Moving to Utility Network

SSP Sync and Moving to Utility Network, Part 1: Overview and Preparation

October 6, 2017 — Adam Tonkin

Utility Network is Coming. Here’s What We Know Today about Moving to Utility Network

If you’re an Esri user from a utility who has been visiting or for the past year, attending Esri conferences, or really been anywhere near the internet, you’ve heard of the Utility Network. There’s a wealth of articles and information, both from Esri and here on the SSP site, on what Utility Network will bring. In short, the Utility Network represents the largest leap in Esri Utility technology and capability since ArcGIS 8.0 was released, over 20 years ago. Exciting times!

The geometric network created a foundation with which Esri customers could manage their transmission and distribution models effectively (often with the support of third-party solutions), and share data throughout their enterprise. However, there were limitations at the depth of which customers could model their network in an efficient user-friendly approach, in a way that could also support other systems in a way to take advantage of their capability. This was especially true for those systems that required an extra level of granularity of the network – such as analysis, operational or asset management systems – all of which benefit from a model that includes facilities often far too complex or detailed to represent on map, and/or to have users draw and maintain effectively.

UN provides not only the detailed model described above, but also different mechanisms to represent that data using containment views, integrated diagrams (formerly schematics) and powerful mapping capability. The UN also provides more powerful mechanisms to *relate* the data in the form of associations, such as connectivity (what items are connected in terms of a network), attachment (what items are attached to each other), and containment (what items exist within another), all of which no longer need a geometric or “physical” connection, nor a custom “relationship” to be created. These associations create a wealth of new capability available to users that traditionally required customized data models, customized code, or both.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Or perhaps more relevant – with great functionality, comes great complexity. While a number of utilities that SSP has has spent time with are extremely impressed and excited at what UN brings, there is also a great deal of apprehension of what the effort will be to move their data, integrations and – probably the most critical – their users across to the new platform.  This multi-part article describes how SSP is working towards making this transition easier, both in terms of planning and execution.


SSP Sync – Our Solution to a Complex Challenge


For this reason, SSP Innovations is investing in a solution we are branding as SSP Sync, which provides assistance to utility customers in their preparation and execution of the moving to Utility Network. Sync will allow customers to not only migrate their data to the new Utility Network model from a 10.2.1 geometric network based model, but also to “push” incremental changes made in the 10.2.1 environment after migration to the Utility Network model thus keeping both models “in sync.” Sync truly allows for a more gradual transition of the overall GIS environment than a traditional “big bang” migration would require.

At a very high-level, this solution will allow customers to:

   1) Perform an initial migration of their 10.2.1 data and evaluate the results, gaps, opportunities this presents and, if required, perform this task multiple times. 

   2) Keep their new Utility Network model up-to-date while continuing to use their 10.2.1 environment for Production users, integrations and processes. 

   a. Begin to trial new (and replacement) integrations, productivity tools and take advantage of new Utility Network-based capability.

   b. Gather feedback from users

   c. Prepare and execute training and organizational change managements activities for targeted groups. 

   d. Turn on specific integrations and user communities in the new UN environment while continuing to trial and validate others.

    3) Once all integrations (and users) are moved to Utility Network – a customer can disable SSP Sync, along with their 10.2.1 environment.

Of course, nothing in any of our environments is ever quite simple – every utility has a unique combination of users, data and integrations to other systems, often including custom solutions based on their needs. Next we’ll use a more detailed example approach in using SSP Sync to move towards Utility Network, and some of the considerations to be made at each step.


Moving to Utility Network: A Detailed Example of How You Could Migrate to Utility Network


To “set the stage” in our example migration to Utility Network, we’ll use an example or “simulated” Utility Network environment that you can hopefully identify with. As stated above there is no one-size-fits-all for a utility, but there are often common elements involved and, at a minimum, areas of capability to address.

moving to utility network The example utility GIS environment I’ll use is an electric utility which has a 10.2.1 model with a range of users:

  • Analysis Users: Users who typically operate in a read-only fashion, including those who create map products and/or use GIS to perform spatial and/or connectivity model-based queries, create reports, and perform other similar functions.
  • Edit Users: Users who make direct as-built edits (as opposed to “Proposed,” “To-Be” or “Design” based edits) to the geodatabase such as map corrections, data maintenance or other similar functions.
  • Design Users: Users that employ the GIS to support the design process and the creation of a construction print that is used by crews in the field. GIS usage for design often employs integration with a utility work management system (WMS).

