Breaking Barriers at Esri Electric and Gas GIS Conference 2015

More than 600 utility professionals attended the Esri Electric and Gas GIS Conference, hosted by National Grid, from October 5 to 8 in Providence, Rhode Island. The twenty-fifth annual event focused on how electric and gas utilities can apply geography to break barriers, both perceived and real.

“Barriers do exist in personal life and business. Our opportunity is to always push through those barriers, whether they be business or technical, communications or information challenges,” said Jeff Rashid, director of Esri’s utilities and communications sector.

Esri president Jack Dangermond welcomed attendees with a video message. He shared how web GIS—a new generation of geographic information system (GIS) technology—is changing the way utilities manage and use data to overcome challenges. With the ArcGIS platform, everyone is connected and has access to utility data, he said. Web maps can go anywhere in the organization with apps, information is exchanged in real time, departments collaborate, and reliability is enhanced.

“Web GIS is as transformational as moving from minicomputers to desktop workstations. It’s not just a system of record; it’s a system of engagement,” Dangermond said.

Rashid expanded on Dangermond’s message, sharing that as GIS evolves, the role of the utility GIS manager is evolving too. GIS managers are driving the system of engagement. “The role of GIS professionals is more important today than ever before for utilities. We are moving toward an era where data collected over time is delivering value today.”

Esri’s technical team demonstrated how utilities can put the ArcGIS platform to work for everyone in the organization with focused applications that are configured for each role’s needs. Conference attendees saw how analysts, managers, fieldworkers, executives, and customer service representatives can use and share data in the platform. One of the demonstrations focused on how utilities can employ ArcGIS tools and maps before, during, and after a storm.

With the platform, analysts identify vulnerable areas before a storm happens, managers assign and prioritize work during a storm based on analysts’ live vulnerability maps, fieldworkers update assignments on mobile devices and share progress with operations managers, executives share story maps with the public to show progress in remediating outages, and customer service representatives use social media and short message service (SMS) capabilities to communicate directly with impacted customers.

Building on the Plenary Session demonstrations, Mike Bowen, GIS data manager at American Electric Power (AEP), shared how utilities can quickly make platform adoption a reality. Last year, Bowen took on a special GIS project for AEP: using ArcGIS Online to create web applications. After successfully implementing ArcGIS Online, Bowen created 60 applications using Esri’s free map templates in the same time frame that it had previously taken him to create just one web application.

The new applications caught the attention of management and transformed several of AEP’s workflows, including project management, outage management, and public engagement. Bowen gave a demonstration of how these different applications can be used together in ArcGIS Online. He showcased a workflow that is collaborative and easy to use among engineers, fieldworkers, project managers, and outage coordinators.

Tim Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island, also spoke to the utility’s real-world application of the platform. With a parent company in the United Kingdom, National Grid serves 480,000 electric customers and 260,000 gas customers in Rhode Island. With a footprint in Massachusetts and New York as well, the company serves more than seven million customers in the United States. “We know how much our customers rely on service every day. Every decision we make is based on serving those customers safely, reliably, and cost-effectively,” Horan said.

After three major weather events hit the northeast within 60 days in 2011, including Hurricane Irene, National Grid overhauled its storm response. The internal team developed a situational awareness tool that brought various data systems together in ArcGIS and was easily accessible for users.

“Leveraging GIS to bring information together from different sources has helped us enable better situational awareness. That benefits all of us,” Horan said. “As president of National Grid, I can attest to the difference in how we’re able to respond with GIS to restore customers’ service much more quickly. This technology and data is a game changer for our industry.”

View and share the 2015 proceedings.