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What’s so spatial about asset systems for network operators?

December 18, 2020

What is the most appropriate information technology to maintain and store the master asset system model? We have to acknowledge the need for a network operator to access different variants of such a model. To improve consistency, a clear master-slave model is recommended, and master-slave information flows should as much as possible follow the natural lifecycle flows of a network modification.

In an earlier paper, the GIS-centric Enterprise, we argued that geographic information system (GIS) software is a key component of the enterprise ICT infrastructure for network operators, specifically for its ability to manage topological relationships via a graphical interface. Let’s rephrase the arguments in the perspective of an asset system model lifecycle.

  1. Strategic network planning requires insight in actual and projected asset system performance (power quality measurements, faults, incidents, outages) in relation to (projected) location of capacity demand or production sites and the asset system model itself. The underlying physical asset performance (condition measurements, systematic faults, repairs) may affect overall performance of the asset system and is part of the analytical model.
  2. Asset system design conceives network extensions and enhancements based on a well-documented as-built network model and its internal or external constraints. Apart from the electrical or hydraulic characteristics, the system design is strongly geographically determined (rights of way, environmental and safety regulations, soil types, slopes, etc.). High level cost estimates can be derived from an initial asset system breakdown and balanced against initiative value on portfolio level. The investigation of alternative routes is a specific geographic analysis step included in many investment planning studies.
  3. The validated asset system designs are engineered in detail as the construction projects are being defined and prepared for construction (bills of materials, compatible units, technology choices, detailed placement, etc.). Here, the projected network model must be translated to a precise topographic linear placement design for authorities to approve and contractors to execute.
  4. Projects and construction actors plan their work based on the detailed engineering specifications and there is frequent exchange of geographical information between parties (engineering companies, civil contractors, government bodies). Co-ordination of construction work (often imposed by government) includes the exchange of information (work polygons; construction site location and timing of work) with other utilities operating on the public domain. Further optimization (in timing and location) is sought in shared trench work for multi-utility projects.
  5. As construction proceeds, as built network records are documented to enable traceability (welding information on gas mains, equipment installed or replaced, configuration settings, initial pressure or voltage measurements) and linked to the functional segment of the asset system or to the right equipment. Commissioned network modifications are promoted from the “as-it-will-be-built” status (terminology taken from Network Model Manager Technical Market Requirements: The Transmission Perspective) and integrated in the operational network.
  6. Network operations use an abstracted (schematic or geo-schematic) asset system view of the same network to take operational decisions (switching, planned outages, flushing).
  7. Outage and incident management processes need insight on network connectivity to identify the origin of a problem as well as its impact (customer minutes lost). The field workers receive detailed location information to perform an intervention in a timely and safe way.
  8. Results of patrolling and surveying activities have to be reported back and associated to the network including their locations and the equipment they are related to. Correctly located observations and measurements are essential to the performance monitoring of the system.
  9. Customer service agents evaluating the feasibility of an access demand look at network characteristics in the vicinity of the premises to be connected and maintain the vital customer-network link.

By counting the number of occurrences of the terms location, placement, geographic, route, vicinity, etc. in this lifecycle overview, it is obvious that asset systems – at least for network operating companies – are and must be spatial.

Spatial solutions provide essential functionalities to manage networks:

  • Mapping and visualization services because the map is a natural entry point to geographical information, and through a geographical representation, it can provide insight into complex information.
  • Graphical tools as available in GIS support intelligent editing of a (versioned) network model, an interconnected structure where network facilities, equipment and customer connections are linked through cables, pipes, switches, and valves. Intelligent connectivity rules support the management of network structures according to business guidelines.
  • And finally, there is the power of geoprocessing tools to relate and combine phenomena that have no specific relationship except that they are located close to one another. Spatial analysis and decision making based on “proximity” and inference is essential for utilities in critical processes such as strategic planning or risk management.

Alternative models derived from the master will remain necessary but in a clear master-slave model as depicted here below.

The transformation to “smart” and “digital” will therefore require fundamental renewals of enterprise GIS systems to provide a solution to the linear problem statement in a smart world. Large corporate initiatives will be required, far beyond the inevitable technology upgrades to systems that are in many cases 20+ years old.

“Wearables, Whereabouts, and Roundabouts” is the title of our next article that will add the event-dimension to asset management and asset system management. In other words: how do we locate event information on the network model in order to use it in network performance and risk management activities?

This blog is part of a series of 6 under the theme “Asset Systems for the Smart Grid”:

  1. What is an asset system for a network company?
  2. Smart grid or silly tube maps?
  3. What’s so special about asset systems?
  4. What’s so spatial about asset systems?
  5. Wearables, whereabouts and roundabouts
  6. What happens on the asset system, stays on the asset system

I have more than 20 years experience in GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and asset management projects in utilities (water, electric, gas), telecom and the public sector (transportation, cadastral services). You can connect with me here.