Visualizing Utilities with UtilityCenter

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Industry News
Visualizing Utilities with UtilityCenter
By Susan Smith

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An integrated desktop, web and mobile platform are at the heart of Trimble UtilityCenter
Enterprise GIS system for utilities. Joe Johnson, electric and gas segment manager for Trimble UtilityCenter Solution Group, has had a long history with UtilityCenter and moved over with the acquisition of the product from privately owned UAI, Inc. over a year ago. That acquisition has placed Trimble squarely in the utilities market.

Version 2.6 is basically the same product with some enhancements to make it better aligned with the latest version of ESRI technology (ArcGIS 9.3 compatibility) as well as offering SQL Server 2005 and 2008 database background which provides advanced replication management. It is also now Microsoft Vista x32-compatible, and provides connection auto-restore for lost Local Area Network (LAN) connections. Enhancements have also been made to its outage management performance and usability.

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A lot of work has been done around integration, according to Johnson, in keeping with the efforts of the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA)’s Cooperative Research Network. This network is the author of MultiSpeak Specification, an industry-wide software standard that fosters interoperability between diverse business and automation applications that are used in electric utilities. The specification is maintained and developed by the MultiSpeak Initiative. The group offers research and development programs that they fund for investor owned utilities and the cooperative research network group contracts a consultant to match vendors with standardized interfaces between different vendor types, customer information systems, GIS systems, staking packages, outage management packages and other solutions that work together in a utility that deliver a geospatial solution.

“MultiSpeak gives you a mechanism to port data from the utility center solution into other solutions and leverage investment in those solutions to work with the UtilityCenter solution,” explained Johnson. “There have been three different versions and standards, with many different vendors involved, I think twenty six different interfaces are defined in the standard.” In UtilityCenter version 2.6. Trimble has worked to standardize on MultiSpeak 3, which is the latest version of the software, and provides additional functionality that is available through this interface. Other enhancements in Version 2.6 address the application as well as facilitate enhancements derived through this interface with MultiSpeak, namely two-way interfacing, where when a change is made in the GIS it automatically sends that information over to the customer information system, and work management system for construction design. “So that when you apply construction units and plant assets in the staking application or design application, those assets are sent over to the finance and accounting packages so they can properly account for adding those assets and adding to their plant values, etc.,” said Johnson.

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Productivity gains with UtilityCenter are generally seen with moving data from the office to the field and making that information available in the field. “From a quantitative standpoint, we typically see 30-40 percent gain in staking or design functionality from lost time and elimination of redundant work,” said Johnson. “In other words, a guy in the field does a design in one system and he comes back and prints out a paper map, and that typically is provided back into the office where they redraw that work into some kind of GIS solution or AutoCAD package, and they redesign in what they refer to as posting it to the GIS. And the UtilityCenter solution is a cohesive solution so when they go and do the design, we’re capturing that work, they can use all of the design if they want. The point is they have the ability to keep all the work that’s done and electronically move that data from the field to the office in a fairly seamless manner. In that process, you typically see a 30 percent increase in efficiency in the overall lifecycle of a project. In addition to the actual labor, there’s a lot of dead time when you’re moving paper around and you’re moving from one district office to another district office or you’re in a utility where you have offices spread out throughout a large geographical area.”

The deadtime Johnson is referring to is the time it takes to get the data from point A to point B through their internal mail system or even the mail itself. Because UtilityCenter is all digital, the data can be moved digitally with no time lost. Time is cut down from two to three days without the internal delays of moving paper. Johnson said this translates to labor savings plus improvement in customer service because a utility can then be more responsive to the customer.

With UtilityCenter, utilities can see work throughout the system in all stages of the construction process because it’s all taking place on a common platform using a visual system, which is valuable for outage management. “The initiation, design, construction, as built all can be seen by all users throughout the system,” Johnson pointed out, “historically where you have a GIS system, typically there are jobs in design that are put in, but that information isn’t generally available enterprise wide throughout the solution. It’s in some kind of process where it may be in one application. A guy is doing design until it gets completed, then it gets sent to the construction crew and they get it done and it finally makes its way to be posted to the map. So that information is not readily available for dispatch and the control center so they’re usually working on it, but they don’t have graphical representation of it. For outage management, responding to trouble tickets, or when you have a problem in a utility, it’s in and around new construction. Because our system is cohesive, they can see that new construction, see that line that’s under the design even though it hasn’t yet been posted to the GIS as finished.”

The ability to see all work in progress throughout the utility and on a geographic map, helps improve users’ awareness which subsequently improves dispatching and safety throughout the utility, according to Johnson. “Because we’re capturing all that information and building a digital network so we can model how the utility is being switched, and how it’s being fed from each customer point electrically in near real time, within seconds of the switching, the model gets updated. All changes that occur happen very rapidly, projects are being implemented on a day to day basis, and that update gets to the map quickly so that dispatching outage management stays up to date.”

The response time and overtime are decreased, which Johnson attributes to UtilityCenter since customers have seen reductions in overtime costs associated with outages because of accurate predictions of where the outages occur, thus knowing where to send the crews at what time of day, because they are able to track that information.

Efficiencies are also defined because customers now have information that they can manage, where in the past, they didn’t have a good repository of all that data that they could effectively evaluate. “Now that they have that solution, they can start making process changes that aren’t directly related to the software solution itself, because they are able to view that data, manage it and understand where they can make improvements to their efficiencies,” concluded Johnson.

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