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Summer 2002
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Fifth Largest U.S. Supplier of Electricity and Natural Gas

Consumers Energy Implements GIS

Esri Services logoConsumers Energy is a principal supplier of electricity and natural gas on the lower Michigan peninsula and the fifth largest supplier of electricity and natural gas in the United States.

In 1994, Consumers Energy began the implementation of digital mapping by taking a different approach than many other electric and gas utilities. To enhance its map data and grow its information technology systems, the company decided to concentrate on building a high-quality database of CAD files using non-GIS tools. This approach worked well as Consumers had gained a high-quality land and gas facility database that supported its CAD-based Gas Information Management (GIM) application and its in-house developed Electronic Document Management (EDM)-based Service Information Management System (SIMS).

Enter GIS

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The Consumers interface gives users access to local addresses.

However, Consumers' long-range plan was to expand its current GIM and SIMS systems to support other enterprise information technologies (code compliance, decision analysis, damage prevention/miss dig, system planning, emergency planning, and revenue generation) that would allow it to look beyond its current platforms. To do this, Consumers sought to migrate this system to an open GIS development environment.

Early on, Consumers placed a high priority on preserving the design of existing applications because software development, installation, and training would have required a considerable investment. The GIM and SIMS applications were central to company operations, but the company needed to replace the platform Consumers was using while preserving existing functionality and allowing for future expansion.

"We understood the value of a single repository for facility information and how this could be used to develop many different user applications," states Dave Lucian, Consumers Energy Gas GIS project manager.

Once Consumers recognized this requirement, it considered an object-oriented development environment for future applications advantageous because it permitted the use of commercially available development environments (Delphi, Visual Basic, C++, etc.) and created the potential for interoperation with government GIS data and applications.

Consumers Builds Its Future GIS

Esri's ArcGIS 8 platform offered Consumers the right environment in which to build its future GIS. Consumers' GIS Migration Project began in March 2001 when it contracted with Esri Professional Services to implement ArcGIS, ArcFM, the geodatabase, and additional enterprise applications. To implement GIS technology for Consumers Energy Gas Operations, Esri assembled a team with Business partners Advantica Stoner, Miner & Miner, and M.J. Harden Associates. The new system built by the Esri-led team gives Consumers functionality that relies on spatial information, such as providing customer service, managing code compliance activities, and planning systems, to be performed in an all-digital environment. The new system facilitates customer service, code compliance, and other critical Consumers Business activities by consolidating the supporting spatial and attribute data.

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The Code Compliance applications allow Consumers' technicians to provide user with spatially enabled data.
 

To achieve its goal of expanding beyond digital mapping and building a spatially referenced enterprise IT solution, Consumers and Esri developed a two-phase approach. The first phase provides a core system of editing tools based on Miner & Miner's ArcFM 8, an ArcSDE/Oracle geodatabase, a sophisticated Quickplot Map Products application, and an automated design file export (DGNOut) application that produces files for CAD users in the various field offices.

Lucian says "Providing data in DGN format, which is used by our scheduling and work management system, was essential for us to succeed in this project."

Now that Consumers had a core system in place, additional gas applications (code compliance, decision analysis, damage prevention/miss dig, system planning, emergency planning, and revenue generation) could easily be integrated. Historically, the additional gas applications have been used in a stand-alone environment with no true spatial component. Because of the open GIS design of this new environment, Consumers streamlined the core system activities for its GIM editing staff and can now integrate the additional critical enterprise gas applications.

Unique Aspects of Consumers Energy Project

There are two unique aspects of the Consumers Energy Project. The first is the creation of a single geodatabase called the Gas GeoFacility Network that contains land, gas distribution, and gas transmission models. This combined model and data storage environment provides for an integrated application development environment that allows for the interoperability of land base, gas distribution, and gas transmission applications at the enterprise level.

The second unique aspect of the project is the spatially enabled Code Compliance applications. In the past, the Code Compliance technicians used a suite of nonintegrated, stand-alone tools that were difficult to use, were not always reliable, and did not provide integrated access to spatial information. The new Code Compliance applications provide a Visual Basic interface coupled with ArcFM 8 that gives Consumers Energy Code Compliance technicians an application to interactively provide accurate map and attribute data.

Dennis Carter, Consumers Energy project coordinator, sees this feature as a benefit. "The new Code Compliance will now link inspection and repair activities directly to each gas facility object like main segments and gas valves."

The Code Compliance applications are a critical part of the Consumers Energy Business process, and the new applications will provide it with an integrated, streamlined, and spatially enabled suite of applications that will improve Consumers Energy Gas Operations as well as enhance compliance activities with various state and federal regulatory agencies.

"The Consumers Energy Project was quite a challenge from both technical and scheduling perspectives," declares Esri project manager David Frye. "With the completion of the GIS Migration Project, Consumers Energy has a modern, expandable enterprise GIS environment that will provide immediate benefits to its gas operations while serving as the foundation for future enterprise information technology integration opportunities."

For more information about this project, please contact David Frye, Esri project manager (e-mail: dfrye@esri.com; tel.: 909-793-2853, ext. 1-2400).

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