"Obtaining Corporate Benefits from an AM / FM / Geographic Information System on a stage by stage programme in an Organization"

Paper by R. McMillan,
previously Executive Director of AM/FM International, European Division
and a Senior Manager in a UK Regional Electricity Company


Most Utilities have many separate databases or information systems within their organization, all of which can be related on a geographical basis. The major cost and time scale elements are involved with data acquisition and conversion activities.

With the development of AM/FM into GI Systems many companies attempted to integrate all these separate systems into a single centralised database. This approach, in many cases resulted in significant problems during the conversion process due to the initial customisation of the separate databases. In addition, this usually resulted in very high costs to convert all databases to a compatible format.

The paper describes an alternative approach which is to undertake a stage by stage process of selecting individual databases for integration. This method can provide benefits and a payback to the company across functional departments over a shorter period than tackling full integration or total conversion to a new format at the beginning of the project.


Situation in Europe

Since the mid 1980’s many European countries have decided to change Legislation to allow their Nationalised or State funded organizations to be sold in full or part to the Private Sector. Others countries made the decision to deregulate some or all of their utilities and introduced competition by taking away the existing national or regional monopolies.

In the United Kingdom a programme to privatise all utilities was initiated, firstly, Water followed by Telecommunications, Gas and Electricity. These Privatised Utility providers are monitored by separate Regulators who have significant powers to exercise control over their activities which include some or all of the following: service prices, rate of return on investment, operational performance and levels of customer service. These performance levels are reviewed and set at regular intervals of five years. Penalties are imposed when agreed levels are not achieved. Regulators are encouraging competition to develop in controlled stages until full de-regulation takes place between 1998 and 2000.

There is also the de-regulation and liberalisation in telecommunications which is taking place throughout the European Community also due to be complete around the year 2000.

Technical situation in Utilities

Most European Utilities had in their organizations many mapping or facility management systems which had been developed separately to meet the requirements of functional departments.

This situation resulted in many technical and operational difficulties when total or partial integration between two or more systems was required:

Market Forces

The need to respond to the impact of Regulators, Liberalisation and De-Regulation and meet shareholders expectations is driving the utilities to continually seek improvements in efficiency and customer service level. At the same time they need to achieve reductions in the cost of providing their services to meet the growing competition.

Impact of changes on Shareholders, Customers and Staff,

a. Shareholders

b. Customers

c. Staff

d. General

There are many approaches that utilities can take to achieve reductions in cost and improvements in customer service etc. whilst achieving regulatory standards.

A 66United Kingdom utility example

Previous situation in that company

The company concerned was one of the 14 Regional Electricity Companies who supplied electricity to customers in their franchised Areas of the United Kingdom. This company supplied 2.1 m. customers spread across an area of 12,500 sq. kms through a complex network comprising 57,000 kms. of network and 30,000 units of switch gear and transformers operating at voltages from 132000 to 240 volts

Eighty percent of their information relating to the distribution system and customers was geographically related. The key elements were the details of substation equipment (Plant) held in a central computer system and the distribution network information (Circuits) held in a paper based "mains record system".

Plant information was held on a central main frame computer system which was introduced over 20 years ago. It consisted of two separate files which held 250,000 items of information:

equipment at all voltage levels.

Circuit information was held on 210,000 individual mains record drawings plus numerous other plans and diagrams. There was growing concern about the state of these records because:

11 and 6.6 kv systems had already been digitised and referenced to OS grid references but only at a very high scale. The system contained network layout and all circuit characteristic attributes but did not hold background maps .

Limitations of their previous systems

Data associated with the distribution network was held on a multiplicity of media including the mainframe computer & stand alone PC's utilising many different formats, paper network records, microfiche and paper documents all of which are separately maintained.

Approach to GIS

For several years the company had realised the potential benefits of a GIS system and had considered several application packages.

Pilot Study and Proving Trial

A pilot study code named NORGIS was carried out which showed that a GIS system was technically feasible. As other companies had found the problem of introducing GIS is the high cost of initial data capture and integrating the many separate existing systems and databases. In the company’s case, the location of electrical circuits was held on approximately 11,000 Ordnance Survey based map records in various formats. There were also 58,000 units of overhead equipment and approximately 250,000 documents associated with the circuit records.

