Staring Down the Elephant - Thoughts on the Esri Utility Network

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    There was an elephant at GeoConX, and he wasn’t red and blue with white stars across his upper half like those seen at other conferences this year. No. This elephant made his presence known the day before the official start of GeoConX; at Esri’s pre-conference seminar on Monday. He represents dramatic change coming to all of us in the world of utility GIS—the new Esri Utility Network.



    None of us like change very much. At first we may be curious, but when we find out what it means to adopt that change, we become overwhelmed and even disillusioned. Over time some brave early-adopters arrive. These are the pioneers and path-setters. Gradually, we start to see the benefits brought about by the change, and then follows general acceptance. We face it head on. Then look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Life is better.



    I am certain that this will be the case with the Esri Utility Network.



    But first we must face the daunting task of transitioning to the new network. What will be involved? Who will be there to help us? What will it cost? How will end users interact with the network, and upon what software platforms (and here’s a hint—in order to grasp fully what’s involved, you need to first understand the concept of Web GIS)? How is it different and better than the Geometric Network?



    Today’s Geometric Network lies at the foundation of so much we do inside and outside the GIS. It supports ArcFM’s Feeder Manager 2, core product tracing functions, myriad custom applications and reporting, QA, business processes such as construction engineering, as well as integrations to other systems. Be it fiber, electric, gas, water or waste-water, replacing the Geometric Network will have far reaching impact.



    At a high level, the rationale behind the new network is clear. The Geometric Network is over 20 years old. The world is very different now than it was back when that network was designed and implemented. Among other things, new System of Engagement and System of Insight technologies from Esri place new demands on core GIS technologies that manage the System of Record. If the GIS is to be boundless, the network must be too.  But beyond these drivers, what business benefit does the new Utility Network bring to the utility? Here are a few areas to consider:



    • Simpler Integrations: With the System of Record modeled for the real-world, integration to Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) and other engineering analysis engines is simplified. At Schneider Electric, we have practical experience of this. We integrate ArcFM to ADMS all the time. In fact, one of the most time-consuming tasks of any DMS or ADMS implementations is the building of the internal network model that supports critical engineering functions. Typically, integration at the distribution feeder level includes taking a point feature in the GIS and busting it out to its various components required by the DMS network model. The Schneider Electric DMS utilizes a CIM compliant model (similar in many ways to the new Esri model). If the network model in the GIS is already CIM compliant, with terminals, windings and such modeled inside the “container”, transporting that model (and data) to another application becomes much easier. Effort spent getting the model complete and correct at its source, including all the permutations of the device and its connections, saves hundreds of engineering hours in transforming that data to a destination model for every integration.


    • Asset Management: I have always considered a transformer to be an asset in and of itself. I’ve implemented solutions where a transformer is tracked through its lifecycle within the GIS, or by applications that interface to the GIS (SAP and Maximo, for example). But from an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) perspective, the bushings can be treated as individual assets with their own maintenance and replacement business processes. The componentized model, closer to real-life, allows for a one-to-one connection between the asset in your GIS and the asset in your EAM.


    • Future demands on the GIS: Esri’s message is that the needs of the network ten to fifteen years down the road are not clearly known today. A model that closer represents the real-world, then, ensures that the technology remains current and supportive of business needs during this time of especially rapid and disruptive change. Again consider the world of ADMS. With a real-world electric model, for example, complete with impedance, resistance and other necessary attributes, one could conceive a GIS-hosted ADMS. This is a very appealing scenario when you consider that the big-time ADMS, such as that provided by Schneider Electric, remain outside the means of a smaller electric utility. Another interesting possibility is the introduction of big-data analytics engines that interrogate and provide insight like has never been possible before. The new network opens up a realm of GIS-hosted apps, dependent on that network and in the boundless fashion that the new Esri architecture enables.



    What about the GIS users? Surely they cannot be expected to work directly with a model that encompasses all that detail around the network. After all, most GIS users are not Power Engineers.



    This is where ArcFM XI comes in.  Whether it’s interrogating the network model through traces and searches, or working with it from an editing perspective, ArcFM XI will do the heavy lifting. The end users’ interaction with the model will be simple and efficient, clearing the way for them to complete the same tasks within the GIS as they always have, but with improved functional efficiency and overall better performance, which is one of the underlying reasons for the new model in the first place. Remember too that ArcFM was born out of the power engineering pedigree of Miner & Miner, Telvent and Schneider Electric. No one other than Schneider Electric can hide, conceptualize, or make transparent those aspects of the Utility Network-based model per the various business and operational needs of the utility.



    The elephant that is the Esri Utility Network, then, should not be underestimated from a change perspective. Effective change management is key, but for all the reasons cited above, embarking on this new and exciting path will pay off. Furthermore, Schneider Electric is investing significant time and money, working in total alignment with Esri, so that the seven-ton elephant seems more like a one-ounce elephant shrew. And, by the way, the elephant shrew jumps and sings as well.