Michael Pelley, Manager Network Asset Systems, Essential Energy
It’s been really exciting over the last decade to see the evolution of geographic information systems (GIS) and their emergence in business.
Once relegated to the back rooms of the workplace as a side application to be looked after by a couple of people, the introduction and widespread use of mobile devices has expanded GIS’s capabilities and developed to become integral to core operations – and placed in the hands of our field staff.
Traditionally a tool to produce maps, a lot of early GIS use at Essential Energy (via GE’s Smallworld application) was to produce paper-based mapbooks. Field staff used these to identify what was on the electricity network geographically. Now, they’re sending us spatial information about asset locations, and data which we can analyse for improved business processes and increased asset lifecycle.
Desktop GIS can be heavy, so mobile technology has aided the uptake. A big step at Essential Energy has been the development of an in-house app, giving our people in the field something in their hands that doesn’t seem like a GIS tool. People don’t even realise they’re using it; it’s just an app on their phone they use to do their work.
Essential Energy will continue to look at ways to better utilise GIS capabilities to add value to the business, and subsequently apply downward pressure on electricity network charges for our customers
Field staff captures asset and condition information into the app, which integrates directly into our back-end systems, improving our data currency as well as accuracy. While our people aren’t using the GIS directly, the function has allowed for a lot more automation in the field, and helped move us away from paper to digital.
Another thing we’ve done with regards to data over the past three or four years is to capture GPS locations for many of our assets. By the end of 2019, we’ll have one million of our 1.4 million poles identified and stored in our GIS system, with greater than 50cm spatial accuracy – nobody else in the country is doing that on this scale.
We’ve got a huge portfolio of work coming up in geospatial uplift and the first areas we will look at are improving access to data, insights from spatial data analytics, and the creation of spatial data services.
Data we are able to capture through GIS gives us information from which we can gain business insights, so we’ll really be able to make smarter and more informed decisions regarding network economics. ie, comparing the amount we’re spending on a part of the network with the income we receive from it.
For example, we may have a large network of poles and wires to provide electricity to a remote town with low customer density. GIS data will help us explore options, whether this area would be better served with stand-up grids instead of traditional infrastructure, creating a lower maintenance spend while maintaining a safe and reliable electricity network for our customers.
Having assets in an accurate location also enables us to make smarter decisions about where we target our big operational spends such as maintenance programs or vegetation contracts.
Essential Energy will continue to look at ways to better utilise GIS capabilities to add value to the business, and subsequently apply downward pressure on electricity network charges for our customers.