The Utility Network Advantage Program –Why, What and How?

January 17, 2018 — Mehrdod Mohseni

It’s been said that with added functionality comes complexity… and while that may be true, it does not necessarily mean that it should be avoided. After all, our lives have become significantly more complex with the advent of every new technology innovation, but the end result has also made our time much more efficient and enjoyable in many ways.

At the risk of dating myself, I still remember the days when I had to carry around a pager and then find a landline to respond back to a numeric message before even knowing what was needed, or how to go about responding to the need. Yes, it was a very simple device that on rare occasions needed a new battery, with no fancy OS or sophisticated user interface… almost anyone could learn how to operate one in a matter of minutes, while the actual benefit of being able to respond to a need took much longer than any millennial (or generation X’er for that matter) would find acceptable today.

So, while technology continues to become more complex, I would argue that it’s well worth the added benefits gained in the long-term. The trick is to figure out how best to go about making the necessary adjustments to our current processes, data and technology so we can truly recognize and appreciate the long-term benefits.

THE WHY NOW?

By now, you’ve heard of Esri’s new ArcGIS Utility Network Management Extension (i.e., the Utility Network). There’s a wealth of articles and information out there on what the Utility Network will bring. In short, the Utility Network represents the largest leap in Esri utilities technology and capability since ArcGIS 8.0 was released over 20 years ago. The Utility Network has the potential to create a positive, transformational shift for stakeholders across the enterprise. With advanced network modeling and analytical capabilities, you’ll be able to manage your network with greater insight than ever before.

With the first production release out in a matter of days, the time is now to get ready to take your business to the next level. But before you take that big step, you also need to be prepared to answer many questions around your existing data and enterprise architecture. Questions such as ‘What major applications do we use today for customer service, electric distribution planning, engineering, and operations that could benefit from implementing the Utility Network?’ ‘What new applications or enhancements are planned for the next few years that could see additional benefits from the Utility Network?’ ‘How do existing projects fit in to the “to-be-defined” architectural vision?’ ‘What new interfaces or interface enhancements are planned for the next few years?’ This list goes on.

All of these inquiries lead to the bigger question: What should I be doing today to ensure I can safely transition to the Utility Network and get the most value from my GIS in the next decade?

That big question requires some further evaluation.

THE WHAT?

We know that the Utility Network is coming, and as a utility GIS community we have an opportunity to make it a transformational and positive shift for all the stakeholders across the utility enterprise. But there are some best practices to be considered when developing an overarching Utility Network transition strategy in support of your enterprise’s business planning and operations decisions. To that end, we have created a unique and distinguished services package called the Utility Network Advantage Program (UNAP) which is now available to address this critical and time sensitive industry demand.

Leveraging the partnership’s differentiated skillsets around data integrity, complex technology deployments and operational planning know-how, the program is designed to tailor to your organization’s specific needs for understanding and planning key steps required to mitigate potential risks and challenges for an overarching ArcGIS Platform and Utility Network deployment strategy. Specific focus is placed on how best to align user and business needs to achieve key business, technology and operational objectives.

As the end user of the Utility Network – the one most impacted by this transition – you need to ensure key business needs are identified up front to determine the ArcGIS Platform and Utility Network upgrade architecture and functional capabilities; determine and prioritize the critical success factors, such as data integrity and cleansing requirements for streamlining the transition process; and establish a comprehensive deployment plan for budgeting and sequencing the spatial data, technology, organizational, governance, staffing, and associated process changes based on your specific business requirements.

This is not a “cookie cutter” approach that any consulting or technology firm can address. It requires a truly solution-oriented approach by a partner who starts every discussion with a commitment to learn the nuances of your unique business and workflow challenges, before recommending the very best, objective and unbiased solution designed for your circumstances. Every step of the way – from assessment and planning through design, implementation, and final go-live operations – needs to be vetted to ensure your projects remain on track and your technology performs effectively throughout its designed lifecycle.

It is also important to note that one of the critical success factors of the UNAP program involves effectively engaging all stakeholders across the enterprise who will be involved with Esri’s new Utility Network going forward. Throughout the process of performing the assessment and creating your Utility Network Transition Strategy, you must engage stakeholders and capture the envisioned ArcGIS Platform and Utility Network upgrades for meeting the business needs. Discovery and documentation of these factors through personal interaction is vital to adequately drive and design the transition roadmap. This transition requires an important organizational change management effort including close collaboration with your organization’s change management team to ensure adequate steps are taken across the enterprise for the successful integration of the technology into your business workflows.

THE HOW?

The Utility Network Advantage Program approach for planning and implementing the ArcGIS Platform and Utility Network is typically composed of 2 phases, including:

  • A planning phase involving the creation of a comprehensive Utility Network Transition Strategy & Roadmap
  • An implementation phase focused on
    • The data design, correction and migration
    • Utility Network and ArcGIS Pro implementation and integration
    • Application and editing tools development

Spend a little time upfront to DISCOVER

The initial step for UNAP helps you with discovering your project’s unique requirements and feasibility of success. During this stage, a detailed assessment is conducted to determine what is needed to make your project successful. This is the first step of any critical undertaking to identify requirements and recommend a strategy and roadmap that leaves you with an optimized solution.

Next, think about your PLAN

Following the discovery step, a strategic execution roadmap for your project must be developed to ensure the solution you desire is the one you get at the end. This means writing out everything required of your resources, action steps, and stakeholder communication — before the work begins. This critical strategic planning step helps you mitigate project risk and clarify scope and expectations by all stakeholders across the organization.

Finally, time to do some DESIGN

With a plan and vetted roadmap in place, you can begin to identify the detailed design for your solution. Having partners with domain expertise is key here to help you develop the most efficient design, quality control measures, and acceptance criteria for the entire project. This ensures not only successful project execution but also minimal risk or disruption to your business. This is where the complexity of new technology implementation is addressed, and also where adequate design plans are put in place, so you can feel comfortable with the transition when the time comes.

Are we ready to IMPLEMENT?

As the build phase of your project begins, you’ll need a good partner, who has experience with both the planning and implementation phases – one who will work tirelessly to ensure it stays on schedule and aligned with the original target goals. After all, the last thing you want is someone who creates a nice plan for you based on a commitment to a vision for the future, and then hands it off and wishes you good luck with implementing it on your own.

Having a partner that not only understands the challenges but has successfully undertaken major technology implementations is critical to the success of any complex project. The Utility Network Advantage Program is designed with this key concept in mind. We work side-by-side with your project team from design through final staff training to ensure your project remains on the right track.

And finally, let’s not forget Post Go-Live Operations

As your systems go live, you should expect to have your partner continue working with you to make sure your technology is functioning correctly and meets the original intent of your investment. They need to be there to help you create the best practice plans and procedures related to any on-going training needs, maintenance, and future upgrades or enhancements related to your deployment. This is the final step we use to ensure your investment is safeguarded throughout its lifetime.

While all of this may sound daunting (or even scary), if you choose wisely and select the right partner to help you navigate through the complexities and risks, you’ll find that the end results are well worth the time and effort… remember the old pager example in the beginning of this article? Ask yourself: do you want to find yourself still carrying an old pager around because it was so simple to use, or do you prefer to use that cool and fancy smart phone which, while it requires some time getting used to, is now even more securely attached to your hip?

Utility Network Advantage Program

SSP has designed the Utility Network Advantage Program in such way to ensure the best chance of success, building on years of actual hands-on-experience with the Esri technology. We would love an opportunity to prove it to you today!

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Mehrdod Mohseni

Vice President, Consulting More by this author

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