Utility Network checklist

Your Utility Network Checklist: Explore the Utility Network with Your Own Data

August 31, 2017 — Corey Blakeborough

SSP Innovations is staying at the forefront of the move to Esri’s new Network Management system, including and especially the Utility Network. Our goal for the past year and a half has been to help utilities like yours reach this destination. That’s why we created the Utility Network checklist.
There are many serious considerations (e.g., migration) around the implementation of this software. SSP is working actively not only to make you aware of these considerations, but also to help you address them every step along the way.

SSP first revealed our growing Utility Network solutions at the 2017 Esri User Conference, where we unveiled several new offerings. Now, we want to give you the ability to leverage these solutions, and explain how they will guide you through the steps of moving to the new system. Let’s talk about each of those steps in detail.

One additional note before we start: SSP has offered a lot of guidance in the past to help utilities and related network operators continue along the Esri roadmap to ArcGIS Pro. If you haven’t followed that roadmap yet, that’s okay. But you’ll want to, as those steps are prerequisites to the checklist we’re about to discuss. For a full refresher on the Esri roadmap for utilities, check your SSP ArcGIS pirate treasure map.

Once you’ve installed 10.2.1, your GIS portal, and ArcGIS Pro, you are ready to answer the very topical question: How do you actually move your system to Esri Network Management, including the Utility Network?

Move to the Utility Network from a 10.2.1 Geometric Network with SSP Sync

A lot of utilities and telcos are feeling pressure because this transition feels like a huge leap. At SSP, our goal in all these steps is to take that pressure away.

SSP Sync is a new product that allows you to continue editing at 10.2.1, while maintaining an active sync between your 10.2.1 database and the Utility Network.

SSP Sync takes an initial cut of your data into a Utility Network database. It then promotes daily edits from your live 10.2.1 environment to the Utility Network. This is monumental, as it allows you to start exploring the Utility Network using your current environment’s data. Soon, you will be ready to make a seamless switch, no matter what systems you intend to use with the Utility Network.

With SSP Sync set up, you can also start to analyze data in the Utility Network. You can even begin to implement or move your web editing patterns and system integration points over to the new published services from the Utility Network.

During this time, you are free to work at your own pace to make your Utility Network move a success. You can fix issues, transition your processes and workflows, and establish new use cases within the Utility Network — as gradually and carefully as you like. You can even go live with read-only data for integrations and customizations prior to going live with editing! SSP Sync ultimately helps you encourage successful change management and ensure your users feel confident working within the new world of Network Management.

With SSP Sync in progress, you can move to the next step.

Optimize Editing and Analysis in ArcGIS Pro with the SSP Productivity Toolbar

It’s important to be familiar with the new editing and analysis tools offered by ArcGIS Pro and the Utility Network. The core Esri product now includes features such as feeder/system management, templates, associations, and utility-specific tracing.

When SSP first encountered the Utility Network, we set out to help you more easily harness the power offered by the new Esri Network Management system.  However, our end result, the SSP Productivity Toolbar, will also allow you to accomplish much more.

The SSP Productivity toolbar is a seamless ArcGIS Pro add-in that is not context-sensitive, meaning you can access it at any time. With this added ribbon tab, core Utility Network and ArcGIS Pro functionality (including editing and subnetwork management) is streamlined and easier to use. Not only that, but you’ll also have access to game-changing productivity enhancements, such as visualizing associations, tracing with one click, and even managing and completing work.

SSP Productivity Toolbar Screenshot - Utility Network Checklist

Plan Your Data Migration with SSP Sync

The Utility Network data model supports a lot of great new features. It is also fundamentally different than what exists in a traditional geometric network. (For a detailed review of the Utility Network data model, please check out some of SSP’s articles on that topic, such as this one.)

With SSP Sync implemented, you can begin to visualize and analyze your data in your new Utility Network environment. This is important, because it will help you establish a plan of action.

