Magazine Article | July 13, 2007

Mobile GIS Improves Utility Field Productivity

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, June 2007

Laurens Electric Cooperative (LEC) is a nonprofit, member-owned electric distribution utility in upstate South Carolina with more than 47,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers. In 2001, LEC determined that it needed to replace its computer-aided design (CAD)-based system with an enterprise GIS (geographical information system). LEC implemented GIS software from ESRI and its business partners Miner and Miner and MESA Solutions. The resulting solution enabled LEC to create a central database that was integrated with its customer information system/financials software and outage management system. The ESRI GIS solution helped LEC accurately track distribution assets for the first time. However, the utility still needed to expand GIS functionality in the field.

The traditional paper map books LEC crews used to locate assets in the field were costly and permitted only limited views of the service area. Any recorded data had to be painstakingly updated in the corporate database. This time-consuming routine led to out-of-date and inaccurate data. Also, once arriving at a service location, field crews needed to call into the office for information regarding the account in question, which led to dispatch radio traffic. LEC needed to find a solution to reduce radio traffic as well as improve data capture while seamlessly working with its existing GIS. "We're constantly looking for new ways to take advantage of our enterprise GIS and extend it," says James Owens, GIS supervisor for LEC. "We recognized that deploying GIS in the field would lead to more accurate, up-to-date information and reduce the time and resources needed to update data in the office."

LEC implemented a mobile mapping solution from ESRI, called ArcPad. ArcPad provides mapping, GIS, and GPS (global positioning system) integration to field users via handheld and mobile devices. MESA Solutions customized ArcPad to meet LEC's requirements, such as creating a geodatabase-to-ArcPad extraction tool. The solution also enables LEC's field workers to capture inspection and maintenance records. The captured data is then imported into the ArcFM (a utilities mapping extension to the enterprise GIS from Miner and Miner) geodatabase for reporting and tracking purposes. The resulting mobile application based on ArcPad is called Field Viewer and runs on HP Compaq 7010 laptops.

With Field Viewer, LEC's field crews can now view their entire service areas while in the field, use the most accurate and up-to-date service data available, and upload data to the enterprise GIS architecture. This workflow has increased productivity and operational efficiency for LEC, while reducing dispatch radio traffic.