If you’re asking yourself, “What is GIS?” or “How can I leverage it help my utility run more effectively?”, then we’ve got the answers you’re looking for. GIS or geographic information systems is simply a way to help us collect, organize, manage, and analyze data visually, usually on a map. A wide number of industries rely on GIS to help them manage their organizations like health, education, government, real estate, water utilities, public safety, insurance, manufacturing, sewer utilities, engineering, telecommunications, retail, nonprofits, emergency response, wildlife, forestry, and more. Cloud based GIS maps and GIS mapping software are helping teams better collaborate to make decisions more effectively.
If you've ever used Apple Maps or Google Maps in order to find something, like your favorite business or restaurant, then you know the importance of GIS. GIS helps us to understand the larger world around us, in a format that we can visualize and see in front of us at once. It's used to plot three dimensional data about things that exist in the outside world like markers, locations, addresses, buildings. In the world of utilities, it's used to help us find assets like fire hydrants, HDPE pipe, a valve, lift stations, septic systems, drainage pipe, culverts or map entire distribution or collection systems like Potable Water systems, Sanitary Sewer Systems, Stormwater Systems, or even things like water treatment facilities.
Knowing where things are on your GIS mapping software is just the beginning to understanding how to manage them.
The 6 core components of GIS are the hardware, the methods, people, the data, the software, and most importantly the maps. Without one of these components the success of your GIS project will be limited and unfruitful.
The hardware needed to capture the locational and core data relating to GIS, is the foundation base you need to manage a successful implementation. Hardware is the device in which you are capturing a snapshot of locational data. Examples of hardware used to capture this information are computers, iPads, iPhones, Androids, and GPS devices that sync to reveal information such as longitude, latitude, and Z-depth, for projects like manhole inspections or topological studies.
Our philosophy at Ziptility, is that accessibility trumps accuracy. Many water, wastewater, gas, and electric utilities are switching to mobile GIS software, because nearly all of the people who will be capturing the data have one. The GPS accuracy of cell phones is somewhere in the range of 10 to 16 feet, but if you have high-quality aerial imagery, and software that allows you to decouple the location of your GPS signal, so that you can capture the point using the map, then that is the most useful.
Being able to add contextual data around the point, line, polygon, or mark that you capture, like photos, and video, is crucial to the transfer of that knowledge to another person needing to access that data.
The power and capability of our mobile devices is increasing and we see the next phase in the utility industry is that utility operators will move away from expensive GPS units and begin to rely on handheld mobile units to do most of their data capture out in the field.
As they say, there should be a method to the madness or what you will get in your utility operations is chaos.
Information is captured but you're using different terminology. You don't have certain aspects of your information that you're making required, so you have critical information being collected by some and not by others. An example of this might be how many turns it takes to open and close valves to stop the flow of water in your system. The difference between a full turn and a half turn extra can mean the difference between water leaks going undetected and making sure that you don't have non-revenue water loss, which decreases the profitability of your utility operations.
Ensuring that you have proper policies, standards, and protocols and that you maintain and communicate frequently ensures that your team is on the same page as to what data you're inputting, the method in which you're inputting it, and how the data can then be displayed and visualized in your GIS system.
Ziptility's infrastructure management application combines GIS mapping software, an 811 locate system, mobile work order management, and enterprise asset management into a single intuitive platform. The product allows you to include all of your utility employees into your GIS system, and control who does what with advanced GIS user roles and permissions. This gives administrators the ability to control who can do, see, and edit what in their GIS Software.
Because it's a real-time GIS system ,and also lets administrators to program a standard set of data collection protocols, you never have to worry if certain fields of data or information were captured.
Your GIS system will only be as successful as the data that you collect and input into your database. The most important component of well organized GIS database is the data.
Most modern cloud-based GIS systems will allow you to import existing data or allow you to add and edit assets on the fly, which makes it easy for you to keep your database fresh and up to date.