Also in this example environment are a number of integrations to systems that are fairly standard in most Electric Utility environments:

  • Outage Management System – The system responsible for maintaining the operational state of the network in terms of switch states, energized/de-energized components of the distribution system, locations of current outages and which customers are affected, along with what crews may have been dispatched to resolve issues and their status. Components of this capability are now being complemented by and/or enhanced/incorporated into more advanced platforms known as “Advanced Distribution Management Systems” (ADMS). The GIS is responsible for providing a connected distribution model to the OMS platform.
  • Distribution Planning System – These systems are used to plan longer range modifications to the distribution system, by taking into account current (and projected) load at certain points on the network and applying various calculations that may include voltage drop and short circuit analysis, distributed generation modelling, capacitor placement and a range of other functions. The GIS is responsible for providing a connected distribution model to the DPS platform.
  • Work Management & Design Integration – The work management system (WMS) is typically responsible for a large range of work and resource management within a utility. When integrated with a GIS-based design solution, a WMS can support on-the-fly generation of cost estimates for what a proposed system modification may require along with status of work and the transition of assets and facilities from a “design” to an “as-built” state.

These represent only three of the integrations that may exist. There are often far more involving a customer information system (CIS), mobile workforce solution and others.

Finally, our example environment also includes an ArcGIS Portal instance which provides a simple browser-based view of GIS data to the greater staff population at the utility.


Moving to Utility Network, Step 1: Turning on SSP Sync and Building Your Plan!


Our first step as part of our migration to UN is to implement SSP Sync including an initial push of data to the target UN environment. This step obviously involves a mapping of features and subtypes to the new “Asset Groups” and “Asset Type” classifications along with the standard attribute/domain mapping to ensure our new UN model is ready to accept the 10.2.1 data. SSP Sync would then keep the UN model up-to-date with any subsequent edits to the 10.2.1 model after the initial data migration.

moving to utility network

This is more than likely an iterative process where we may determine that certain changes are required to: the UN data model, the Sync process and/or migration mappings, the 10.2.1 data model, or any combination of the three. Scripts and/or batch processes may need to be introduced, changes to editing processes made and even a flush and re-migrate introduced before we are satisfied that what is in UN reflects what we intended.

Beyond simply getting data in, this process provides a wealth of benefit to a utility in terms of understanding their data, socializing the impact of this to other groups/users, and identifying the impacts on systems already (or proposed to be) integrated with GIS. This can be invaluable input for planning and budgeting for the transition to UN appropriately. Questions such as:

  • “What is the roadmap for System X?” and
  • “Does System Y need to be upgraded to take full advantage of the advanced GIS model that UN can provide?”

… can be addressed at this stage, helping to better plan for not only the GIS related departments in the utility, but also other system owners whose technology will be impacted by the new platform.

Beyond the integrations and data, we can also examine our users’ receptivity to UN, ArcGIS Pro and the data model changes which are coming. Organizational change management (OCM) challenges can be identified early along with eager first adopters, who are excited to get involved and provide feedback on the solution. The traditional gap analysis can be far more thoroughly conducted with a real instance of the target technology utilizing real utility data.

Ultimately, the knowledge gained around the data, users, and integrations will enable us to construct a detailed plan (and, if required, a business case) around the overall program of moving to Utility Network. This plan will prove that we have a high level of confidence in the transition based on our understanding of both our source and target environments.

In part two of this article, we’ll talk about our next steps: implementing this plan!

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  • Will SSP Synch work with ArcGIS 10.4?
    Our plan is to get to 10.4 and then plan out a migration path to UN.
    Currently were on v10.3 so we can’t get back to v10.2

    • Hi Craig!

      Good question!  We plan to be able to use any 10.x version with Sync, so you’ll be in good shape. We typically reference 10.2.1 when discussing utility related implementations, as it’s Esri’s recommendation to remain until Utility Network (you can see their official statement here), so that’s why you’ll often see diagrams and blogs reference this version.

      Hope that helps!

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