Our Insights

Putting the Network in Utility Network – Doing More with Less

June 23, 2020

By Robert Krisher
Senior GIS Consultant, POWER Engineers

At this point, you have all heard a lot about the Utility Network and ArcGIS Pro, and while everyone knows they need to get there in the next few years, some organizations are still struggling to understand what that process looks like and what the benefits of this transition would be. While Esri and other vendors have done a fantastic job of articulating their vision for the platform and the value of ArcGIS Enterprise, I still hear from many utilities that they don’t see how this applies to their day-to-day operations. My plan in this article is to cover some practical, real-world examples of how implementing the Utility Network will allow you to reduce the overhead and maintenance costs of your GIS while simultaneously providing more value. Or as one would say, how you can do more with less.

I feel this is best demonstrated by examining the state of GIS for electric distribution utilities, although many of these points apply to other verticals in the GIS industry as well. Most electric distribution utilities have spent a lot of money customizing their GIS. They have customized the data model, created custom tools, integrated the GIS with other systems, bought third party extensions and, when electric distribution utilities didn’t like the extensions, they would customize them too!

Cost of Ownership

Because every organization has different needs and workflows it’s impossible to implement software without making some changes to customize it to meet the requirements of your organization. Any time you customize the solution you are adding something to the software that is not maintained by the vendor. Customization isn’t inherently bad, but if the costs associated with it aren’t kept in check, they can often limit an organizations ability to maintain the solution. There is the up-front cost of developing the solution, the recurring cost of keeping development staff on hand to maintain the customizations, and extra costs to develop and maintain documentation and training for end users. When it comes time to upgrade your systems, there is the additional cost to upgrade and test these customizations, which often leads to less frequent upgrade cycles, and therefore, end users don’t get access to the latest releases with new features, bug fixes, and performance improvements.

The reason why so many utilities have had to customize their GIS solutions this much is because, while the needs and expectations of utilities has grown significantly over the past 15 years, the GIS software we implement hasn’t changed that much. Market shares have shifted, but most of the market is made up of the same handful of vendors selling the same products with the same limitations.

Esri decided to shake this up when they released the Utility Network and ArcGIS Pro because they redesigned the entire experience from the ground up. The product development was overseen by product engineers who have been listening to your feedback and watching how you implement their product and they built it so that the most commonly customized components can now be handled via basic configuration. This is different from the previous generation of technology that not only required the solution to be configured, but also required third party extensions and additional customizations in order to meet end users’ expectations.

Responsive Solutions

By leveraging the configuration-driven model of ArcGIS Enterprise and the Utility Network, you will be able to answer more questions and make better decisions using your GIS. The reason for this is simple: when your GIS can address business requirements through configuration, your GIS will be more responsive to the needs of the business. Your solutions no longer require custom code, new servers, or new software. Everything you need is already deployed and ready to be configured, meaning you can respond to business requests in days instead of months.

Since these solutions exist within the confines of the core product, it also means that you can rest easy during upgrades knowing that your solutions will continue to be supported. Because upgrades take less effort and pose less of a risk, you’ll be able to upgrade more often and always having access to the latest software and features.

Breaking it Down

In the beginning of this article, I promised some practical, real-world examples of what you can do in the Utility Network, and this is where I’ll break it down for you.

Let’s look at what it takes to support a typical, present-day Esri implementation for a mid-sized electrical distribution utility and compare it to what the same implementation would look like if it were implemented in the Utility Network and ArcGIS Pro:

As you can see, in the present day, the average electric utility is relying on third party applications and extensions for most of their functionality. On top of this they’ve also invested a significant amount of time into configuring those extensions and even customizing them in some cases to meet their needs. This includes everything from creating custom searches, custom numbering schemes for their equipment, and writing custom code to generate map products.

Even though all this functionality is custom, many have customized the application to do the same thing.  Esri recognized this when they developed ArcGIS Pro and the Utility Network, so they created workflows and configurations that would meet most customer needs. The application can still be customized to support very specific workflows, but most organizations will find they can make use of the product as-is with only a little bit of configuration.

This transition to a more configurable, responsive system is at the core of every Utility Network implementation. Many customers are apprehensive about doing their road map for implementing the Utility Network, but once they see how much custom code, they get to leave behind they can’t wait to get started! If you have any questions or want more details, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at robert.krisher@powereng.com. If you want your own road map to see how much custom code you can leave behind, reach out to kristi.norman@powereng.com to get the process started.

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About the Author

Robert is a Senior Consultant in POWER’s Geospatial and Asset Management group with over 10 years of industry experience. Robert excels at pushing the boundaries of what is possible with GIS and related technologies at utilities, often by re-purposing proven technologies and methods in clever ways. As an active member of many early access programs across the industry and author of more than a dozen published articles, Robert is a recognized expert with Esri’s latest technology including ArcGIS Pro and the new Utility Network. He loves finding innovative solutions to complex challenges and sharing his insights with the GIS community. If you have any questions or comments for Robert, you can contact him at robert.krisher@powereng.com.