GIS evolves into backbone for cooperatives

Insights from the NRECA

Kathleen Wolf Davis | Nov 29, 2012



A decade ago the industry acronym GIS brought to mind gas-insulated switchgear. Today, gas-insulated switchgear runs a far second to geographic information systems as the definition of that acronym. This modern GIS has transformed the utility landscape from traditional to cutting-edge, especially with smaller rural utilities and cooperatives.

 Originally put in place simply to replace old books and paper maps, GIS now benefits from an operational “creep” into other systems. Once the advantages became obvious, the uses for GIS began to multiply.

 “From an operational standpoint, GIS is the backbone for anything that has to do with mapping,” said Brad Hicks, principal transmission and distribution engineer for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “It’s used for a visual representation of their electric systems, but also for outage management, asset and vehicle tracking, right-of-way maintenance and electrical models. GIS has made almost everything easier.”

What started as a way to keep track of maps easier and change those maps quickly has morphed into an essential utility tool. Yes, those maps are now digitized, but few people understood a decade ago what having those maps digitized could mean. GIS allows for smarter, more up-to-date hardware and software management. Utilities now know--in many cases for the first time--what’s old, what’s new, what’s reaching the lifetime limit, what should last another 50 years. 

Hicks added, “From an asset management standpoint, GIS allows utilities to know every nut, bolt and washer installed in the field, which helps with inspections by creating a history of issues found and repairs made.”

Additionally, GIS has made the lives of field crews significantly easier, especially in outage situation. Dispatchers now know where the crews are in the field and which crew is closest to that outage. More significantly, GIS can track a utility’s best asset: the consumer.

Hicks revealed that a utility he worked for prior to his current stint with the NRECA has the GIS tied into the accounting system with map locations associated with customers. In a single-case scenario, the consumer calls in an outage, the outage management system (OMS) answers the call, identifies the phone number and links it to an account number (which is automatically linked to a map location number, resulting in the location popping up on the map). Additionally, if multiple consumers call in, the system can roll up the data together in a bundle along with asset and map information and predict locations for the outage. If, for example, five people on the same single-phase line call and report an outage, the system could predict the nearest up-line device with a problem, such as a fuse or a recloser. That’s invaluable, active, immediate information that would have taken much longer before this positive GIS creep across utility systems.

“Co-ops are always looking for ways to benefit from their existing equipment and information infrastructure,” Hicks said. “GIS has really fit that bill perfectly, becoming vital to so many parts of the cooperative.”

As far as future GIS “creep,” Hicks revealed the possibility of GIS tying into AMI systems, allowing for automated notification of meter outage for dispatchers and crew. And, as the GIS connects to more systems--and connects those systems more closely together--it becomes more and more valuable to rural utilities and cooperatives looking to serve their members in the most efficient way possible.

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We used ABB's CADOPS for our OMS and we used an ESRI-based GIS.  The accounting system we used was ATS ( which support the financial system and the customer information system.  The electrical model I developed was using CYMDIST with CYMDIST Gateway which provide the connection path to the GIS data and tables.  The gateway was also used for error checking when a new model was imported from the GIS to CYMDIST.  All equipment, including conductor types, sizes, etc., we predefined in the gateway so it enabled me to verify the edits made to the GIS were accurate and consistent with what was actually installed.  Your response time to outages is only as good as your GIS if your OMS utilizes that data.

OMS-GIS Integration

You can certainly interface ESRI GIS (ArcFM) to feed network connectivity model to GE PowerON OMS suite (part of SmallWorld). Let me know how I can help you with this interface planning.


V Rajsekar, Principal Consultant-Smart Grid/ SCADA/DMS
The Structure Consulting Group, Houston, TX

 We do it with an ESRI GIS,


We do it with an ESRI GIS, SPL/Oracle Outage Management System and integration with our Avaya IVR.

Hope that helps!

Tie between OMS and GIS

In the article you reference a former utility that Hicks worked for where OMS and GIS were tied together. I'm curious what systems were used. I'm currently part of a committee investigating how we can tie our ESRI GIS and GE Smallworld OMS sytems together and would appreciate some insight from anyone that has been able to accomplish this.