Managing data information in the North WestArticle Title

Pioneering work over the last ten years in the use of geographic information systems by North West Water has been recognised by the Association for Geographical Information at its recent conference at the NEC in Birmingham. The award for conference papers illustrating ŒBest Practical Application' of geographic information, sponsored by MapInfo, was given for the paper delivered by Peter Mahon, North West Water's GIS business manager entitled ŒManaging data information at North West Water.'

The Association of Geographical Information (AGI) conference and associated exhibition is by far the largest event of its kind outside the United States ­ the AGI now boasts more than 1,000 members. The winning of the award for best practical application of geographical information systems (GIS), is an achievement that North West Water is justly proud of.

Looking more closely at some of the features of the systems at North West Water, it is possible to see the benefits that integrated systems bring to the business. For example the customer contact process relies on making a large amount of information available to customer services representatives when they need to answer specific queries from customers. Much of the information is geographic in nature and maps are used to supplement their local knowledge. Once a customer has been identified within the customer contact system, a map of their local area can be displayed while the customer is on the phone. This information needs to be displayed very quickly to prevent the customer having to wait. Maps provide access to large amounts of information such as current problems in the area, current work in the area and planned interruptions to supply.

Of particular interest is the ability of the system to detect events. Since every address has been located geographically, along with its relationship to one of over 2,000 district meter areas (DMAs) the system is able to keep track of the number of calls received from each DMA. When the system determines that the number of calls is outside normal parameters it automatically raises an alarm in the operational control centre for further investigation. Operations controllers can view the precise location of the call and any other calls from the area and along with telemetry information and with a possible call to the field, determines the cause of the problem.

The results of the investigations are posted on an electronic bulletin board that can be viewed by the staff in contact centre. The customer contact staff are prompted to view the appropriate bulletin any time a further call is received from a property within the DMA or its compliance zone. In this way customers are kept fully informed of the problem and what actions are being taken to resolve the problem. During the work scheduling process maps can be accessed showing the work area. This enables the scheduler to view work activity in the area and select work that is geographically close.

The 200 field inspectors now have a fully integrated mobile version of work management and GIS on a laptop computer. Each morning a list of inspections is downloaded to the laptop. The information provided includes details of the reported problem and the location including map references. Each night these laptops are downloaded directly into to main work management system with the results of the inspection.

When it comes to planning interruptions to supply, the GIS is used to identify the affected customers from boundaries provided from the inspectors laptop and pass the results to the customer and work management applications. When identifying affected customers the system recognises and reports on customers that have been defined as sensitive as for example a dialysis patient. This ensures that sensitive customers are given additional warning of an interruption to supply.

Each night some 1500-work orders are printed at the depots for the gangs to carry out work. Each work instruction now carries a mains record plot. The process of producing the plots is totally automatic thanks to the integrated GIS. Gangs are now better informed and have a useful map to mark up the changes to the network.

The above is just a flavour of the benefits that North West Water is gaining from its GIS, however things like network modelling, DMA design, new scheme design and network optimisation are all areas where digital data plays a significant roll in improved performance.

With the projects successful completion North West Water can now reflect on the lessons learned. North West Water has been nothing less than a pioneer in having demonstrated at sufficient scale the viability of GIS at the enterprise level.

As a result of the utilities long term commitment, GIS can no longer seen as a funny piece of technology that sits out on its own ­ it has been embedded in standard database technologies. With over 1000 users of digital data over 4 platforms the dream of GIS as a mechanism for the maintenance and distribution of geographic data across the whole of the business has become a reality.


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