GE Energy Embraces a Bigger World with Oracle Collaboration

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Industry News
GE Energy Embraces a Bigger World with Oracle Collaboration
by Susan Smith

A couple of weeks ago at GITA, GE Energy announced  their collaboration with Oracle to expand GE's geospatial product portfolio by developing a network design and maintenance application based on Oracle® Database 10g, Oracle Spatial 10g and Oracle Fusion Middleware. GE Energy had purchased Smallworld in 2000, in order to meet the needs of utility, energy and telecommunications markets. This collaboration with Oracle will further GE’s scope by taking advantage of Oracle’s geospatial database and application server mapping software. Smallworld will continue to provide the industry application layer for the company.

In an interview with Robert Laudati, marketing program manager, electric software products for GE Energy, he explained to GISWeekly what the announcement means to GE Energy customers, going forward.

Robert Laudati: GE acquired Smallworld in 2000, since that time it’s been part of the GE Energy EP portfolio. We’ve been developing and enhancing Smallworld for utility, energy and telecommunications markets. At the GITA conference we made an announcement about a strategy to extend that product line to include products based directly on Oracle Spatial. So it is a message in addition to Smallworld. We now see there’s a need in the industry for very standards based tools, more importantly a geospatial environment that is truly standard and interoperable across the utility enterprise. One of the key points we’re trying to make is we’re in no way impacting our Smallworld technology: that’s still a market leader in terms of large, complex utilities and large enterprises. We’ll continue to develop and support Smallworld technologies as long as there is a market for those value propositions.

A couple of issues are coming together in the marketplace that make it the right time for us to take on this additional product line. 1) There are lots of trends in the marketplace around outsourcing and budget constraints which call for standards. 2) Oracle’s technology is maturing to a state where we feel we can begin to develop really robust utility style geospatial applications, where in the past we didn’t feel the Oracle platform could support that. Several issues are coming together in the marketplace, along with technology that are making it the right time to take on this additional product line.

In an attempt to make sure we do it right and are successful, we’ve identified a particular market segment to address with this first effort –the North American electric mid-size utility. We felt we had a lot of expertise and subject matter experts within the company to solve the needs of that market, Smallworld GE has a lot of customers around the world that are multi-utilities and we didn’t feel we could solve all those multi-utility domains in one product. We knew there were quite a few mid-size electric utilities in North America that would benefit from a standards based application. We think it represents a finite set of requirements we can address in a first release. We didn’t want to be in product development for ten years with this new technology.

GISWeekly: What about development for Smallworld?

Robert Laudati: We have a formal and continued development and support plan for Smallworld, but over time, we are fully confident that we will be successful. We have a strong partnership with Oracle, and we do expect over time, together we will address the entire utility market globally.

We have had for the last 2– 2 ½ years, a strategy within Smallworld that we call the Utility Office. That office is the analogy of the Microsoft Office, i.e., the pieces work pretty well, but when you put them together they have more power because you can cut and paste across applications. The same is true with Smallworld, both before and after GE. We have been more of a toolkit provider, we sell base GIS, utility applications, web clients, etc. but in the past it’s been GE projects, system integrators or even end customers that put all those pieces together. One of the trends we’re seeing is customers don’t want to do that anymore. They’ve moved away from the best-of-breed approach and they want standardized products that are easier to maintain. So even within the Smallworld technology, we’re going down a path of trying to standardize larger utility offerings that are essentially pre-integrated.

This Oracle strategy is just an extension of that Office effort. We’re adding one additional component and that is the standard IT platform. What we will see over the next five to ten years is our move toward a very standardized application environment, working with customers to fill that out and make sure there is standardization across the industry, and as well to make sure it fits in with corporate IT departments. One we’re solving with Smallworld and will continue, the other the Oracle strategy complements.

GISWeekly: Will the Smallworld solution work with Oracle?

Robert Laudati: No, there are ties, however. First of all, the data models we’re developing for the marketplace in conjunction with companies will be equivalent across each platform which gives us the opportunity for a migration strategy if a customer chooses. And at the application level, within Smallworld we have a powerful proprietary development language called Magic on the Oracle platform. We’re focusing on Java as the development platform. Although we can’t port the code, part of this office strategy is to make sure we have what we call “functional equivalency.” For our Smallworld customers who adopt our Office Strategy, they’ll have a set of tools available to them in a utility context or Telcom context. They can expect that at some point in the future there will be a functionally equivalent Oracle and Java application that will have those same applications. The menus might look a bit different, but will be able to solve the same business needs in both platforms. So between the data schema being the same, and the functional equivalency of the application, we’re committed to providing that migration platform to our customers. Obviously there will be some work to do there and it’s a long term strategy.