A proving trial was undertaken as a joint project with three Vendors and it clearly demonstrated that such a GIS system was technically feasible but confirmed the difficulty of providing a positive cost benefit within a short timescale.

The pilot system digital mapping was based on SUN workstations and Alper Systems Records software which had been tailored to the company’s specific requirements . That system was capable of handling both OS vector and raster map backgrounds in a coherent manner. Scanned drawings can be and held in the system for viewing along with the network data. The software integrated with the Planes" Plant and Circuits" package allowing the exchange of network and plant data between the SUN and the mainframe computer. From these trials a project

was developed which could provide the cost benefits required.

Cost Benefit

Although the cost benefit for a total system was difficult to prove, it was considered that a case could be cost justified for a selected portion of the total network. Following detailed analyses the Overhead Network was selected.

It was subsequently demonstrated that the development could provide positive payback to the company within a period of 3 to 4 years.

This paper also describes:

Why consider the Overhead networks only

The overhead section of the network comprises 14,700 kms of wood pole and steel tower lines connecting 15600 substations supplying 269000 customers. The asset value of that section of the network was £330 m with a significant annual expenditure on maintenance and asset information activity. It involved over 350 staff and was therefore a large system with considerable costs and significant numbers of staff with potential for improvements.

Additional factors included the following:

Circuit information was held on a relatively small proportion of records at a large scale. (1:2500).

Digitising would be easier as overhead lines generally run individually and not in groups as underground cables. They were shown on records as a series of straight lines going from support to support. Thus, sophisticated Line-Following techniques would not be necessary.

Overhead lines whilst cheap to construct, relative to underground cables, require constant maintenance. A GIS system for overhead lines would therefore have a greater potential of payback.

A major requirement of the proposed system was that it should integrate with other databases in their existing format.

Systems feeding information into every activity of the Business

The existing stand alone systems which hold all the definitive information about the characteristics and location of our Distribution Business network assets are the Plant File holding over 58,000 items on O/H equipment and maintenance records, mains records comprising 11,100 map-sheets encompassing 1000's of items held on a range of media including paper documents (line patrol books), microfiche and micro computer systems. The information contained in these systems supports the whole range of Distribution Business activities from the complex 132 kv network down to individual customer service connections. These activities operate two way via Work Management Processes and are either Customer initiated or initiated by the Company for the benefit of the Customers.

The information process

Staff in the three main sections, System Planning, Construction, Maintenance and Repair have to access each of these separate information systems as necessary to plan schemes, initiate work instructions and other documents to carry out capital site construction or diversionary work, collate patrol and inspection reports prior to preparing maintenance programmes and schedules of work etc. This involves approximately 100,000 plans and records being accessed each year.

Limitations of existing systems

Mains Records last redrawn in total 1968-78, were costly to maintain.

Records were deteriorating in quality and accuracy.

Lack of security of information.

Systems were separate and isolated.

Plant file costly to modify,

Did not support customer service needs effectively.

What were the Objectives

a. Reduce costs.

b. Improve Management of assets

c. Meet customers changing needs.

d. Improve safety performance.

e. Meet new regulatory and statutory requirements.

The chosen approach

Following on from the work done nationally by the Electricity Council initiative on the "Genesis Project", the results of their Project Proving Study and the experience of other utilities, it was concluded that a full blown Geographic System for all of the Distribution networks was not viable due to the high costs and risks associated with data capture of the highly complex underground network.

They therefore, required an solution which:

Integrated systems feeding information into every activity in Distribution

They therefore chose the "OHMS" project (OverHead Management System) which provided a low risk solution to resolve several aspects of these limitations without commitment to a large complex high risk solution. It also provides a complete management system for the overhead network and provided an opportunity to gain significant experience in data capture.


The proposed implementation programme was low risk since a prototype had been developed successfully during the proving study.

The proposal was to implement the system in controlled stages into regions of the company on a phased basis over a period of two years. There was a commitment to strong project management with reviews at planned stages in adherence with a Computer Services Quality Scheme.

Discounted Cost Benefit

The Discounted Cost Benefit (Risk Adjusted) was calculated to become positive during year 4.

Customer Benefits

The benefits would be improved lead times for customer requests. These will arise from easy instant access to network information for staff dealing with new supply requests, service alterations, diversions, voltage complaints and give quicker restoration of supplies post fault. The system will be a facilitator in enabling staff to achieve regulatory standards, thereby improving our overall performance to the customer.

