Mapping out the best uses for energy networks

Mapping out the best uses for energy networks

By Bryan Friehauf, GE Digital Energy asset management product line executive

Geospatial systems move from the back office to the front office as utilities strive to maximise the return on their network assets.

THE INTEGRATION CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY

Through the years, utilities have amassed an array of network assets that are supported by a series of autonomous systems run by various business units.

The end result is a great deal of duplication and inefficiency. In an effort to optimise business operations in a more cohesive and productive manner, utilities have been looking to bring network assets together.

To make this transition, energy providers need to designate one solution as the central information hub for all department tasks. A geospatial system best meets this need and already permeates most departments in the organisation. When geospatial systems become the corporate system of record, utilities can streamline business processes, boost productivity, and provide better service to customers.

DATA SILOS RULE THE DAY

Utilities collect more data than ever before and volumes are increasing. Often, this data is generated by applications run by business units, so data collection occurs in an ad hoc manner with information quarantined locally rather than being available throughout the enterprise. Furthermore, utilities rely on public data sources for network information. The end result: network data is scattered throughout the organisation and managers have pieces of data rather than a complete picture of business operations. Breaking down these barriers is often a complex, expensive process.

Business processes revolve around data accessibility. Since information does not freely move throughout the company, workflows are designed in small groups. The result is duplication and reliance on manual procedures. Employees spend a lot of time inputting information, work often entails consolidating redundant information, few business processes are automated, decision-making is delayed, and enterprise productivity is drained.

THE DAWNING OF A NEW AGE

Now, companies stand at the edge of change. Geospatial systems are widely accessed and understood. The consumerisation of mapping systems has significantly expanded its reach; data input and manipulation is simpler. Management is realising that geospatial systems offer a common visual language that all departments speak.

Geospatial solutions now act as data hubs, marshalling and homogenising information from disparate sources. Geospatial visualisation tools tie different data sources together, allowing managers and employees to gain fuller, richer pictures of network assets. Employees see connections that were not previously evident, resulting in energy providers better positioned to deliver strong ROI on network assets.

Leading utilities are building on this foundation. Rather than one autonomous system, their core
systems consist of a comprehensive portfolio of solutions that support many critical processes across numerous functions, including:

Strategic Planning: Networks are ever changing. Geospatial information helps planners map network expansion and forecast current and future demand. Armed with connections to other department applications, managers not only are able to understand where additional investments are required, but also find ways to justify those purchases.

Network Planning: Planners must understand the workings of their underground and overhead network assets. Then they must be able to determine how these systems will interact with any new construction. Finally, employees must account for other networks and public facilities.

Network Design: Geospatial data is essential for designers to understand the lay of the land. By combining geospatial information with current network configurations, designers quickly lay out possible solutions for any new service request and identify ways to reduce capital or maintenance costs.

Network Build: Many departments play a role in adding to a network. Construction crews need accurate engineering maps of the planned assets. Supervisors need to provide information in job packs issued to work crews, who take that data and turn the plan into action.

Network Service Extensibility: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Geospatial solutions make network models available to other critical operational systems: EMS, ADMS, OMS and DRMS.

EXPERIENCE:
THE BEST TEACHER

Utilities would benefit from working with a supplier with extensive experience as well as a robust product line. The products must have a sound technical foundation that is scalable, easy to use and tailored to the utility industry. The supplier’s solution should extend to every area of the enterprise, so no matter what view of the network data the user needs, the solution provides it.

Deploying and maintaining an energy network is a complex process requiring decades of experience. The supplier needs to have deployed solutions among the world’s energy providers, identified their pain points and developed solutions that address them. Some suppliers have the strong technical foundation; others have developed utility-specific applications; a few have been in the market for several years; but only the leading suppliers possess all of these capabilities.

REAPING THE
POTENTIAL BENEFITS

Today, geospatial systems assist utilities in realising greater reliability, improved productivity, and greater efficiency. Geospatial solutions streamline business processes, enhance customer service, and maximise investors’ return. Customers have realised many benefits:

– 30 per cent reduction in integration costs between GIS, DMS, OMS

– 50 per cent reduction in data synchronisation errors

– 10 per cent reduction in customer
outage time

THE TIME AND MEANS HAVE COME TO CONSOLIDATE NETWORK INFORMATION

In today’s increasingly complex world, utilities face many challenges. Deregulation; renewable energy; customer demands; and technology advances. To meet their objectives, energy providers need to maximise investments in their network, the core of their business.

Utilities must view it as an integrated whole, not a series of autonomous pieces. In response, geospatial systems are becoming the foundation for a new generation of operations, one where managers access updated information, business processes run smoothly, customers are well served, and the business flourishes.