At SSP, we recommend starting simple. First, convert your information into a basic Utility Network data model that doesn’t use as many bells and whistles. This lets you expand your model at a flexible pace, as your unique results stabilize. This method also lets you systematically target data issues and fix them in the geometric network. After each modification, the results will appear the next day in your Utility Network database via SSP Sync.

Alternatively, your data may be in a state where you decide that rebuilding your network might be preferable. We already know of one utility leaning to that option, after seeing their data in the Utility Network via the SSP Utility Network Jumpstart (though we do not anticipate that being a common scenario).

Ultimately, this incremental approach allows you to have confidence that your data is in the right shape to move to the Utility Network, and your migration will be ready to call complete without any further action.

Re-Evaluate Current Customizations and Integrations

A utility GIS typically has at least some customizations and integrations, if not a slew of them! Almost all of these customizations and integrations will require at least some rework or modification. In some cases, components from third-party vendors may be drastically changed or even obsoleted. Notably, SSP Sync will support any migration to updated versions of your existing components, including ArcFM™ if you so choose.

With that said, no matter what customizations you currently use, you should absolutely consider your migration to the Utility Network as an opportunity to revisit the market and evaluate potential alternatives. To put structure around this, we’ve grouped together the common customization and integration types your utility may want to look at.

Re-Evaluate Your Workflow Options

A utility’s work management system (WMS) is very often integrated to its GIS. If you already use SSP Lifecycle Work (formerly SSP Workforce Management, or WFM), you already have several paths forward, as SSP Lifecycle Work is pre-integrated to several graphic work design (GWD) tools (see below for our work with the Epoch Solutions tool). This is one more component in your arsenal that supports both your existing 10.2.1 geodatabase and Esri’s new Network Management system. If you use another WMS, you’ll want to determine whether an update or upgrade is being offered to support Utility Network before determining your best path forward.

Even with a WMS and GWD tool in place, you will still need ArcGIS Pro to edit your data in many scenarios. These include back office maintenance work, for instance, and completing as-builts from imported graphic designs. To help manage these needs, SSP will be providing a new workflow and enterprise repository within the SSP Productivity Toolbar, with the express purpose of managing work within ArcGIS Pro.

Whether or not you intend to use SSP Lifecycle Work as a full product for capital work management, you can use these components to manage all your GIS editing projects. This is a simplified version of SSP Lifecycle Work that will centralize your GIS work into one location, and help automate those very important but tedious enterprise editing tasks, such as managing versions.

Re-Evaluate Your Graphic Work Design Tool Options

EpochField - Utility Network ChecklistIf you have an existing graphic work design (GWD) tool, or you’re interested in one, there are some new and exciting options coming to the market. Since you’re already in the process of migrating your GIS as a whole, now is the time to begin thinking about your options for GWD tools and ensure that you are making the best choice possible.

At the SSP iLLUMINATE conference last May, our partner Epoch Solutions unveiled their GWD solution. Epoch’s solution supports all integration points common to utilities, including WMS (e.g., SSP Lifecycle, Maximo, SAP, Oracle).

SSP and Epoch are working closely together to ensure that the Epoch design tool is supported for both your current 10.2.1 ArcFM™ environment and¬ the coming Utility Network. This means that you can start by implementing the Epoch GWD tool in your current environment. When you utilize SSP Sync, and you’re ready to move your editing process to the Utility Network, your designers will be able to use the same GWD tool they have already experienced.

Re-Evaluate Your Integrations

When you move to the Utility Network, you’ll need to consider which non-GIS systems currently integrate with your 10.2.1 environment. Right off the bat, the most common utility systems SSP recommends reviewing include (but are not limited to) your OMS, ADMS, CIS, AMI, and Asset Management System.

As these systems evolve, so do the associated requirements for modeling associated GIS data. Mission-critical systems (e.g., OMS, ADMS) require a more complex data model that better reflects real-world representations. These requirements also drive a need for increased access and availability to your data. Esri’s Network Management system supports these needs.

