Geospatial technology offers ‘enormous value’ for electricity utilities

Advanced geospatial technology (GIS) is crucial if Australian utilities are to tackle the industry’s biggest challenges, according to a leading international geo-utilities expert.

Esri global director for utilities Bill Meehan was in Australia recently to address the issue of spatially enabling their senior management.

Speaking at the Smart Electricity World Australasia conference in Melbourne, the author and academic called on utilities leaders to “think outside the box” when using GIS technology.

“Utilities have spent millions converting old, legacy mapping systems to modern GIS applications as a basis for asset and outage management, or for network design,” Mr Meehan said.

“However, GIS technology has enormous value well beyond engineering and operations departments – it can literally transform a utility.

“Utilities must take a more strategic approach to solve the big problems they currently face.

“Critical industry issues such as an ageing workforce, infrastructure management and low customer satisfaction require utilities to leverage their investment in data collection with powerful GIS tools.

“While the natures of these big challenges are diverse, they all share a strong geographic component and must be addressed by putting GIS technology to work.”

Mr Meehan said GIS technology can also help utilities create a new knowledge infrastructure to capture and retain their workers’ accumulated experience before they leave or retire.

“Having a stable knowledge infrastructure is as much an asset as utilities’ physical infrastructure,” Mr Meehan said.

“In the face of Australia’s ageing workforce, and as utilities adopt more automation, it is critical that utilities institutionalise accumulated knowledge and secure it for the future.

“GIS technology can capture observations and predictive information via models that are validated and supplemented by experienced workers – ensuring this knowledge is not lost.”

Mr Meehan cited an example of addressing low customer satisfaction to explain how GIS technology offered an innovative approach to fundamental issues faced by all utilities.

“Mapping customer satisfaction – from survey results, for example – enables utilities to pinpoint where their most dissatisfied customers are located,” Mr Meehan said.

“When augmented with historic data – such as records of outages or maintenance works – reasons behind low customer satisfaction become much clearer.

“GIS technology’s powerful analytical ability can reveal the relationships between where and why customers are dissatisfied – perhaps in the form of a vocal minority who have experienced above-average rates of outages within a short time frame.

“This understanding ensures solutions are crafted that focus on areas of greatest need – such as targeted community meetings or educational programs – instead of misinformed ad-hoc or scattergun approaches.”