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RESPONSE: Letter to the Editor

By [email protected] - 27th October 2006 - 09:23

Dear Editor,I read with interest the article you published in a recent edition, where Bill Meehan of ESRI wrote regarding Transforming Utilities and felt that both Billâs observations and conclusions warranted some response.[Ed. - See article "Transforming Utilities" July/August 2006]
The Utilities are significant consumers of our technology and whilst GIS technology is not considered âat the Heart of the Businessâ, it is a key information source that is often used by a significant majority of the user community.I would however acknowledge that not all regions are at the same level of maturity as say the USA and Europe but many of the more recent converts to GIS are learning from previous implementations and are therefore avoiding the pitfalls encountered by the pioneers of Utilities GIS.One of the interesting assumptions made by Bill, is that if your application is not tightly integrated with the rest of the business then the best solution is that of major surgery. This with the underlying message that the application currently deployed within the business needs to be cutout and replaced with the latest in GIS technology. This is somewhat of a utopian outlook and one that does not find favour with many Utilities, who look for long-term stability of their support systems.The Upgrade TreadmillIt also reflects one of the issues, which I believe that the Utilities have with the GIS industry, namely that every few years the software vendors introduce a âmust haveâ next release of their application. There is then a period of time after which the current software is no longer automatically supported by the vendor, with the Utilities left with the options to implement a costly upgrade of their GIS environment or to submit to extended support contracts.Many of the GIS deployments in the Utilities would be considered old by most GIS vendors, working on older versions of the software (as they often can be) but the keyword we need to consider is âworkingâ, yes, these applications may not be the latest and have all the bells and whistles available in the latest software but the business does gain significant benefit from these implementations.As Vendors we need to understand the impact of a major change to a system. Most Utilities GIS systems are embedded into the IT infrastructure and whilst from a software suppliers perspective itâs âjust a software upgradeâ, for the Utility the upgrade will affect many systems together with the related interface and almost certainly impact on the support contacts for this system. You could consider any impact on a large Utility to have almost a domino affect on the systems with one change rippling through to the next.Another observation Iâd like to make is that often in a Utility the various GIS applications for example web access, mobile solution and network analysis are based on different GIS platforms. Each of these specific applications are often integrated with systems that fulfill a specific business process (for example, Mobile GIS and Works Management Systems), whilst the desktop GIS would be integrated with the Analysis tools. So when Bill indicated that for the lack of integration between different GIS systems an opportunity was lost, then heâs correct. However and it is important to highlight, the potential that the flexibility and in-built interoperability of the various GIS, will enable the business to answer the majority of the questions raised, without the need for replacement of existing GIS systems.Donât forget the dataOne of the topics not discussed as part of the article was the growing importance of the data in a modern Utility. The last few years has seen a very significant rise in the volume of data availability which, has in turn, allowed Utilities to develop even more sophisticated solutions.The Utilities are in many ways leading the use of GIS as well as pioneering the integration of GIS into their other business systems and whilst many would share the utopian view expressed by Bill, the real world situation is that the Utilities have to sweat their assets before performing any renewals. And their GIS systems are considered as a key business asset.Consequently without them achieving the required return on investment the concept of replacing the GIS with the latest and greatest, whilst being a great idea, the reality is that the business will have to wait for a compelling event before making substantial investments in upgraded technologies.Vendors of both application and data need to be more aware of the Utilities GIS cycle and act appropriately in terms of thrusting new technologies onto users. And while we all want the latest and greatest technology, I remember a long discussion with a Utility some years ago, who after a long GIS technology selection process, came to the conclusion that most GIS technologies were very similar in terms of capability and observed that in his experience the average Utility seemed to only utilise 15% of the available functionality.So when a software or application provider looks to propose the latest system and technologies to their Utilities clients, it may be worth looking at the impact that such changes will cause and what would be the business impact. Iâd suggest that in most cases the actual business impact is minimal. Thatâs not to say that upgrades and system replacements should be off the agenda but rather that the approach needs to be more evolution rather than revolution and be based on real world requirements.Certainly an example relevant to this approach, as we speak, is the phasing out of OS Landline, with Utilities having to address the issues regarding introduction of OS MasterMap and addressing PAI issues.Utilities are some of the most innovative users of GIS, which is a technology that is clearly at the heart of their business. So lets look at their issues, rather than our technologies!Yours,Kevin Challen,Business Development Manager â UtilitiesInfotech Enterprises Europe

Author: Kevin Challen

Bio.: Business Development Manager â Utilities

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