The need: In mid-2013, Memphis Light Gas & Water (MLGW) was working through a project to plan the replacement of their legacy electric, gas, and water meters. As part of the meter replacement project, MLGW wanted to gather additional data about the new meters as they were installed to enable other processes within the organization including future service visits, customer complaint management, service planning, and of course, GIS.
The background: MLGW is the nation's largest three-service municipal utility, serving nearly 421,000 customers. Since 1939, MLGW has met the utility needs of Memphis and Shelby County residents by delivering reliable and affordable electricity, natural gas and water service.
The Challenge: Using ArcGIS Online for Meter Mapping
In 2013, MLGW began searching for an application that would allow them to collect:
- GPS - Latitude/Longitude in WGS 84
- GPS - X/Y in local Tennessee Stateplane
- Basic attribution of the meter being installed, such as the customer premise number, service number, install date, and installer name
- Up to 6 pictures of each location detailing the old meter, the empty socket after the meter had been removed, and the new meter after the installation has been completed
Most of the data would be fed directly back into GIS and the customer information system (CIS) and the pictures would document the process of the meter changeout and could also be used to view the asset location from the back office and to document the state of the installation when the crew left each premise.
SSP Innovations had an opportunity to sit down with Michael Faulk, MLGW's Supervisor of CIS/GIS, to review the requirements and to demonstrate the capabilities of Esri ArcGIS Online via our similar field implementations at Hart EMC and GP&L.
While other solutions were being considered, ArcGIS Online quickly became the front runner because it leveraged MLGW's existing investment in Esri technology, including ArcSDE and ArcGIS Server. The company already had an ArcGIS Online subscription as part of their Esri Enterprise License Agreement (ELA), which further drove the decision.
The only remaining item was to implement the solution and roll it out to 50 field users before the changeout field project commenced in January of 2014.
The Solution: ArcGIS Online, iPhones and SSP
In November 2013, SSP Innovations began a project to implement a DMZ-based, internet-facing ArcGIS Online application that would allow the field users to collect data wirelessly. The original target devices were going to be iPads or another tablet device, but that scope was quickly decreased to iPhones to conserve budget.
MLGW provided 50 company iPhones that had data plans on a local cell provider as well as WiFi access. As part of a related project, a new Tropos wireless network will also be deployed throughout the service territory. As this network comes online it will allow the iPhones to connect to the MLGW network with increaased WIFI bandwidth.
SSP worked with MLGW to establish the required GIS feature classes to collect data for each meter type as well as domains/picklists to make the collection process as automated as possible. Basic symbology was assigned and the new features were published via ArcGIS Server on the DMZ box.
The DMZ pattern was used for several reasons. First to enable editing of ArcGIS Server feature services, the server must be accessible to the internet. This is because editing in ArcGIS Online actually uses ArcGIS.com as an edit proxy (see the architecture below).
MLGW, however, wanted to keep the rest of their data secure, so the desire was to only expose the editable feature classes via the DMZ. The rest of the reference read-only data would continue to be served by their authoritative internal ArcGIS Server instance which existed behind the firewall.
The following architecture diagram outlines the solution:
Adding in SSP Nightly Batch Suite:
This combination of utilizing authoritative GIS data from behind the firewall alongside publicly exposed, editable GIS data has become a popular implementation model that provides both the security and flexibility required by many utilities.
To bring the field-collected data full circle, SSP implemented an SSP Nightly Batch Suite application that would replicate the data from the DMZ ArcGIS Server into their authoritative geodatabase on a nightly basis. The replication includes all spatial, attribute, and picture data. The data can then be exposed to the rest of the internal organization including CIS via database views, etc.
SSP used our existing patterns to build the WebMaps containing the backdrop utility data, the editable feature services and a custom base map service using MLGW's landbase data. The users can switch between the custom base map and the Esri hosted base maps interactively as needed to view imagery or public landbase data. The data is then exposed to the users via their ArcGIS Online logins within the Esri iOS "green" app.
The meters are collected via the standard iPhone edit screens along with the pictures of each asset type. The data is entered as the installations take place in the field, which does not require a follow up site visit.
The Results: Great User Adoption, But Would MLGW Pick iPhones Again?
Production usage of the application began in January and we recently had a chance to catch up with both Michael Faulk and the technical lead on the project, Andrew Jack, to ask how the rollout was going. The following is a summary of their feedback.
"The users have caught on to the use of the application very quickly and are doing a great job. Many users were already using smart phones and therefore they adapted to the iPhone app very easily. At first during training there was some push back on using the application. But as the users began using the app in the field and realized how easy and repetitive the steps were, they quickly got on board," Faul said.
"Generally speaking, the iPhone has not been the ideal device - the GPS isn't quite as accurate as they'd like and the batteries seem to drain relatively quickly (MLGW has provided chargers in the trucks to assist in this area). The pictures, however, have been very high quality - they allow the back office team to review the meter sockets and the final installation of the meters at each location. If a customer ever calls in to complain about damage to the property, MLGW can pull up the pictures instantly to show the final state of the job.
"With regard to the use of ArcGIS Online, MLGW stated that this application has been a good starting point for future mobile GIS enterprise applications because it has quickly shown the benefits and ease of use of the technology. This implementation will benefit multiple areas by capturing the meter information - a simple and easy-to-use application."
SSP implemented this solution for MLGW in approximately two weeks during November of 2013. This included:
- Building the DMZ server
- Configuring the firewall access
- Writing and configuring the SSP NBS application to replicate and report on the data
- Publishing all map and feature services
- Creating and Exposing ArcGIS Online WebMaps
- Establishing ArcGIS Online groups and user accounts
- Testing the application
This was a fast and successful implementation which allowed MLGW to reap the benefits of the technology with a significant ROI. According to Michael Faulk:
"For MLGW, being able to contract SSP Innovations to implement a solution in two weeks' time at a reasonable cost helped us tremendously. Being able to implement a TOTAL solution in two weeks was just great."
SSP Innovations is an Esri ArcGIS Online Specialty Partner focused on bringing the power of the new Esri Platform to its utility and telecom customers. Ron Clapman, Esri's Industry Partner Manager for Utilities, commented:
"As one of the first ArcGIS Online specialty partners, SSP Innovations has provided significant thought leadership surrounding the design, architecture, and implementation of ArcGIS Online for electric, gas and water utilities throughout our user community."