The most common data file for GIS system's is the Shapefile. A shapefile is made up of 4 types of GIS files, .SHP, the .DBF, the .PRJ and the .SHX. These files contain the Geometry of every feature/asset, the database, or all records of that file, and then finally the spatial components, which allow systems to match common coordinate or projection systems.
Ziptility allows our users to export GIS data and information into CSV, Shapefile, or GeoJson. Our easy to use GIS Software makes it simple to export GIS data into ShapeFile format quickly. This makes the data you collect compatable with almost any system a utility or engineering firm might use to help build plans like Preliminary Engineering Reports, Asset Management Plans or Capital Improvement plans.
Your GIS system is only good as the data you put in it, but only as usable as the quality of your GIS Maps.
Your maps probably consist in a format called a GeoTiff. It's the most widely supported raster data format and it is what produces high-quality GIS imagery and Basemaps.
Good GIS mapping software should not only allow you to visualize data, but to also analyze it to see what has happened, and what should be done.
Cloud-based GIS gives non-expert GIS users the ability to easily interact with the map and ask questions without needing to get GIS Coordinators or GIS Analysts involved.
When operating a utility, the majority of field crews don't have the luxury of being able to have 24/7 access to a GIS coordinator. When a main breaks, a valve leaks, a hydrant needs to be flushed, or you need to perform a manhole inspection, you can't wait until your GIS coordinator is ready to get the information you need.
For example, when it's cold outside and your water meters are covered in snow, you might need access to it's GPS coordinates from your GIS system, but in addition to it, you might need to know information, like does the Meter Lid need to be replaced while I'm here?
Cloud-based GIS systems, should give you the ability to not only store, asset data but information about what's been done to that asset.
Your utility operations will only be as efficient as the team that you have running it. A utility's certified water and wastewater operators, are incredibly intelligent people. They have an unbelievable amount of knowledge about your distribution and collection networks. Your goal should be to empower them with the necessary mobile GIS so that they can easily access and input additional information.
All users within your online GIS software should be able to access your GIS online or through a cloud based GIS software application.
None of your utility crew need to have a GIS certification, they simply need to know how to use a phone. Most modern GIS Mapping software systems feel very similar to using Google Maps.
GIS is moving from Desktop GIS technology to web-based GIS technology. Modern software applications make it simple for every user to access your system by allowing your utility crews to access your GIS online.
Newer cloud-based GIS systems allow you to get started with GIS software free. Solutions like Ziptility allow you to have unlimited licenses and devices as part of your account, so you don't have to worry about going to the GIS Analyst or GIS Coordinator, anytime you'd like to add someone to your organization.
Watch this video to see how easy it is to invite GIS Users into Ziptility.
As a superintendent in charge of managing a potable water distribution system. You service 1000 meter connections both commercial and residential, have 350 miles of main, that supplies the local city but also the rural outskirts of your county.
Your utility is 40 years old, and the age of installation, condition, are in paper forms in a filing cabinet. The only representation you have of your water distribution system is on a paper map.
You also need to manage a field crew of 10, with two crews responsible for maintenance and repairs, with the other 3 crews responsible for meter reading, work orders, and customer service complaints.
You need only need a way to know where all of your assets are, but also, what condition they're in, what's been done to them, and you'd like the ability to maintain them on the same system.
Oh and you also need your team to see this information as well.
A GIS Mapping software like Ziptility will allow you to get started with GIS for free. With a cloud-based system like Ziptility you will be able to add your 10 field crew as GIS users in minutes, but you will also be able to invite your office administrators and managers into the system, so they can schedule and assign tasks to the field crews that come from customers.
Things like meter reads, shut offs, and brand new service connections that need to be made.
Throughout the day as your team is doing work in the system, they can add new data that they find through GIS surveying features, which allow users to add points, lines, or labels onto the map.
Also they should be able to mark where there have been water leaks, or water main breaks, so that the next GIS user will have access to all of the same information that they have.
This is an example of how GIS works in real world applications that are practical for utility operators.