Nation's Third Largest Investor-Owned Water Utility
Philadelphia Suburban Corporation Implements ArcFM
Philadelphia Suburban Corporation (PSC) isn't your typical water utility. Even as one of the nation's largest investor-owned water utilities, the company operates like a Business and has aggressively carried out a growth-through-acquisition strategy since 1992.
While carrying out this strategy, PSC has purchased more than 30 former municipal or privately owned water systems, which has helped catapult its earnings and provide above-average shareholder return. As a result, the company now owns and manages water facilities in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maine. But acquisitions, which have greatly benefited how the company operates, can be a tricky Business when it comes to managing the infrastructure data that a company inherits.
"We were looking at a variety of mismatched records," says Pat Muccigrosso, GIS specialist, PSC. "Trying to fit that many variables into your day-to-day operations is a complex, if not impossible, undertaking. Adding to the urgency to find a solution was the fact that some acquisition areas were subject to intense infrastructure rehabilitation after being acquired."
In addition to integrating information from newly acquired infrastructure, the overall work flow for providing spatial information needed to be streamlined. If PSC staff needed infrastructure information, they would approach the Engineering or Information Systems departments, put in a request for the appropriate map-based and/or related tabular information, and wait for the request to be processed. As more and more infrastructure was added through acquisitions, keeping up with user demands became a challenge.
Information updates were equally challenging. PSC wanted an automated solution that would take advantage of technology to provide better information, and therefore, better infrastructure and operational management.
PSC implemented a successful pilot covering 6.6 square miles of its service area consisting of approximately 6,000 customers located in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
An RFP was created in-house by a partnership formed by the Information Systems and Engineering departments to assess the feasibility of an automated mapping system. This led to an outline of specific benefits that would result from the implementation of a GIS system. The pilot project acted on these recommendations as well as other automated mapping studies that had been conducted at PSC in recent years.
With the wish list of the desired informational capabilities completed, PSC selected Esri's family of software. ArcFM and ArcInfo provide professional GIS and engineering tools. ArcSDE allows spatial data to be integrated into the company's overall IT environment by permitting map information to be stored in a relational database environment. ArcView GIS provides easy-to-use GIS capabilities to utility professionals who can benefit from spatial data in a desktop-computing environment. allows the company to build an advanced Web site that would bring GIS to a host of new users.
What makes the GIS at PSC exceptional is its use of the Web for spatial data dissemination. An Intranet site dubbed "Information Station," developed as part of the pilot program, allows PSC employees in any department with Web access to retrieve maps, scanned versions of engineering drawings, and reports from various databases. This application was developed using and ArcSDE.
Prior to its GIS, the company managed disparate legacy databases. Because of this, there was no way to integrate separate divisions within the company. This resulted in a significant amount of redundant data.
With Web-based GIS, any computer user with an Internet browser can key in a hydrant number, a water main serial number, or other reference indicators to quickly pull up pertinent information. Using the Web/GIS application, a user can access a Web viewer that allows them not only to see the asset, but also to access all of the facilities around the area and other related information. Data redundancy is eliminated.
The pilot project results have proven that GIS will allow PSC to better manage their water systems and the information necessary to support them. Full-scale implementation is planned to take place within the next few years. The company can better track the various components that make up a robust water system, manage compliance and environmental issues, and forecast repair parts inventory and the investment dollars.
The collective technologies will soon allow all PSC employees within reach of a PC to access all infrastructure-related spatial and tabular GIS data via their Web browsers. These users are located in departments as diverse as Engineering, Finance/Accounting, Operations, Distribution, Construction and Maintenance, and Customer Service.
For the Engineering and Operations departments, users can visualize scheduled work, ongoing activities, recurring maintenance problems, and historical information.
In the Finance/Accounting Department, users can perform tasks for rate justification, complaint tracking, cost recovery, and physical plant accounting issues.
Distribution and Construction and Maintenance can use GIS to develop new facilities while planning the replacement or rehabilitation of older, unreliable facilities. It can also be used to better track information on construction projects, permits, inspections, as-builts, and more.
Customer Service will be able to knowledgeably answer most consumer questions related to water quality and availability issues while referring other, more technical issues to the proper departments.
"Our estimates show a time savings of half of a year for some clerical tasks," says Muccigrosso. "For many work processes, we have a better means for doing our jobs. A user can type in the name of an intersection (or a customer's address), have the intersection come up on a map, highlight the area, and use the same tool to look at all of the drawings to reference the area in which they are about to work."
The impetus for this type of application comes from the company's current acquisition strategy. When new companies and infrastructure merge with Philadelphia Suburban Corporation, the company can take its new infrastructure information, automate it, upload it into its GIS, and then use that information in a seamless, companywide geodatabase.
"It's obvious from Esri's series of products that they recognize that the future growth of their company and its direction is directed by market need," says Muccigrosso.
For more information, contact Pat Muccigrosso, Philadelphia Suburban Water Company, 762 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010-3489 (tel.: 610-525-1400, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: www.suburbanwater.com.