Location-based analytics plays a major role in helping utility businesses optimise infrastructure management.

When you think about water, gas or electricity infrastructure, the story is neither uniformly good nor bad. One factor that influences infrastructure investment is the significant size and ongoing cost of maintenance budgets. This means intelligent real-time decisions have to be made about when to repair, rebuild or replace assets to maintain acceptable service levels. A Geographic Information System (GIS) that offers a complete and comprehensive utility network management platform can provide the insights needed for smarter decision-making.

To transform asset management using location analytics, there are four elements a utility company must consider:

  • Cost

  • Revenue

  • Employee safety

  • Compliance

So, how do utility managers decide when and where certain infrastructure components should be replaced, repaired or rebuilt? Location analytics helps fine-tune even the largest, most complex infrastructure networks to prioritise infrastructure investment.

This approach – known as reliability-centred maintenance – is already being used by managers around the world. It incorporates several different parameters, but it’s missing one essential key: the real-time aspect of location.

Geo-enabled reliability-centred maintenance can provide a complete visualisation of factors that help make targeted decisions.

Many of the issues influencing asset maintenance decisions are actually location-based. Deciding whether to replace equipment needs to take into account many factors that may affect the asset’s lifespan: how old is the asset? Is it in an area with high water run-off during heavy rain? Is the asset near a hospital or school where continuous supply is essential? Has the asset been subject to greater-than-usual stress from environmental or external influences?

Analysing multiple factors will lead to a subjective, balanced approach. But reliability-centred maintenance is only part of that process. It also looks at the electricity, gas and water systems to consider vulnerability analysis – bringing all factors together to find out which part of infrastructure will cause the biggest problem due to failure or lack of maintenance.

GIS can help make sense of each deciding factor on its own merits to support the most effective, efficient and safe outcome.

The visibility gained by applying a combination of reliability-centred maintenance and vulnerability analysis can fine-tune utility investment decisions in a way that hasn’t previously been possible.

GIS helps utilities see the tapestry of incidents that are happening in a single-view, real-time dashboard or map. This can help identify issues like customer dissatisfaction, which in turn can be used to troubleshoot the source of serious business risk.

But is that what utilities should really worry about? Do they really care whether people are happy or not?

I once approached a senior manager of a power company and asked her what was the biggest problem that her organisation had to deal with. She said customer satisfaction was the biggest challenge.

In the previous three years, the customer satisfaction level had been worse than that of competitors in the same city.

The organisation had been doing two things to make improvements: training their telephone staff to sound kinder and installing smart meters for a more accurate network view.

I asked if she knew that these actions were solving those problems. All she could say was: “I hope so.” GIS clears away ambiguity to turn hope into knowledge.

With location, the executive could gain deeper insights into what was really going on. By simply showing the customer satisfaction results on a map, the organisation could see the areas where people are most dissatisfied – uniformly. Mapping the data would show correlations between the data, location and demographics. GIS puts a lens over the data to give a clearer view of the real situation, using location as the key to the truth. In a competitive environment, this kind of clarity can be the difference that helps an organisation gain a competitive advantage to uncover the key performance indicator to overtake competitors.

I’ve been working with a customer in the US for many years. They’ve taken analytics to a new level, using smart meters and sensors and a new geoanalytics tool called Insights for ArcGIS.

They’re taking all the data and social media and customer satisfaction inputs to uncover patterns they would have never seen before. This open, collaborative and connected approach to data allows utilities to find significant patterns and see the full picture. And that leads to better connections with the customer, and greater satisfaction levels.

Throughout the utilities sector, organisations are realising that GIS is much more than just a mapping system. Yes, GIS uses maps, but it’s about much more than that. It’s a wholistic data approach that helps uncover the real data story to reveal insights that would otherwise remain unseen. The new Utility Network Management extension for ArcGIS transforms the capabilities of network visibility, allowing a complete network view right down to details of individual assets.

When utility providers start applying those insights to guide investment decisions and drive infrastructure maintenance, the four elements (cost, revenue, safety and compliance) align to create better outcomes for the utility company and the customer.

To find out more about GIS for infrastructure value, contact a utilities specialist at Esri Australia on 1800 870 750 or send us an email.

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