GIS Mapping: Helping gas utilities improve data management

Helping gas utilities improve data management

The geographic information system (GIS) has played a significant role in improving the efficiency of city gas distribution (CGD) entities. It is an important tool that helps in the planning, engineering, and operations and management of the CGD network. GIS adds value to the CGD business by facilitating integration with other business systems. Integrating GIS into the mainstream CGD business leads to improved analysis, visualisation, network planning and informed decisions.

GIS software companies have introduced solutions for different purposes such as outage management, engineering design, transmission corridor management and network asset management. Gas distribution companies have deployed these applications to support their businesses. The use of GIS has improved data quality management, and assisted in early detection and resolution of issues.

Characteristics of Enterprise GIS

GIS works with different layers of information, including from customers, work and crews, utility assets, pump stations and land, and clubs them into a single environment. Enterprise GIS, which involves the deployment of GIS at an organisation level, provides an ecosystem to link all the information into a single platform, where one can analyse data patterns. It streamlines business processes, integrates business groups and divisions, and is modular, flexible and function-driven. Enterprise GIS enables efficient data gathering and aggregation on a single platform. It provides centralised databases, and operation-related information in real time.

Enterprise GIS assures data accuracy and keeps record maintenance transparent. It provides data on location, common and central data, integrates business, and facilitates spatial and location analytics. GIS mapping links data across various locations such as the central office of an organisation, geographical areas and business units. GIS mapping enables CGD companies to use, make and share maps and map-based solutions based on their entire pipeline network from any device, at any given location and time. It enables employees and contractors to leverage maps and map-based solutions in order to individually or collaboratively perform all geographically oriented tasks and workflows on their network.

Functions of GIS

For CGD entities, GIS has enabled centralised deployment, with a central database and a common data model. ArcGIS is a complete GIS for gas utilities. It can successfully meet the challenges pertaining to asset management and operations management, and ensure safety and compliance. It is an important tool to assist full life cycle management of the CGD network and related assets by creating full operational awareness. Using the data collected, it provides analytical support by evaluating asset performance and activities, and predicting failures with artificial intelligence. ArcGIS simplifies data collection by expediting inspection and maintenance tasks. It unifies field and office staff, and bridges the physical gap between the two. Further, it provides operations management and keeps a check on the capital and operating expenditure incurred by gas utilities. It connects IT systems to the operational state of the network and integrates external information sources with the location. It also enforces the integrity of network and structural data by managing data transactions. It presents a common operational picture to all the stakeholders and communicates changes as they occur. ArcGIS helps in identifying unsafe conditions and prepares utilities for unforeseen circumstances by using location analytics. It collects data from sensitive areas, and creates a compliant knowledge base. Further, it communicates insights to stakeholders in real time, thereby ensuring timely feedback and transparency in operations.

GIS offers a suite of applications for tablets and phones that can work on a stand-alone basis or together to support a complete workflow. It enables users to monitor field operations with dashboards. GIS optimises efficiency in field operations through location intelligence. It uses location to coordinate field activities and provides navigation assistance even when offline. Further, it provides visual context with maps during data collection and field inspection. The application of GIS in field operations  through data on location helps in improving coordination and operational efficiency in field workforce activities, and reduces the reliance on paper. Besides, it ensures that both field and office workers use the same data to reduce errors, improve productivity and save money. Apart from utilities, the application can be successfully deployed in sectors such as health and human resources.

Recent advancements

ArcGIS can be used as an internet of things (IoT) platform or to complement another IoT platform. Its applications such as Explorer provide real-time situational awareness whereas applications such as Collector and Survey123 help users capture field data. Finally, applications such as Tracker and Workforce pair great with operations dashboards and provide information on field activities. Over time, there have been improvements in the ArcGIS Big Data store called spatiotemporal, which now supports 3D points and fly spatial aggregations. For the GIS of engagement, there is a new configurable, web-based operations dashboard to support decision-making. In the suite of ArcGIS mobile applications, Collector integrates with high accuracy global positioning system devices, Explorer allows for map markup to be stored directly in the system of engagement, and Survey123 can enable barcode scanning of utility assets and photo markup, which allows users to take a photo and then add a note on top of it. Finally, the portal for ArcGIS allows distributed collaboration, which enables the setting up of multiple portals instead of just one portal with multiple groups. This has turned out to be a major advancement for large organisations as they need multiple systems of engagement. GIS technology has been a key development for all industries that need location-based interactive data manipulation. As the CGD industry matures, the need for GIS in gas distribution is expected to increase.

Based on a presentation by Dr Pradeep N., Industry Manager, Esri India Technologies Limited, at the 15th annual conference on City Gas Distribution in India