Benefits for Company

The proposed System will provide:

a. cost reductions in operations

b. enhanced management of overhead assets

c. enhanced overhead line maintenance work planning

d. enhanced enquiry and update of O/H plant data

e. improved safety performance

f. automation process for the production, reproduction and updating of maps and overhead network records

g. instant access to detailed maps, overhead line circuits and plant information

h. improved decision making and standard of work instructions

i. use "Windows" base to exploit technology with other systems.

j. integration with other linked systems to

"add value to them"

What the implemented OHMS system achieved

The System has provided:

Computerised mapping for overhead network

All the overhead records are held in raster and vector formats on suitable work-stations at various offices throughout NORWAY. These records are capable of being modified and updated on screen thus eliminating paper records. For working copies in the field, suitable prints of the selected section of the map records can be made.

A link to the Wood pole and Tower databases.

Although previous records showed the route of an overhead line and the presence and position of the supports, there was a limit to the amount of information that could be shown on a paper record or screen. The company had for some years held detailed wood pole and tower information in a database on local PCs. This will be linked into OHMS enabling detailed information to be obtained via a geographical type enquiry. The Wood pole database also holds information on various defects with the Overhead network. The linking of these defects with the relevant circuit for the planning of remedial work is of major use to another IT project, Work Management.

A link to the Plant File database.

The company holds information on Plant in all substations including items on the overhead system in a Plant File database on the mainframe computer. This will also be linked to OHMS enabling enquires on a geographical basis.

A link to DINIS

DINIS takes a copy of the high voltage electrical system, converts the physical length of the circuits into electrical parameters and used that to determine load flow, fault level and other design and operational requirements. Most of the high voltage network has already been digitised for DINIS, however it was done at a large scale and was not accurate enough for a circuit record. Ultimately to avoid duplicating system alterations on both Mains records and DINIS, it desirable that any alteration to the system in Mains records automatically updates the DINIS product.

To increase the utilisation of the DINIS workstations they will be adapted to be Enquiry units to OHMS.

The underground networks

Although OHMS was primarily concerned with the overhead system they could not ignore the underground system. Overhead lines have sections of underground cables where they cross particular obstructions such as Motorways etc. Also where an overhead line connects into a substation the last portion is usually underground. It would not be efficient to eliminate a paper system for the overhead but require to maintain it for a small proportion of underground. Therefore OHMS had some underground cables digitised giving them experience with an underground system which will prepare them for any future total system GIS..

Data capture

The method of Data capture was to scan all the existing Overhead Mains records and construct a raster format map base. This included the overhead and underground circuit information in raster format. The circuit information was then vectorised and the appropriate databases populated with the relevant information. At the same time links were established from each support to its equivalent wood pole/tower database entry and the plant items were linked to the plant file database. The DINIS database already held the high voltage system in digital format. This can be linked to the circuit record and corrected where necessary. It was found that when information from various sources was collected together there were mismatches of information. Various methods of validation are required to correct these errors.

Data capture commenced on the 25th July 1994 and was completed in mid 1997. There was a delay of one year in completion due to a major restructuring within the company during 1995-96.

The implemented system

The final system has 17 Workstations, (e.g.: Sun type Sparc 10's and Classics, with software supplied by Sysdeco UK incorporating Ingres and Unix) at various locations throughout the company. Of these, the 8 master units will hold all the overhead, (and associated underground), data for that particular area of the company. The records and data on the master units are capable of being updated and maintained. Paper output in the form of plots and screen dumps are available at nominated locations. These master units will also link over the Company's communications network to provide information to other systems and to the Company's Headquarters office for global enquires.

It was shown during the development stage that a 'standard PC' with the addition of suitable software (XVision), could access OHMS over the communications networks.

Future Scenario

With the development of the ”Windows” philosophy it is likely that this concept will be applied to the integration of IT projects spread across functions in the organization.

This would allow staff to access and move from one application to another across functional boundaries as required.


Other utilities in Europe have adopted different applications of GIS to meet their particular requirements. Several of the smaller utilities serving 200 - 500,000 customers and a few large multiple service utilities serving 1.5 - 3.0 million customers have undertaken a full integration of their GIS with a corporate information system.

The example quoted is an alternative which can provide benefits at an early stage and therefore assist in funding further stages of GIS as and when required to meet the company’s priorities.