GISWeekly: It sounds as though you’re cutting out the GIS middleman with this Oracle agreement?

Robert Laudati: Yes, that’s why Oracle is so interested in us. They say this is the first time that anyone in the GIS community has really embraced all the power of Oracle Spatial. From our perspective, it’s the first time they’ve had enough of it. They’ve invested time and effort and money in spatial technology and yet the vendor community at large is still only using spatial as a repository, then providing their own GIS middleware on top. And we have a commitment to cut that out. Where there is capability in Smallworld that we don’t see in Oracle, we’re enhancing the Oracle model and bringing that code back in for Oracle to put into their product. One example of that is, Oracle has had a very unique and differentiator in terms of its ability to handle what we call in the utility industry “internal worlds.” Instead of just looking at a manhole cover as a point on the map, with Smallworld you can actually go inside that manhole. Oracle didn’t have that capability, so we extended the capability to be supported within Oracle. Our expectation with the partnership with Oracle is that they’ll make that part of their product.

It is rather a unique situation to be giving away intellectual property, but it keeps us true to our message to the market that we want to be standards based, want to be a leader in that IT environment, and therefore we want to make sure Oracle has all the tools and all the capabilities that we need to serve our customers. And what that means for GE and probably other vendors in the future is that we’ll cut out the GIS based middleman, and everyone will be focused on providing the best utility. I think GE is uniquely positioned to be the best provider of all those applications with all our utility people across the company – even though we’re going to be giving away intellectual property on the database side. It’s a different business model.

GISWeekly: What part of Oracle’s development triggered your interest in making this agreement?

Robert Laudati:
If you want to look at one key piece of Oracle’s development that triggered this, it was the introduction of the Network Data Model into Oracle Spatial. The initial introduction was at 9i, but they have enhanced it quite a bit to the level we feel we can work with it in 10g, the current version. The Smallworld platform is a fairly broad GIS toolkit, it’s been used almost exclusively in the Telcom, and utility market where we solving linear network problems not so much polygon problems. Oracle’s first pass at any form of topology was aerial based, in large part to support the US Census Bureau, and that was interesting and we did some prototyping, but really it was when they moved forward with the Network Connectivity Model that we found they had a set of technology we can use for our utility customers.

GISWeekly: Most utilities have a GIS administrator in place already. What do you perceive this is going to do to that configuration?

Robert Laudati:
We see from a pure business perspective. Ten years ago when I joined Smallworld. I was talking to GIS people who were making decisions about what tools they were bringing into the company. Today, I’m talking to IT people who are making those decisions. I think those GIS professionals are still there and they still have a vital role, but their role is changing into more of a business side and user perspective to make sure that the applications meet the goals of the business. They’re not maintaining the system because the system spatial environment is being slowly moved into the corporate IT. This is a much bigger GIS market issue. Everyone has been saying GIS is going to become less departmentalized and it’s going to become a commodity in the business world. We see it happening in the utility space. From the perspective of maintaining the infrastructure, this is one of the main reasons why we’re moving to Oracle because we’re getting formal requirements demanding standard technology. For those GIS professionals, I’m sure their role will change a bit and their skill set will migrate to Java, .NET and SOA type architectures and web clients. Over time there will be a decline in the Magic and AML programmers. ESRI and Intergraph are all moving in that direction too. The good news is it will make GIS professionals less dependent on a single vendor. They’ll be able to apply their skills regardless of the vendor company has selected.

In the utility industry, there’s quite a bit investment in generic data warehousing and people are using Oracle for that. These people, who are not GIS professionals, are pulling in spatial data and understand the spatial extension to SQL. They know how to write queries against the database, and they’re providing very meaningful applications to users who would otherwise never see GIS data. There are certainly indexing and topology issues, but they’re doing a great job of managing at a lower level to eliminate having a GIS person involved in every single piece of the business.

GISWeekly: Can you tell me about the Oracle/Hyperion and Oracle/SPL acquisitions?

