Our Insights

Putting the Network in Utility Network – Building a Better Extractor

May 4, 2020

By Robert Krisher
Senior GIS Consultant, POWER Engineers

Most of my past articles have focused on how Esri’s products can benefit utilities. In this article, I will look at how Esri software can facilitate almost every aspect of a utility with a specific focus on the benefits that can be realized by extracting the network for analysis using specialized third-party tools. In terms of buzzwords, this concept is often referred to as Esri being the System of Record and other applications serving as the System of Engagement and System of Insight. On any given day, utilities use many different systems and software and the diagram below shows some of the major areas that Esri GIS supports daily.

Upon entering the digital age, one of the first steps for a utility was to begin integrating these systems, which is to say, the utility would set up routines allowing these different systems to automatically share information so users wouldn’t need to access multiple applications to perform a single task. Typically, integrations with the GIS were the earliest integrations performed because this allowed everyone in the utility to have a common understanding of what assets were in the field. The GIS has always been the System of Record for the as-built state of utility assets because of the natural way it allows a user to track field assets, show how they are configured, indicate how they relate to one another and demonstrate how they are used to provide service to customers. Every system in the utility benefits from having access to the as-built information contained in GIS and POWER has helped customers utilize this information to support engineering analysis, planning, construction design, operations and customer care.

While some of these systems can run as a part of the GIS, most use third-party applications that extract GIS features and their connectivity (i.e. network) and then import the required data. There have been numerous attempts to standardize this process, but these have had limited success because the GIS data models are not standardized, and most connectivity networks rely on custom extensions and tools. This has led to a multitude of custom network extractors and, as a result, it’s not uncommon for a utility to have two or three custom extractors. In addition to this, each extractor is typically built and maintained by a separate vendor or contractor who need to be consulted every time your system is upgraded or changed. What a nightmare!

Making it Better

The Utility Network (UN) changes all of this. It provides standard industry models for all types of utilities, including definitions for all equipment, structures and network topology. Now, it is possible to create a single, configurable and reusable UN extractor that can extract any utility dataset and prepare that data for use in any third-party system. This means any new network extractors can now read from a simple network extract file that can be used without any special licenses, applications, or languages. There is also the added technical benefit of not locking your GIS or third-party systems into specific releases, since they are now effectively loosely coupled systems communicating through standardized data exchange files.

This functionality is so fundamental to the UN that Esri provides an out-of-the-box tool that does this!  Similar to Esri’s Trace tool, a lot of configuration and parameters need to be filled out in order to make use of this tool. Esri recently wrote a blog post that shows one way of approaching this problem (you can read it here) but it relies on additional tools and technical skills that many small and mid-sized utilities simply don’t have. We helped our first Electric Distribution customer go live with the UN almost a full year ago, and since then we’ve been working with them and other utilities who are implementing the UN to develop a configurable, easy-to-use tool that streamlines the whole process.

POWER Network Extractor

The POWER Network Extractor can be run interactively in ArcGIS Pro (and can also be run standalone) and to configure it, all you need to do is fill out a spreadsheet that maps your GIS objects to the objects in the system that needs to utilize the GIS data. Then, when you run the tool, it will produce a network extract that contains all the GIS data elements required to integrate with the other system. This extract still needs to be transformed into a format that your other systems can read, and if your vendor doesn’t already support reading in one of these extracts, POWER has a growing library of network adaptors that support these third-party systems.

Replacing existing network extractors has been one of the largest challenges for utilities who want to convert to the UN. But, with this new POWER Network Extractor, we are seeing project implementation times reduced drastically as we have minimized the development and testing time of network extractors from months to weeks.

Attend Our Upcoming Webinar

If you want to know more about how we’ve successfully implemented this in our projects and what other benefits we’ve seen in the UN when building network interfaces, you can register for our upcoming webinar here.

About the Author

Robert is a Senior Consultant in POWER’s Geospatial and Asset Management group with over 10 years of industry experience. Robert excels at pushing the boundaries of what is possible with GIS and related technologies at utilities, often by re-purposing proven technologies and methods in clever ways. As an active member of many early access programs across the industry and author of more than a dozen published articles, Robert is a recognized expert with Esri’s latest technology including ArcGIS Pro and the new Utility Network. He loves finding innovative solutions to complex challenges and sharing his insights with the GIS community. If you have any questions or comments for Robert, you can contact him at robert.krisher@powereng.com.