Turn the lights back on with GIS & operations dashboards

November 9, 2015 Brian Bell

Electric utilities can never guarantee uninterrupted power. A heavy storm, a fallen branch, a car accident or even scheduled maintenance can easily down electric lines. While disruptions are inevitable, utilities can use GIS and operations dashboards to enhance their ability to quickly restore service, minimize outages and improve overall reliability. Here’s how.

Distribution utilities can never guarantee uninterrupted power. A heavy storm, a fallen branch, a car accident or even scheduled maintenance can easily down electric lines. While disruptions are inevitable, what sets an agile and leading utility apart from the rest is its ability to quickly restore service and minimize outages, improving overall reliability.

One of the keys to rapid and effective outage response is efficient internal communication. Access to real-time, accurate information about the current state of the utility’s network is critical to making intelligent decisions, especially during outages. Many utilities may already have the GIS technology in place with a long-term vision of enabling this, but often that goal remains unrealized.

Significant advancements in GIS, as well as cloud and mobile technologies, now make it possible for utilities to leverage those investments in cloud-based operations dashboards – accessible from anywhere on any device. GIS can be used to ‘mash up’ information from many systems into a single portal that provides decision-makers across the organization with a holistic view of current system health at a glance.

Through operations dashboards, decision-makers can see critical information such as the location, causes, number and severity of outages; the location, number and classification of customers affected; and estimated times of restoration.

The dashboard incorporates various datasets for rapid in-depth analyses. Because of the geographic nature of distribution utilities, the dashboard must consist of an interactive map with real-time information from numerous data sources including the utility’s operational systems and news and weather feeds from external sources. It must also display charts, gauges and histograms that provide valuable statistical context for outages.

Delivering the right information to the right person at the right time

Often, too little or too much information slows down analysis and decision-making. Operations dashboards must be configurable to display relevant datasets based on an individual’s role in the utility.

A dashboard used by an operations manager displays system events to help prioritize work and effectively allocate resources. During a storm, cluster bubbles on the map may change colour, indicating critical areas where crews should be dispatched on a priority basis.

Senior management could use a similar operations dashboard with additional information from the utility’s financial system, showing the costs of specific restoration activities or the value of work underway. This may help them estimate the cost of repairing or replacing damaged infrastructure.

Operations dashboards can be used to effectively manage large-scale events as well as day-to-day operations. Information is automatically compiled by the GIS, which can send e-mail notifications with dashboard data to the appropriate manager. This provides greater insight into the scope of outages and their downstream impacts to key performance indicators.

Further, dashboards can participate in an overall framework that integrates information from the utility’s operational systems and other real-time systems; displays the data through the operations dashboard; and sends outage notifications to customers via social media, e-mail and text messaging.

Ultimately, GIS enables utilities to be proactive in communicating and managing outages, improving their ability to deliver exceptional customer service.

To learn more, read my full article on this topic in The Distributor magazine.

About the Author

Brian Bell

Brian Bell is the Utilities Industry Manager at Esri Canada. He is responsible for providing strategic leadership and vision for advancing the use of Esri technology, as well as maintaining and developing relationships with customers and business partners, in the utilities and telecommunications markets. He advises utilities across Canada on GIS & enterprise system implementation planning strategies. Brian holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Queen's University and a post-graduate GIS Applications Specialist certificate from Sir Sandford Fleming College. He is an accredited member of the Project Management Institute (PMP) and is Esri Canada’s representative for various industry associations including the Ontario Electricity Distributors Association and the Canadian Electricity Association.

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