Robert Laudati:
What this has done is created an overlap in our offering. Hyperion is more a Business Intelligence tool. Although we’re poking around in that market, there’s a great need for smarter analysis of assets to help utilities make decisions about what repairs to make and how to manage their infrastructure. That’s not the sweet spot today for GE. We view Hyperion and even the more earlier acquisition of Siebel by Oracle, as more complementary and a way for us to extend our portfolio.

SPL has an outage management system which is directly competitive with GE Energy’s Power On product. I think you have to look at the bigger context. Through that acquisition, Oracle is basically stating the same Office strategy that we are, from a really different perspective. They want to be the providers of all the back end business: financial, work management, asset management tools. They probably got the outage management because it’s part of the portfolio. What they were after were the billing and financial systems that SPL had. I think that overall, GE Energy has geospatial capabilities, real time controls, automated metering, an AMI infrastructure to make that electric grid smarter and smarter. Oracle is really competing with SAP to provide the backend ERP system.

Those are very complementary, we have this one sliver of overlap – outage management - we’ll continue to compete there, but now that we’re embracing Oracle Spatial, we have the opportunity to tie into that whole ERP environment in a much tighter fashion. We have an entire IT platform - from managing your grid, to supporting your business processes, all based on Oracle and all tightly integrated. I think that bigger story far outweighs the small sliver of competition that we may have.

GISWeekly: Will Oracle Spatial functionality change the face of data security-dependent applications?

Robert Laudati:
Absolutely. I think that’s one of the many value propositions Oracle provides. Each of the GIS vendors have provided some form of authorization or security on top of our database structures, but they’re really not corporate type environments. That’s always been a complaint among utilities who have some fairly strict data security and data protection issues to solve. They have privacy concerns, and as a vendor community that hasn’t been a focus. We’ve been trying to do the best thematic map, or the best network. Security hasn’t been the focus of GIS development and yet it’s a key part of Oracle’s database environment.

You look at database security, high availability, database replication and backup, save points and archival -- GIS companies have done some of all those to get you by, but that’s the sweet spot for Oracle.

Top News of the Week

ESRI announced that it will provide ArcGIS spatial data management solutions to IBM DB2 9 for z/OS on System z. This support for a centralized, location-aware DB2 database on System z will enable ESRI's enterprise customers to extend GIS-based business solutions, applications, and Web services throughout their organizations.

"With ArcGIS spatial data management solutions, core business systems across the company can tap into the same corporate geodatabase ,"  said Jack Dangermond, ESRI president. "This eliminates the cost and time of redundant databases for each department."

Vehicles can now be tracked using street-level aerial photography following the latest innovation by Masternaut , the UK and Europe’s leading telematics company. Using Microsoft® Virtual Earth™ vehicle movements can be tracked on high resolution aerial photomaps or satellite imagery. This bird’s eye view of the real world supplements the existing street mapping layer providing additional information and detail.

Fleet controllers can clearly see their vehicle approaching landmarks such as shopping centers, car parks and industrial sites. In town, Virtual Earth can even reveal road markings including loading bays and individual parking slots. This allows controllers to guide drivers and confirm exact locations day or night. In the case of theft or unauthorized use, the aerial maps allow very precise tracking and identification of access points for hidden vehicles.

In cooperation with Spain’s national agencies and regional governments, the Spanish National Geographic Institute has embarked on its ambitious National Aerial Orthophoto Plan (Plan Nacional de Ortofotografía Aérea or PNOA). The project’s goal is to create half-meter orthophotos covering the entire country—more than half a million square kilometers—and update the data every two years. Next year, resolution for this project will increase to 25 centimeters for the whole territory and 10 centimeters for urban areas.

Venturo, one of the country’s largest private mapping companies with 125 employees, is responsible for creating orthophotos of four of 17 PNOA regions. Their portion covers some 60,000 square kilometers, captured at 50-centimeter resolution (50,000 square kilometers) and 25-centimeter resolution (10,000 square kilometers). Brothers Manuel and Jose Antonio Coronado, successful Leica Geosystems distributors in the south and west of Spain and in Portugal, started Venturo about two years ago.

