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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