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Winter 2003/2004
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Belgium Water Company Discovers the Utility of Integrating Information Systems

Pidpa Successfully Implements ArcGIS and SAP Software

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Functional locations such as a water production center can be selected in the GIS viewer, and detailed information can be retrieved in the SAPGui.

Pidpa is a drinking water supplier headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium, dedicated to providing superior quality drinking water to more than 1.1 million customers within its 2,581 square kilometer service area. The Pidpa service area is rich in aquifers from which it extracts groundwater for a carefully monitored purification process prior to release into its distribution network and subsequent consumption. The company's water network includes 26 water production centers, 62 water towers, and 12,000 kilometers of water mains, which are all part of the infrastructure that produces and distributes approximately 66 million cubic meters of water per year throughout the Antwerp province. Established more than 90 years ago, Pidpa demonstrates its belief in its motto "Water Is Life" through its day-to-day business activities and its continual striving to improve the quality of service to its customers.

Approximately six years ago, after an exhaustive review process, the company chose to develop a GIS based on Esri's software. A key factor in its choice was the fact that the Esri GIS solution is based on an open system architecture and well-established industry standards.

Comments René Horemans, GIS project manager at Pidpa, "A key factor for us in the implementation of our GIS was the development of the water distribution data model in close cooperation with Esri. It has evolved to become a standard part of Esri's GIS solution for the water industry."

Pidpa's corporate GIS includes ArcSDE for a centralized database management system running on top of a SQL Server database. The ArcGIS product family—including ArcInfo, ArcView, and ArcFM (from Esri Business Partner Miner & Miner, Fort Collins, Colorado)—provides specialized GIS tools tailored for the water utility industry.

"We focused on using as much standard software as possible and limiting the number of custom tools," says Horemans. "By avoiding costly recustomization with each successive release of the core software, we save a great deal of time."

Pidpa recently expanded its GIS with an ArcIMS implementation called GeoLink to provide easy viewing access to geographic data, which is linked to corporate data used by a large group over the company's Intranet (see "A Technical Overview: How Pidpa Links GIS With ERP, CIS, and SCADA").

The focus of the GIS project was to provide a database-centric and rich functional solution for the maintenance and management of the water distribution network. Pidpa started by creating a powerful GIS environment so the editors could efficiently create complex design maps for new construction work, maintain existing network data, and do in-house raster to vector conversion. Part of the project included the scanning and ongoing conversion of existing topographic and water network raster data with the aim of building a seamless hybrid database. In addition, 90,000 synoptic sketches were scanned and linked to the new database. Use of the hybrid combination of raster and vector data resulted in immediate benefits: having only one set of geographic data in a central database instead of several paper copies of maps in different offices was a giant step forward. In addition, creating design maps immediately in the GIS instead of using a manual process of copying, cutting, and pasting on paper and having this information instantly available to everyone, was an important improvement.

Integration With Other Information Systems

While the conversion process is progressing and the GIS edit functionality is an essential tool in the editors' day-to-day work, the focus has recently been directed toward providing GIS data and tools to other departments and the integration of GIS with other information systems—enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer information system (CIS), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Pidpa's ERP application is SAP (Walldorf, Germany).

Each of these information systems has its own characteristics. They can be deployed on heterogeneous hardware (mainframe versus Windows servers), have different software architectures (client/server versus Web-based), have their own data models, and have their own graphic user interfaces. In many cases it is very useful to have specific information available that is hidden in different systems. An issue becomes the accessibility of information in all the different systems. Typically, the only place where interaction is prebuilt is between the different modules within a single vendor's information system. For all other intersystem connections, organizations have to take care of integration themselves using the products and techniques available in the market and the APIs provided by the information system vendor. That is what the GIS-centric concept is all about. Regardless of the integration mechanism, end users get access to the disparate data in a common, familiar map-centric GUI that makes query and analysis of the data easier.

To this end, Pidpa deployed GeoLink for the ArcIMS implementation. Working with a flexible site in a standard Web browser allows the GIS to be opened up as a portal to a broad user group. Currently the GeoLink application is rolled out to approximately 100 users who use it to access the geographic data about the water distribution network. A user can now easily use a geolocator tool to choose a position on a street in a municipality and select one or more connection points from which detailed order information can be retrieved in the SAPGui application.

When a substantial problem occurs in the network, an extra note is made in the GIS by means of a calamity point. This process allows Pidpa to analyze the network and determine weak areas (e.g., where a replacement of older water mains is necessary). There are also work flow processes that need an interface from SAP to GIS. When a new order is created in SAP, often a detailed map of the location is necessary. By adding another tab sheet in the SAP order module, users can easily access the GIS data that is displayed within a browser window integrated in the SAPGui.

CIS and SCADA

The GIS not only links to SAP, but there's also an interface to CIS to retrieve detailed customer information. This useful interface allows Pidpa to generate detailed customer lists by the geographic selection of a number of house connections. The visual selection offers new possibilities for accurate selection on top of the street-based tabular selection that's in the CIS environment. There's also a hyperlink defined on the connection points that allows Pidpa to retrieve a detailed sketch from the CIS Intranet on how the connection was constructed.

In addition, there is an interface to the SCADA system. The water towers are linked to the SCADA Web interface, so it is easy to retrieve the current water level from each active water tower in the network.

For more information, contact Bart Reynaert or René Horemans, Pidpa (e-mail: gis@pidpa.be).

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