The firm’s 2,000-square-meter office is stocked to support such growth with 12 Leica Photogrammetry Suite (LPS) digital photogrammetric workstations, 40 Digi3D (a local feature extraction SW) stereoplotting workstations, a Leica DSW700 photogrammetric scanner, five Leica IMAGINE® Professional remote sensing licenses, 24 SIGRAF cadastre licenses, and an EMC2 Clarion 35TB massive storage disk library.


Pictometry International Corp., the worldwide leader in digital, aerial oblique imagery and easy-to-use measuring software systems announced that it has entered into an agreement with DigitalXtractions Inc., of Rochester, NY to be the master distributor of DigitalXtractions' SCIRC t1 camera.

DigitalXtractions' SCIRC t1 is a wireless, self-powered Internet remote camera that was developed through a sponsored research partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology's High Tech Incubator, Venture Creations. The camera is fully portable and self-powered by battery or solar cell. The device captures digital photographs and real time video from any remote location and then transmits the data via cellular technology for live viewing on any device with web access such as computers, PDAs, and cell phones.

Expesite, provider of end-to-end program and project management software, has partnered with Claritas, the world leader in marketing research and demographics, to give Expesite users direct access to hundreds of Claritas maps and reports.

By partnering with Claritas, Expesite users will be able to access demographic maps and reports with a few simple clicks, and without ever leaving Expesite. This will allow retailers to obtain real-time data and research, enabling them to make more informed decisions during the site selection and other strategic planning processes.

CH2M HILL Enterprise Management Solutions (EMS), an industry-leading information technology (IT) management consulting and technology solution development business, announced an expansion of its joint enterprise IT initiatives with Microsoft Corp.

A Gold Certified partner in several competencies, CH2M HILL combines its strong consulting experience in Microsoft technology with its unique enterprise solution integration capabilities in the areas of spatial, collaboration and IT managed services--all leveraging the firm’s world-class expertise in design, construction and management of critical infrastructure and capital assets.

NAVTEQ, global provider of digital maps for vehicle navigation and location-based solutions, announced the formalization of an agreement with Skyhook Wireless, provider of software-only positioning systems that leverage Wi-Fi technology, allowing NAVTEQ to resell Skyhook Wireless' Wi-Fi Positioning System(TM) (WPS) in conjunction with its map products across NAVTEQ's key focus areas.

GeoDecisions, an information technology company specializing in geospatial solutions, recently teamed with Daffron to provide rural electric cooperatives the ability to better manage their data.

Based in Bowling Green, Mo., Daffron offers service and software solutions specifically designed for utilities, including integrated consumer information, financial management, e-business, and work order automation software. GeoDecisions complements Daffron’s services by providing utility mapping services and geographic information systems (GIS). With the GIS, users can perform various queries, quickly compile data and generate accurate reports, check flow and connectivity, and better manage workforce and assets.


NEXIQ Technologies,
a provider of diagnostic and telematics products, solutions and services for the commercial vehicle industry, has integrated McObject's eXtremeDB in-memory embedded database system in the on-board telematics device in fleet vehicles as part of NEXIQ's eTechnician™ Web-based remote monitoring and diagnostics application.

Within the NEXIQ PRISM Telematics On-Board Unit (OBU), eXtremeDB runs on Wind River Systems' VxWorks real-time operating system, providing real-time storage and retrieval of geographical information systems (GIS) data. eXtremeDB also manages critical device configuration information.

Oracle announced that leading Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) continue to show strong support for Oracle(R) Database 10g Express Edition (Oracle Database XE), the free, starter version of its world-renowned Oracle database. ALCiE Integrated Solutions Inc., Farallon Geographics and System Dynamics Corporation, all members of the Oracle PartnerNetwork, are taking advantage of the industry's leading database technology to power their applications and deliver solutions to their customers.

Legislation benefiting the entire geospatial profession was the agenda pushed by MAPPS members representing nearly 100 firms who made personal visits to offices of more than 150 U.S. Senators and Representatives during the annual MAPPS Federal Programs Conference held March 19-21 in Washington, D.C.

“Every year MAPPS members exercise our unique American right to voice our concerns in person with our elected officials,” said MAPPS President Kurt Allen. “Members of Congress and their staffs recognize MAPPS as the authoritative voice on all issues relating to geospatial, and these lobbying visits ultimately have a positive impact on the entire community.”

