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Flexibility and scalability: Esri’s GIS integration for utilities data collection

By Linda Schwefel
August 10, 2023

If you are a follower of Fulcrum (and we hope you are!), you’ve probably seen our Esri announcements over the past six months or so, starting with our definitive commercial provider agreement and most recently talking about further Esri integration with a host of new features. But today we wanted to single out a couple of advantages to the Fulcrum-Esri pairing that don’t get enough press:  scalability and flexibility.  And as there’s no industry better to showcase these benefits, read on to learn more about GIS integration for utilities and how it optimizes both scalability and flexibility of their operations. 

Flexibility to define and customize GIS collection processes

Utilities often have the same focus as real estate: it’s all location, location, location. Where is the next line of wooden poles that need inspection? What’re the coordinates of the brush we need to trim back to maintain our right of way? Or even, where is the tree that fell, resulting in live wires writhing and spitting sparks on the monkey bars of a daycare playground? 

We contend that maybe not everything is about location. For example, you can get the coordinates of a problem, but that only tells a small part of the story. Do coordinates tell you about the conditions on the ground – is it wet, muddy, rocky? Or whether you’ll need a 4×4 to get to the site of the issue? 

Or how about prioritization? Coordinates can tell you the location of an aged wooden utility pole is located, but doesn’t reveal its condition. For example, will the pole last for another decade, or will the next swift breeze topple it into a backyard swimming pool

To get the context around the coordinates, you need to collect the data that goes along with the location. And, going a step further, you need data that is consistent, relevant, and complete. And the best way – really, the only way – to get this data is through Fulcrum’s customized data collection processes. 

Customized processes with Fulcrum

With Fulcrum, everyone can have a say in what data needs to be collected on site to inform decisions of follow-on activities. For example, your work crews doing maintenance or repairs will need to know the terrain and site conditions to ensure they come prepared to the site with the proper equipment. And your team leaders will need the on-site observations, photos, and videos to determine the work that’s to be done and assign the appropriate crew.

When it comes to GIS integration for utilities, Fulcrum collects the data that provides the context around the coordinates. Fully customizable for any field operation or data collection process, Fulcrum gives GIS a workable data framework. And when you’re able to make the data collection process your own, with customization down to the last detail, the GIS data becomes at once more relevant, useful, and, most importantly, actionable.

Fulcrum Esri GIS Integration for Utilities showing map of data viewer showcasing customization available Extend the value of your GIS data with Fulcrum scalability 

The second feature made possible by Fulcrum’s GIS integration for utilities is scalability. Imagine this scenario:  a powerful low pressure area stalls over an area in your utility’s coverage. The temperature hovers around 33 degrees, except for one area of about 100 square miles where it dips to 32, then 31. Ice forms on trees, weighing down branches until they bow, and break. Power lines are down, and the area goes dark.

You call upon other electric utilities to aid in the power restoration efforts. You also call up electrical utility partners and contractors to send emergency response teams. Then you’re faced with the next dilemma: how are you going to direct them?

Your siloed GIS data can’t be easily accessed. To get crews moving, you can print out maps where you mark where components that may be compromised are located, as our client GeoForce says can happen when dealing with “all hands on deck” emergencies.  Or you can send crews down the road, checking out any equipment they encounter. 

You can’t triage crews to check on equipment that’s older, or more likely to be affected. Instead, the field teams painstakingly track Sharpie-marked dots on a paper map. Or try to match coordinates using their phones to those printed out or relayed over the phone. Perhaps they just drive down the road, looking for sparks and hoping for the best.

And when problems are found, teams can map the coordinates in Esri. But then how is that data shared with other crews? What sort of data is communicated along with the coordinates to guide the work and priorities? With GIS software on its own, there are no good answers to these questions. Everything takes longer than it should, and teams scramble without a lot to show for it.

Get more from your data with Fulcrum

Let’s take a look at this same scenario, but using Fulcrum with its GIS integration for utilities.

The crews come in, and they have Fulcrum loaded up onto their mobile devices. All your Esri data can be accessed on each worker’s phone so they see where assets are located. Team leaders can direct each crew to a specific area, and triage efforts to locations most likely to be affected. Even in foul weather and darkness, the Esri locations are easily visible and locatable in Fulcrum so teams aren’t led astray, or miss anything. As Jeff Whitman, Network Solutions Advisor for client Celerity fiber and wireless contractor notes,These can be long distances — 190 kilometers, 200 kilometers — and we want our field technicians to be able to see the whole distance within a map. So we take the map we already have and import it into Fulcrum for them to follow.

And when problems are discovered, it only takes a finger tap to deliver the coordinates to Esri, capture photos and relevant data. From there, the data is shared with leadership and other crews for rapid tasking and response. 

In response to the marvel of technology that is GIS integration for utilities, the very heavens take notice. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds, and in the distant haze a jaw-dropping triple rainbow appears.

Landscape with power line and double rainbow across the sky

Well, maybe not that last bit. But Fulcrum’s ability to scale your GIS for other teams, companies, and purposes is awfully impressive.

Flexibility and scalability for the win

GIS integration for utilities with the Fulcrum and Esri platforms is not just a mere addition to the utility toolkit. Instead, it’s a transformational shift that enhances the way tasks are performed, decisions are made, and challenges are addressed.

Fulcrum’s adaptability empowers utilities to gather data in the field with precision, capturing the context beyond the coordinates. Customized data collection processes ensure you collect the right information, whether it’s terrain conditions, equipment status, or any other crucial detail. This dynamic flexibility eliminates guesswork and enhances decision-making, allowing utilities to execute tasks more efficiently.

In addition, Fulcrum’s integration with Esri gives GIS data the scalability to expand usage across tasks, crews, and organizations. Existing GIS data guides your field teams, while the data they collect feeds back into the GIS to update its information. 

Together, Fulcrum and Esri deliver a solution that empowers utilities to navigate complex challenges with confidence. From routine maintenance to emergency response, accurate data collection combined with rich geospatial insights results in smarter decisions and more effective outcomes.

And the only way to get the customized context that informs location – and the scalable usage through seamless integration – is with the pairing of industry-leading Fulcrum data collection with gold-standard GIS platform Esri. 

So, what are you waiting for? Sign up to learn more about what GIS integration for utilities can do for your operations. It’s fast, free, and fully capable of changing how you do utility field operations.  Get started today!