"The project was a success, and the team effectively crossed many hurdles. The technical and business challenges were many, let alone the situation that the COVID-19 pandemic presented, but the team handled them well. A big thank-you goes out to the project, local, IT, regional, vendor, and implementer teams for achieving this massive feat!"
Enterprise GIS Unites Liberty Utilities Processes
In 1988, Liberty Utilities' parent company, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., started developing several hydroelectric projects. By 2001 it expanded into the utility business. Today this modest operation has grown to provide water; wastewater; natural gas; and electricity generation, transmission, and distribution utility services to over one million customers in the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Chile. Liberty Utilities is unique. None of the utility operations are contiguous. Instead, it has service territories that cover small utilities with just a handful of customers and large utilities with thousands of customers.
Liberty's growth strategy is one of merger and acquisition. However, given that each acquisition has a history of operating independently, processes, technology, habits, and cultures varied significantly. For example, Liberty had at least six geographic information system (GIS) technology vendors with several different versions, customizations, and applications. Lack of consistency and standardization resulted in less than optimal collaboration, communication, and coordination of services corporately. Each utility, in effect, operated independently. As a result, the integration of technologies and the application of automation in engineering, customer service, finance, and operations were severely limited.
In addition, these challenges were intensified during the pandemic. COVID-19 exposed the need for greater collaboration at a time when employees were forced to be disconnected from one another.
Liberty recognized that its success was inhibited by the lack of consistency, particularly in its IT deployment. Further, it saw the potential of spatial technology to unify disparate operations. And that spatial technology in the form of the GIS would serve as the heart of the integration of technologies such as outage management, enterprise asset management, distribution operations, and design and engineering processes. GIS needed to be standardized.
Liberty Utilities selected Esri's ArcGIS for its enterprise GIS solution and ArcGIS Utility Network for network management.
ArcGIS Enterprise is the heart of the implementation in the Microsoft Azure cloud. The cloud implementation suited the territorial diversity of the various Liberty utilities. ArcGIS Pro was deployed for editing and analyses and as a mapping workhorse. Finally, the web portal (over 1,000 members for all utilities) created a system of engagement for querying, dashboards, reporting, and web mapping, and even use as an online mobile application on iPad tablets for field users.
The solution also consisted of the ArcGIS Workforce, ArcGIS Collector (to be upgraded to ArcGIS Field Maps), and ArcGIS Survey123, and a custom map application, all accessible on tablets.
Applications can be used for needs related to:
- Call Before You Dig (811) request
- Asset and maintenance hole inspection
- Scheduling for valve exercising
- Hydrant flushing, and blow-off (relieving excess pressure)
- Workflow trackin gas as- built markup
- Leak surveying; and general mapping
Cyient Inc. was selected in the fall of 2019 to help Liberty with a full migration of data, software, IT landscape, and security workflows and applications. Liberty also established an internal team of GIS professionals; IT architects, technicians, and managers; and change management specialists to work alongside Cyient.
Data migration is one of the most difficult tasks when changing technology. This process has to occur at the same time while still getting regular GIS work done. The project team created a template for migration that was tested and perfected for all the current (and future) acquired utilities. The process included the following:
- Old GIS source data transfer
- Creation of the ArcGIS Utility Network data model, compared against the source data
- model mapping (source to ArcGIS Utility Network data model)
- Four mock-ups—Prototypes of migrated data checking against mapping and data model
- Massive amounts of functional and stress testing for both field and office applications
- Holding a software update freeze week
- Production deployment and go live
Nearly all of Liberty's utilities are migrated and in production. The latest utility added to the Liberty family of companies, New York Water, experienced the shortest migration and implementation time to date due to the standardization of the migration process.
While the project team had outlined various goals and objectives, users wanted more. Use has exploded. The web usage has well exceeded the team's expectations. In addition, non-GIS users find the web and mobile applications simple to learn and deploy, creating a nice-to-have problem: delivering the GIS data to more people than expected.
To simplify while providing greater accountability, Liberty implemented role-based access. The system is cyber compliant with corporate standards.
The team is working with Esri to streamline the contracts for the software by implementing an enterprise agreement (EA), which will provide easy access to additional user licenses and applications. In addition, given Liberty Utilities uniqueness of territory and domain, the EA will facilitate the increased demand for GIS services and new applications.
One of the issues uncovered during the migration and implementation process was the problem with data quality. The accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of the data were region specific and sometimes lacking. The migration process discovered and corrected many of the data issues. In addition, ArcGIS Utility Network provides much-needed data validation during data editing, thus preventing data errors from entering the system.
High-quality data leads to fewer errors and rework, thus lowering costs, improving service, and reducing restoration time. In addition, data errors can lead to confusion, which can cause accidents. Much improved communication and coordination at Liberty now occur with outstanding data quality.
The data portal provides all levels of management with outstanding situational awareness. This speeds up decision-making when facing wildfires, floods, and severe weather. For example, Liberty implemented ArcGIS Hub at its California utility, CalPeco Electric, in South Lake Tahoe[California, to notify customers of approaching wildfires and participate in the Public Safety Power Shutoff program.
The enterprise GIS project benefits include improved productivity, lower costs due to standardization, increased transparency throughout the corporation, and shortened design and engineering time. In addition, integration with other corporate systems is simplified.
Recently, Liberty integrated the GIS into the enterprise asset management, outage management, and distribution management systems.
Liberty will complete the migration for all its utilities within the next several months. In addition, it will continue to enhance its portal, extending access to senior management. Further, it will increase analytic applications for even better decision-making.
Finally, Liberty Utilities will continue on its journey of implementing its customer-first transformational initiative to improve and create consistency around finance, customer service, and operations. The GIS project will serve as one of the pillars of that initiative.
For more information on the Liberty Utilities project, contact Jitesh Parmar directly at Jitesh.Parmar@libertyutilities.com.