North West Geomatics Ltd. announced that it has completed all planning and logistic requirements for its previously announced western Canadian LiDAR acquisition program. The control work, being undertaken by Point Geomatics of Calgary, has commenced and the acquisition program will commence immediately once snow cover has left the region, expected to be April 1 in some areas.


McDonald Bradley, Inc., a rapidly growing information technology solutions provider to the government, has recently won an $11.2 million prime contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) to develop the Nautical Charting System II -- an enterprise solution for managing chart data. The Company has selected ESRI, the world's leading geographic information system software developer, as a subcontractor on the project. In addition, the team will utilize a software toolset from ESRI as part of the solution.

The NOAA project for the Office of Coast Survey, Marine Chart Division will utilize the ESRI Production Line Tool Set (PLTS) for ArcGIS -- Nautical Solution. The toolset is part of the ESRI family of focused, production- oriented applications and end-to-end workflows tailored to specific domains.


Avineon, Inc., a successful provider of IT, geospatial, engineering and program management services, announced the appointment of Cary Bledsoe as director, Midwest region within the company's Defense Systems division. Bledsoe will lead efforts in support of Avineon's defense contracts and assist with business development in the Midwest area. With more than 21 years of government engineering experience, Bledsoe brings to Avineon technical expertise and leadership qualities having overseen multiple Navy and Marine Corps programs.

New Products

Vehicles can now be tracked using street-level aerial photography following the latest innovation by Masternaut , the UK and Europe’s leading telematics company. Using Microsoft® Virtual Earth™ vehicle movements can be tracked on high resolution aerial photomaps or satellite imagery. This bird’s eye view of the real world supplements the existing street mapping layer providing additional information and detail. The implementation of the new Multimap API on is expected to significantly boost security and productivity for fleet managers worldwide.

Multimap , one of the world’s leading online mapping and location-based services providers, and MarineTrack, the popular provider of tracking solutions in the commercial shipping, recreational yachting and charter market, announced the implementation of Multimap’s recently-launched API (Application Programming Interface) service on . MarineTrack is the first company in the telematics industry to implement the Multimap API; the implementation enables fleet managers to view the exact location of their asset(s) in real time on an interactive map, and is expected to significantly boost security and logistical productivity.

In partnership with Siemens VDO Automotive, the world leader of on-board information systems, and utilizing Google Earth, BCP adapts solutions for wireless fleet management for petroleum, public works, and trucking industries. The company offers the Siemens VDO Communicator and the BCP Web Module for route management and optimization, a combined system that provides more than just geolocalization. With the accessibility of the BCP Web Module and the world coverage of Siemens VDO and Google Earth, fleet monitoring is instant and worldwide.

The Carbon Project announced the introduction of Geosocial Networking at the CTIA Wireless 2007 Conference in Orlando, Florida this week.

Geosocial Networking is a new and exciting communications phenomenon where software solutions combine mapping with peer-to-peer (p2p) social networking. This technology is based on IPv6 and can operate over various networks including wireless channels.

Tele Atlas, a leading global provider of digital maps and dynamic content for navigation and location-based solutions, announced the availability of Tele Atlas Connect(TM), which provides digital map coverage for more than 140 countries. A complement to the company's comprehensive MultiNet(TM) global digital map database, Tele Atlas Connect has already been selected by Nokia for the N95 multimedia device, which is the first product to leverage the data and help users initiate local searches all over the world.

Around the Web

Software Giant Symantec Buys Reston-Based Security Firm , by Kim Hart, March 8, 2007, Washington Post 

AT&T Launches GPS-Based Workforce-Management Service Antone Gonsalves, March 20, 2007, Information Week

Maps Meet Mashups by Elena Malykina, March 17, 2007, Information Week - Take Web 2.0, mix liberally with local maps from across the United States or the world, and add information on restaurants, hotels, gas stations, real estate, or dozens of other potential sources. The result is among the hottest and most useful new generation of applications on the Web--the location mashup.

Upcoming Events

9th Crime Mapping Research Conference
Date: March 28 - 31, 2007
Place: Omni William Penn Hotel
Pittsburgh, PA USA
The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial data analysis techniques have become prominent tools for analyzing criminal behavior and the impacts of the criminal justice system on society. Classical and spatial statistics have been merged to form more comprehensive approaches in understanding social problems from research and practical standpoints.   <

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