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Data-driven oversight: navigating utility pole partnerships

October 18, 2023

Despite their decades-old prevalence, utility poles stand at the forefront of a technological evolution. As telecom companies build ever-newer networks, utility poles become essential equipment for both legacy electrical grids and cutting-edge telecoms. Doubling pole use benefits both utilities and telecoms, but these utility pole partnerships can present numerous challenges without proper oversight. 

In this evolving scenario, GIS-first data collection platforms emerge as invaluable tools for utilities, providing data-driven insights and oversights. 

Join us as we look at how utilities – when fueled by accurate and reliable GIS data – can effectively oversee and manage the joint use of utility poles with telecom companies. 

The importance of proper oversight in utility management

As more telecom providers install critical and costly technologies on poles, effectively managing these operations becomes paramount for utilities. 

Poorly managed poles overloaded with equipment pose a serious threat to life, property, service delivery, and budgets should they go down. For example, overloaded poles that snapped in high winds were behind a destructive 2007 wildfire in Malibu

Failure to comply with local and national pole safety and operational standard regulations brings hefty fines and potential lawsuits. For one, PG&E was fined $2 billion because its mismanaged poles led to the Camp Fire of 2018 wildfire.

Financially, utilities also miss out on rental income if telecom providers install equipment on poles without proper documentation. In addition to rent, overloaded poles need replacement sooner, adding to costs. 

More generally, a poorly managed utility pole can disrupt electrical service, cause frequent maintenance issues, and result in resource mismanagement. For utility providers, this reduces efficiency, increases operational costs, and leaves customers increasingly dissatisfied.

Transforming utility management with GIS

As a lynchpin in our digitally interconnected world, poles demand a comprehensive, data-driven oversight approach. Given the increasing complexity of utility operations, traditional methods of manually managing electric infrastructure are rapidly becoming outdated.

Collecting and leveraging powerful location data, Geographic Information System (GIS) helps utilities manage, update, and ensure the health of their networks in several critical ways: 

  • Precise Location Tracking: GIS provides unparalleled precision in reliably tracking utility assets. 
  • Real-time Visualization: Utility companies can view all their assets spatially and in real time. This means every utility pole, along with its many components, can be visualized in detail, presenting a comprehensive status report.
  • Efficient Data Processing: GIS-first data collection platforms help process and analyze data quicker, so utilities can identify patterns and provide timely data to decision-makers.
  • Informed Decision-making: With a wealth of GIS data, utilities can proactively identify and address emerging operational, safety, or efficiency issues. 
  • Seamless Integration: GIS-first systems easily integrate with other business platforms, helping circulate data flow across departments.
  • Clear Communication: Cloud-based data collection platforms circulate data to all stakeholders, from field teams to regulatory bodies, promoting transparency and collaboration.

As more pole partnerships emerge, adopting a GIS-centric approach to data collection becomes necessary for utilities navigating the complexities of utility pole partnerships.

Data-driven oversight: navigating utility pole partnerships

Ensuring compliance through GIS-powered inspections

Pole maintenance is bound by regulations and regular inspections help catch non-compliance violations early, preventing potential catastrophes like fires or system failures.

As complex hubs for electric and telecom equipment, poles require reliable and precise inspections. Traditional analog or unconnected inspection methods – especially those involving paper and spreadsheets – are slow and prone to errors. With data collection tools, inspectors quickly access a pole’s entire digital record, making the process faster, more accurate, and more efficient.

All inspection findings are updated in real-time and trigger immediate remediation if required. With the higher visibility afforded by this data, utilities can identify recurring issues, predict problem areas, and even streamline their inspection schedules.

Uncovering anomalies: undocumented installations or other issues

Driven to update their networks, telecom companies sometimes fail to accurately report pole installations, especially with an increased reliance on subcontractors.

Any undocumented anomaly poses significant risks, both in safety and revenue terms. Improper equipment installations can disrupt power, threaten the pole’s structural integrity, or even pose safety risks. 

GIS-powered inspections transform how utilities approach these potential challenges. Detailed digital records of every pole help map out its history. Checked against the pole’s state during inspection, this record makes anomalies instantly identifiable and pinpoints responsibility for its installation.

As they feed more data into GIS – say, whether certain telecom companies or regions are more problematic – utilities can identify patterns and adopt proactive strategies to mitigate issues before they escalate.

Facilitating collaboration and data sharing

Different silos and systems can mire telecoms and utilities in miscommunications that produce inefficiencies, misunderstandings, and even risks.

Utility pole partnerships require utilities and telecom companies to work together. GIS-first data collection platforms instill both collaboration and transparency by offering a shared space for data input, access, and analysis. 

Access to the same, real-time information eliminates miscommunication and streamlines operations. Real-time data sharing means a telecom company can install pole equipment, triggering an automatic notification for utilities to schedule inspections or follow-ups, thus reducing response times and ensuring compliance. In case of disagreements between utility and telecom providers, time-stamped and geotagged GIS data provides clarity.

At a broader level, collaboration and data sharing make everyone a winner. Communities gain from more reliable services and companies save time and resources, all while boosting safety.

Securing accurate and rightful compensation

Utility companies cover pole installation and maintenance costs and, in turn, lease space to telecom companies. But with potentially billions in pole rentals at stake, traditional manual data collection and processing methods just won’t cut it. Accuracy in data collection and processing is essential when each inaccurately recorded piece of equipment translates to revenue loss.

GIS-first data collection platforms ensure that every change a telecom company makes to a pole is instantly recorded. This data-driven approach ensures that utilities accurately bill telecom companies for every pole change or piece of installed equipment.

GIS time-stamped and geotagged metadata means utilities always have a clear chronological and spatial view of every change, guaranteeing accurate billing cycles and helping resolve disputes.

Finally, with historical data at their fingertips, utilities can forecast future revenue, guiding strategic decisions, impossible without the rich datasets offered by GIS platforms.

GIS powers the future of utility pole partnerships

Only with a proactive, data-driven approach can utilities effectively navigate the shifting terrain of utility pole partnerships. Leading GIS-first data collection platforms like Fulcrum equip utilities with the data and methods to stay informed and operate smoothly, enjoying maximum benefit at minimal cost and disruption. 

As utilities and telecom come to rely on each other more each day, embracing the transformative potential of leading GIS-first software lays the foundation for profitable partnerships where everybody wins. To witness the wide range of data-driven insights Fulcrum can bring you, book a demo today.