas. (There is no specific module for electric utilities, but the company is working on future vertical models.) “Those modules have a specific data model appropriate for each industry,” says Autodesk’s Saunders. “For gas, it can manage pressure zones, gas feature classes, the valves and piping, and types of pumping stations involved. It’s a set of business rules specific to the gas industry: how to create a new house connection, and what facilities and connectivity you need when putting a new meter or pipe into a building.
“Then there are style templates for how different people in a utility would need to visualize this information. So a designer might want to see a template that overlays the pipes with the street data. A maintenance or operation person might want to see a visualization of the age or condition of the pipes in a color-coded way. Those vertical modules enable a utility to roll out the solution much more quickly, make it more of an out-of-the-box solution.”
Mapping It Out
One of the biggest developments in GIS applications has been the wider availability of maps and mapping technology. As late as the 1990s, most utilities used extensive paper mapping systems to visualize their service-area terrain, but that’s changed.
“One of the things we’ve done with MapGuide Enterprise 2008 is provide direct support of Google Earth,” says Liam Speden, product manager at Autodesk. “In terms of supplying information to an almost ubiquitous customer-end interface, we can push live information into Google Earth,
including asset updates and alerts.” He pegs the number of Google Earth user worldwide at about 250 million.
“Google has been a great enabler for general awareness of the public as to what you can do with maps,” Speden says. “We’re embracing that by being able to deliver information. That can be used particularly on the external side of utilities, the customer-facing side of the utility, for delivering accurate and timely information