Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Enterprise GIS for Utility Organizations in the Caribbean – Where Are We?

Valrie Grant – MSc, GISP (Author)
Carlton J Smith – MSc MIS, PMP, CISA (Contributing Editor)

Recently, I was facilitating a GIS (Geographic Information System) Training for a utility organization within the Caribbean region. During the training, participants started to speak about the workflows they presently use, the various software within the organization, their having to be converting data between different formats, etc. What became very obvious was that this organization is suffering from software overload, departments operating in silos, segmented workflows, and a clear indication that they need to have a comprehensive Enterprise Needs Assessment and Requirements study done. It was quite apparent that there was an absence of Strategic Information Systems Planning or the implementation of the results of such planning and hence what came out from the participants was quite reflective of the general lack of appreciation of the critical role Enterprise GIS plays within organizations today.

It was dejavu as this is a story I have heard and seen a dozen times across the Caribbean region. Granted, this organization has a GIS unit with desktop GIS software and they produce some maps and reports, but they seem not to appreciate that there were other utility companies within the region where GIS is being used as a critical part of their business processes – from tracking and managing assets, supporting the production and transmission design process, to being used as a key tool in business operations; for example Outage Management, Strategic Capacity Planning and to organize and streamlined inspection and maintenance programs. But even for these organizations, are they there yet? Are these organizations maximizing their investment in GIS and other Spatial Technologies to provide real Enterprise value and benefits?

Let’s look at some of the benefits of incorporating Enterprise GIS as part of the Strategic Information Systems planning within organizations.

GIS has the ability to eliminate inaccuracies and inefficiencies connected with:
  • The proliferation of maps and data of differing content, accuracy and forms of representation.
  • Duplicative and counterproductive efforts of employee effort in the creation, organization, maintenance, management and utilization of maps and asset data in isolated silos. Instead of efforts focused on keeping one set of data correct, man-hours are wasted keeping several sets of possibly fragmented data.
  • Redundant and sometimes conflicting tasks and workflow resulting from the operations of isolated silos resulting in inconsistent or, incomplete maps and asset data.
  • Delayed and ineffective decision making resulting from incomplete, or even conflicting views of what the true picture is within the organization.
    Enterprise GIS can unify the business processes within organizations – in this case utility companies can present a common operating picture. Enterprise GIS is the sum of the coordinated personnel efforts working in tandem with integrated systems that support and promote geospatial data development and access across an organization. In the context of utility companies; another way of putting it is that an Enterprise GIS exists when spatial data is readily accessible and effectively used in business processes across the organization to:
    1. Support daily business operations
    2. Extensively utilized in making critical intelligence driven Strategic Decisions
    Over the past few years, the term Enterprise GIS has become more common in the GIS community. This is a clear reflection of the value to be derived at the Enterprise level.

    There has also been a number of changes in recent years that is allowing Enterprise GIS to be a much more attainable goal for organizations and particularly utility companies.

    These include:
    • New Technology
    • Easier Deployment Options
    • Increased Access to a variety of data sources
    • Increased demand from consumers for organizations to be instantaneously aware of the state of service delivery at a specific location at a given time

    Why would a Utility Organization want to embark on Enterprise GIS? There are many benefits to doing so.

    The nature of utilities will always include delivering services over large geographical areas with several departments and units responsible for managing different aspects of service development/production, service delivery and service maintenance. In addition, there is customer billing and payment collections. Often when a large number of assets and resources are utilized in field work and particularly in emergencies, precise coordination via location aware data and systems are critical. So clear benefits include:
    • Integrates geospatial data across multiple departments and serves entire organization
    • Allows connection to anyone who needs access to GI
    • Eliminates data duplication by collecting data once and using many times
    • Reduces data maintenance time
    • Ability to combine related legacy data
    • Improved workflows
    • Effective communication
    • Enforces data security
    • Timely and effective decision making

    Utility organizations must come to the recognition then that the traditional GIS implementation is no longer sustainable as it does not deliver the required benefits for utility organizations. Why then are organizations within the Caribbean not readily allocating resources and embracing enterprise GIS?

    Enterprise GIS initiatives are dependent on obtaining organizational buy-in and delivering measurable results. Have the GIS practitioners within these organizations failed to win over the decision makers and stakeholders to the benefits of embracing enterprise GIS? Have they failed to quantify the benefits of Enterprise GIS initiatives? Have they themselves made the shift from the traditional siloed mindset and now focused at the enterprise level in delivering strategic value?

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