GIS Backlog Is Rising at Utilities Thanks to New Demands

The basic challenge for utilities today is they can’t keep up. Whether the service territory is urban or rural, utilities are experiencing unprecedented load growth. From new subdivisions, commercial centers and vehicle charging stations to power-hungry manufacturing and data centers, utilities are scrambling to upgrade distribution networks, substations and related critical infrastructure.

Though GIS is an essential part of a utility’s technology infrastructure, operational needs are outpacing the ability to maintain basic GIS housekeeping.

Why It’s Important

GIS, the acronym for geographic information system, is a platform that has been around for decades. It has been upgraded numerous times and currently ArcGIS, the platform developed and licensed by Esri, is still considered state-of-the-art because of its functionality as a geospatial foundation that can host everything a utility needs, from substation and telecommunication layouts to meter locations and transformer sets.

Now, with system redesigns often done within an engineering design software package, some portions of the updated data must be transferred manually to the GIS platform. Though most design packages have functionality that can align and integrate with GIS, some important elements like paper maps, drawings or work orders must be transferred into digital formats. If work orders are generated for distribution grid upgrades, for example, the details on where new assets are located must be added.

Many utilities are turning to 1898 & Co. for the additional manpower needed to take care of this step. This process involves a careful review of all new designs that are generated, along with hard copy documentation, and then transferring the information to GIS.

Some utilities that are switching to newer and more advanced design packages have a need to verify and validate that all of the legacy information in the older design package is transferred to GIS. Other requests are generated by utilities that have installed advanced metering infrastructure but don’t have those assets logged into GIS. While the meters are operational and functioning, not having them placed on a geospatial mapping platform can be a barrier when locating the assets for maintenance or troubleshooting requests.

Once those assets are placed correctly, links can be established with work order systems that are tracked on GIS. With the GIS connection in place, interconnections are activated to all other systems such as advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) or other outage management systems. This interconnection shortens the time it takes to identify issues, allowing crews to be dispatched with the proper tools and equipment. In some cases, issues can be corrected remotely, thanks to accurate geospatial data.

Cleanup of data also can address instances of missing information, such as material types, pole heights, ages and ratings of transformers, and locations or phasing of distribution lines. GIS data also helps optimize distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS), an increasingly important factor with solar rooftop arrays now commonplace in many service locations.

With this data transfer, the GIS remains foundational to the accurate data needed by most other digital management systems.

More Efficient Use of Staff Time

GIS has advanced to a point where it can be tied to sensors and other triggers that give it real-time capability. With GIS feeding information that is automatically updated due to connections with sensor data, the time needed for manual data input is reduced greatly.

Of course, there still will be a need for human interaction and monitoring of data fed into all these systems. However, the efficiency gained by no longer having to spend hours with data conversions will pay dividends.

Though utilities are finding it ever more challenging to keep up with today’s demands, they can start keeping pace through the clean and accurate data available within GIS. Staying current with data housekeeping is a best practice that will unlock the full benefits to be gained from GIS and other advanced technology systems available to utilities today.


Jake Stevenson

Senior Project Manager