November 26, 2007
Utility Challenges, ROI with Autodesk Topobase and the New Topobase Electric
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Utility Challenges, ROI with Autodesk Topobase and the New Topobase Electric

by Susan Smith

In a business value analysis white paper written by analyst IDC this month, the following statement was made: “The payback period from deploying the Autodesk Topobase solution averaged 11.6 months for the companies surveyed, yielding an average return on investment of 518%.”

This figure on ROI is significant and included users of all Autodesk products including AutoCAD, AutoCAD Map3D, Autodesk Utility Design, MapGuide, and Topobase. The largest area of benefits came in hard costs reductions. According to IDC, they found that the companies surveyed were able to increase benefits of $2.9 million per year, increase their project load by 31% yet reduce their equipment and operational costs by an average of $1.8 million per 100 users. Half of the companies surveyed were government organizations, and as such their revenue was controlled and growth was limited. Even so, on average, companies were able to increase their revenue by almost $100,000 annually per 100
Autodesk users.

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How these figures were arrived at: IDC interviewed six end user companies from the United States and Western Europe, including public and private utilities averaging 1,200 employees. The companies all deployed Autodesk’s infrastructure design and management solutions, with a focus on real costs of managing spatial information across multiple departments and calculating the benefits of the Autodesk Topobase solution, which is Autodesk’s infrastructure design and management solution.

Topobase has over 500 customers worldwide. The product is built on AutoCAD Map 3D and Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise. It has a very powerful desktop platform based on AutoCAD Map 3D and a web based platform that allows you to share that information using a simpler client, on the web. At the back end is the Oracle Spatial database that helps to manage that information effectively.

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Specifically catering to the North American gas and electric market, the Topobase Electric module sports a newer data model and a newer vertical application. It completes the suite of vertical modules which include water, wastewater, and now gas and electric to help utilities managing more than one utility’s transmission and distribution to work on a consistent platform for both design and management of data.

With the release of Topobase Electric, Arnab Ganguly, technical marketing manager for Topobase and Jerry Labay senior marketing manager Geospatial spoke on Autodesk’s position in the Utilities market and the challenges that utilities face.

Arnab Ganguly cited four categories of challenges:

1) Aging infrastructure – The utility infrastructure in place right now is coming toward the end of life. Several utilities want to revisit the status and capabilities of these networks, and that’s always a compelling reason to look at the system that manages that infrastructure.

2) Knowledge transfer – A lot of the experienced staff are eligible for retirement, resulting in really experienced people being replaced by people who are not that experienced. “That has led us to look at software and software systems to automate a lot of the processes that previously could be done manually,” said Ganguly. “We are effectively allowing the software to take a role in making sure the utilities are standard and maintained when new work is done.”

3) Rapid growth in cities, such as Las Vegas, has brought about a substantial need for redevelopment, improvements to existing infrastructure as well as building new infrastructure to manage the growth.

4) Regulatory compliance – Reporting requirements that utilities are faced with are a compelling reason to have a system to generate these reports.

Autodesk’s approach to these challenges is to improve business process and data quality by effectively starting with the engineering and design process where they are traditionally strong.

“With the addition of Topobase to that design phase, we incorporate solutions that help you operate and maintain that infrastructure that utilities are working on,” Ganguly stated. “By enabling the movement of that design information that’s created on an AutoCAD-based platform, using AutoCAD Map 3D and Utility Design, and integrating that data into an Oracle-based database, we are making that information available to other departments in the organization. Utilities can see the big picture. What was conceptualized from a design point of view is available to everyone.”

Designers themselves benefit from information maintained by the other departments. For example, someone in the maintenance and operations department of the business may be managing some of their information or providing updates to some of the data maintained in that data store with Topobase. This information is then available to designers to help them make better decisions.

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Sometimes the option to increase workforce doesn’t exist, said Ganguly, but rather the solution is to become more productive with the work and employees they have, “doing more with less,” with Autodesk solutions.

“With Topobase we now have the ability or a better way to make this information available to the right people at the right time,” said Jerry Labay. “The fact that you have integrated your CAD data, which traditionally tends to be very file based, into a centralized data environment, automatically means that people from finance and customer service, maintenance and operations can access that information. A lot of traditional design intelligence is available through this centralized database for use by those other departments.”

As Autodesk’s integration platform for infrastructure design and management, Topobase provides an Oracle database for you to store your CAD design information. Oracle Spatial can store spatial geometry, which you can continue to use with those file-based, CAD-based tools and the AutoCAD-based products, and have that information stored in the Oracle database. The information is readily available and users outside the design space can access it much more quickly.

Topobase has the ability to enter data using step by step workflows. It validates information as it is entered. Users follow simple steps to enter the data in the database, which reduces the chances of errors, and improves the quality of data that is maintained within.

Las Vegas Valley Water District have integrated their engineering information in Topobase with their ESRI/ArcSDE database which houses their land parcels. While they are in Topobase, they will flag any areas where the Topobase database is a little bit different than the ESRI database. This way, engineers who are entering the information can figure out what the correct information is and put it in both systems.

If Topobase has accurate information such as GPS points and its information is different from parcel information received from ArcSDE, for example, users can use a notification pop up to let them know of the discrepancy and decide whether to fix it or not. Instead of automatically changing the information in the database, Topobase automatically flags it. If it is changed within Topobase it automatically changes in the ESRI ArcSDE database.

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