Implementing Mobile Technology

2) Users are geographically distributed - it's much more difficult to deploy applications when all your people aren't in the same place.
3) Financial-- a lot of users means a lot of licenses. For many operations managers, GIS stands for, “where did my $20 million go?”

Companies need to be able to see how GIS can benefit their organizations. GIS should not be held in a vacuum, but rather integrated with other existing applications to maximize its power. AMR Research stated, “Close to 90% of energy and utility companies already use a GIS system. These companies typically spend between $20 and 30 million.”

Wilson spoke of the challenges:

* GIS is big - how do you fit it on to devices that don't have enough space?
Minimizing the amount of data is one solution
* Lack of user experience and recognizing the need for minimal training-field force folks don't have a lot of time to devote to GIS or any other application
* Making sure data is up to date by deploying updates very rapidly. Often field work are dealing with very stressful situations, and may be responding to emergencies, so waiting for redisplay is not a good thing.

Field mapping has evolved from being very standalone to allowing field crews to have access to data. The next stage in that process is data collecting where an application uses the map heavily. The third stage in the process will involve applications that are integrated. Maps in the field become part of a whole process, in many cases appearing within a larger application, where the user is not necessarily aware that they are getting data from a GIS. To them they just get maps when they need them.

How do you make all this happen? Wilson cited the example of a large utility dealing with an ice storm. The utility was able to issue maps and other data to field crews electronically to help recovery. In December of last year, with over a million customers faced with no power during an ice storm, this utility was able to use their GIS and facility management data and customer data to help field groups with what they needed. They compared recovery time and cost to a previous incident several years before and found measurable results in terms of recovery time being reduced.

According to Wilson: “Giving the crew some sort of dynamic access to the data really helped facilitate decision making and minimized the effects of working in difficult territory.”

How do you justify a project GIS? “You always have to be able to point to the bottom line-productivity, safety, reduction of errors, speeding up business processes, those are very important. There are other benefits that are hard to quantify so are not always included in the equation but are just as important such as customer service and having a technology edge,” concluded Wilson.

Harriet Coryell from Snohomish PUD spoke on “Getting Data to the Field - What it Takes to Make it Work.” She has been involved with the Snohomish PUD GIS system for the past 11 years. She's worked with the distribution services group creating and managing the digital one line project, and designing and managing changes to the GIS system. Harriet serves as the liaison with all the GIS users.

The Snohomish County PUD covers Snohomish County and Camano Island in Island County. Both counties are north of Seattle, Washington. They have 79 substations and all of them are SCADA controlled.

In an overview of their GIS, Coryell described its development in phases. Phase I started in 1991 when they fielded all of their distribution facilities. They created a model that had complete connectivity from the substation to the transformer.

Phase 2 started on the heels of phase 1. They added customer locations, full attachment information and street and aerial lights.

In Phase 3 they updated their landbase to a digital parcel basemap for Snohomish County. They also gathered GPS coordinates for their poles and moved their facilities relative to those locations.

“Before, during and after each of these phases we were constantly making changes in our applications and we kept adding information to our GIS system,” explained Coryell. ”Listed here are the interfaces we currently have - CIS, a full inventory system, a distribution analysis program, a worksketch application and a production application.”

“Why do GIS? The information being used by engineers and field workers was on paper. Every thing in our office was overflowing with paper,” said Coryell. Much of it, like universal maps, was kept in each local and had to be updated by hand which took a lot of time.

“The data was not as current as it should be and often out of sync across the district. The business case showed that it would be more cost effective for the district to have a single source of information and continue to make updates in multiple locations. One source would give the district the ability to make multiple plots of any given area as well as give all the users a common set of info to work from. It would also make it possible for us to use automated drafting in our worksketch process.

We got our data converted from paper to electronic format and the acceptance by the users was our next challenge.”

First, the PUD created an easier application for the field engineers that allowed them to start using the information on their worksketches and in their daily jobs. Using GIS on the worksketches exposed the linework. GIS symbology was created so they could interpret what they were seeing. When the engineers started using the information they found that some of the information was not accurate or current. “We knew that the data could be out of date, as the previous collection effort took place three years before. We just didn't know where the changes had been,” Coryell concluded. “The differences between what was in the field and what we had in GIS enforced the awareness that the gathering of current information had to be an ongoing effort.”

To some, what happened next at the PUD may seem impossible. “In 1994 one of our GIS managers heard a presentation at GITA from a UK company that was using computers with GIS information in the field. In a meeting our GIS manager was laughed at for even considering that she would ever get a lineman to use the computer. She came with the vision that our linemen would. A request was made for two linemen to do some fielding,” Coryell explained. “The managers wanted to know whether GIS would be useful to them in their job and needed some fielding done. The lineman used paper maps, and while they were fielding they discovered areas that needed work, even some hazardous areas. A number of outages were prevented by what they saw. They called looking for information they knew was available. They let us know when changes were made in the field so we could update our GIS.”

Consequently, a program was launched to allow linemen to work in GIS. They became familiar with GIS, helped keep the information current, and took back to the field all the knowledge that they had gained by working on the business side.

One of the first steps of getting data to the field was finding an application that was laptop ready. PUD's developer knew he wanted an application that could be customized without changing the base product. Ruggedized laptops were purchased, and formal training was held for all the servicemen, many of whom had few computer skills, so basic computer skills as well as training in the hardware and GIS applications were covered.

“More user groups came to us wanting GIS in the field,” Coryell said. “In 2001 we deployed a web application to every desktop in the district. It gave everyone at the PUD access to the same information the field users were seeing.”

What made it work? “We learned trust has to be developed between some of the departments,” said Coryell. “Trust in the data and trust between people. Open communication is critical to making it happen.” And as the relationships between field workers and office developed, each side was willing to go wherever they needed to.

“We learned that good relationships between people get the job done every time, and passion for what you're doing will get everyone excited.”

Michael Baker from Intergraph spoke on “Realizing the ROI of Mobile Technology.” “A mobile solution is more than just maps on the PDA, it's more than just communication, it's not just wireless networking, not just tracking,” declared Baker. “Mobile is an entire solution, and workflow, from the back office to the field, and your objective is to maximize the ROI from these mobile resources.”

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