If you do decide to go with SSP Sync, you’ll be able to incrementally assess the requirements of each of these systems by gradually increasing the complexity of your data model. Even if some of these systems are a little more distant in your company’s roadmap, starting to advance your Utility Network data model now will help exponentially with those integrations later.

Next, consider the effort it will actually take to rewrite your existing integrations. Each integration’s requirements and level of effort will be different. Thankfully, the Utility Network continues to offer new functionality that is helpful to integrations, such as the ability to extract connectivity information to JSON by feeder.

Integrations that use a service-oriented architecture (SOA) should require minimal effort to re-integrate. Point-to-point integrations that use ETL, tables, or other methods may require a more intricate approach. Either way, you should begin by reviewing every single integration point. Esri partners such as SSP can provide additional assistance with these integrations where necessary, and we hope you’ll reach out to us even to discuss your questions, concerns, and needs today, even if you’re not quite sure where to begin the conversation.

Once you evaluate your integrations and identify solutions, the next step is to stand them up one by one in your mirrored database for testing. You can wait to go live with these solutions until you are editing in the Utility Network, or you can switch over while your synchronized database is still read-only. Either way, you’ll be ready to make the full switch sooner than you think!

Re-Evaluate Your QA/QC Methods

A lot of customizations at today’s utilities intentionally restrict processes based on given QA/QC criteria. Some of these customizations may be handled inherently by the Utility Network’s configurable rules, and others may be obsoleted by the nature of the Utility Network. However, any other QA/QC customizations will need to be converted in order to move into the new world.

There is no single solution to converting these customizations. However, at SSP, we are identifying many common QA/QC scenarios we find at our clients, and we are building these directly into the SSP Productivity Toolbar. Any QA/QC customizations that do require conversion may feel a little different, since Network Management is platform-based and utilizes services for editing. However, these customizations will be able to be modified and thoroughly tested when paired with SSP Sync.

Re-Evaluate Your Reporting Tools

The Utility Network can give you a lot of reporting mileage out of its analytical and reporting tools. This includes network diagrams, the Utility Network’s built-in successor to schematics. While you may have to rewrite some of your reports, be sure to try out these built-in features before doing so. This could save you a lot of time and money in this portion of your migration.

Set Up Your Teams for Success: Change Management and Staff Training

Much of the reason why SSP developed SSP Sync as an incremental approach Utility Network migration was to alleviate the concerns our customer communities have been feeling about this migration. SSP Sync is specifically designed to help your utility slowly, steadily, and strategically move to the Utility Network. It allows your team to learn the Utility Network, become familiar with how their live data looks in the new environment, provide feedback, and feel confident before go-live. We believe that this approach effectively empowers your organization’s change management process.

Go Live with Editing!

At this stage, all of your hard work has paid off! Your users are familiar with their new workflows. Your data is shaped to meet the needs of your work within the Utility Network. Your integrations and customizations are already tested – and some may already be live within the Utility Network prior to this point!

To finish the process and go live with editing, simply disconnect SSP Sync from your target Utility Network database and retire your 10.2.1 database. By this stage, your projects, people, and processes have been prepared over time, and everyone should feel confident in their new working environment. We anticipate the flip of the switch to feel natural, controlled and, if we’ve done our job right, exciting.

Ready to Start Your Utility Network Checklist? Or Do You Just Want to Learn More?

Stay tuned for more information about the SSP roadmap to get you to the Utility Network painlessly. Meanwhile, feel free to reach out to SSP directly for any and all Utility Network inquiries. Today is not too soon to begin your first conversation.

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Corey Blakeborough

Corey Blakeborough is a Team Lead, Senior Consultant at the Utility & Telecommunications GIS consulting company SSP Innovations in Centennial, Colorado. Corey has over five years of experience with SSP, providing a variety of GIS and work management solutions.

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