Maximillian Weber, senior vice president, Infrastructure, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division looks at GIS systems.

Today, utility and telecom companies must manage thousands of assets, such as poles, power lines, and substations, in real time. Many rely on legacy geographical information systems (GIS), most of which are not necessarily up to date or entirely accurate due to frequent changes in the landscape, meaning their current GIS map is not a true reflection of their current network.

As the networks of utilities and telecoms companies continue to grow and become more complex, new contractors’ design plans may not reflect what was constructed due to inaccurate information. Similarly, what might seem like a harmless dig might result in costly damage and customer outages. As such, to improve network operational efficiency, utilities and telecom companies need to adopt a more proactive tracking model.

The way forwards: geospatial asset management systems

It is imperative that utilities and telecom companies migrate from geospatial maps to geospatial asset management systems to improve network operational efficiency. Historically, outdated network asset records make it increasingly difficult to accurately manage network construction and maintenance or identify any issues that require immediate action. Considering these asset records must be up to date so that teams can match all energy network assets with real-time data, a shift towards geospatial asset management systems is vital.

An asset-centric system ensures not only the accuracy of asset locations, but also the accuracy of connections between those assets – essential for enabling better maintenance plans for utilities and telecoms companies. For example, such a system allows utility operators to gain insights not only into how many poles they have, but also what they’re made of and how often they need replacing. They’d also gain vital information that would inform them precisely how many homes and which ones would be affected if a substation were to fail and how to reroute the grid until repairs are made.

Similarly, for telecoms firms building out fiber networks, geospatial asset management systems can provide current network data for maintenance and operations, as well as delivering new designs digitally to construction crews, tracking materials used and noting changes made in the field that differ from the original design. As such, by adopting an asset management system, an organisation can move beyond a map to a true ‘relational digital twin’ of every aspect of its network.

Establishing one source of truth

Essentially, a geospatial asset management system gives network operators a single source of truth for their networks. Historically, only senior operators had complete access to live information, but now asset-centric systems enable engineers - tracking overall performance - and on-ground workers - accessing data on their smart devices - to have a complete overview.

With geospatial asset management, predictive maintenance analysis can guide timely maintenance of the network. In some cases, assets can last for 15 to 20 years, whilst others need replacing more frequently. Either way, the system has that data and recognises potential failures before they occur.

Whilst there is sufficient data to manage maintenance, there is more than enough in-depth data to manage the entire lifecycle of every asset on any network. For example, if an electric utility company makes plans to build a large voltage power line between two cities, the geospatial asset management system will offer engineers various planning and cost options for each. Once the planning is complete, the design and construction phase can commence monitoring maintenance requirements until the asset is no longer viable. 

The industry’s evolution

To ensure accurate network data in highly complex environments, the implementation of geospatial asset management systems is vital. Once an accurate digital twin is established, only then can companies access real-time data to meet the latest network and reporting requirements. Due to the technological evolution in utilities and communications, companies must make moving beyond maps a priority.