Set for late 2017/early 2018, the release and promotion of the new ESRI Utility Network Management Extension will drive a significant shift for most utilities who maintain a network dependent GIS. This new extension will effectively replace the current Geometric Network tools provided by ESRI and may begin the sunset of several 3rd party partner applications that provide robust GIS networking power. Staying “in fashion” with all the major software juggernauts, ESRI’s focus with this new product release (and other recent initiatives) is more cloud oriented. While local IT resources can still be used with the new extension via ArcGIS Enterprise (formerly Portal), the capabilities for use with ArcGIS Online, Mobile and consumption of web API’s is a clear focus. The new extension will be completely services driven. Map services for display of graphics and feature services for data editing. Gone will be the days of client to geodatabase direct connections. ArcGIS Pro will server as the primary client for analysts to interact with the extension.
What does this mean for Utilities?
A complex transformation of existing GIS database models to the new Utility Network database model will be needed in most cases. ESRI will be promoting a new standard data model specifically for use with the new extension. The model aims to simplify the schema footprint of tables, views and relationship classes. The major change to the model from previous, industry specific models, is the use of seven (7) main feature classes to represent the entire network. No longer will the utility need to maintain 10, 20, 50+ feature classes and relationship classes to database tables. The simplified model bundles similar functions and geometries and uses larger generic feature classes to represent equipment, locations, devices and other geographic features. ESRI’s objective here is to provide a more utility agnostic format.
Take Transformers for example - in a legacy configuration using geometric network and/or other AM/FM tool set, you may have a transformer feature class, transformer unit tables and a relationship classes between these objects (and others). In this new model, the transformers will be represented by a higher-level feature class, called “Device” by default. This “Device” feature class will contain other device types such as switches, regulators, fuses, etc. These device types will be classified using “ASSETGROUP” and “ASSETTYPE” attributes. The relationship classes (in most cases) will be replaced by “Associations” between features and tables, with the focus being on location rather than identifiers.
A significant change to the database model will likely drive a substantial migration and conversion effort. Consolidation of multiple tables to a single table is a difficult enough task; adding spatial data and relationships to the equation is sure to elevate the complexity. Of course, the size and complexity of the utility and operations will also play a key role. ESRI plans to release a few models and approaches to kick start this effort but a more tailored conversion task will likely be needed for most utilities.
ArcGIS Pro/Custom Solutions
Naturally, with ArcGIS Pro serving as the primary client, many utilities will need to plan for a significant functional and technical conversion from ArcGIS Desktop to ArcGIS Pro for all network editors and analysts. In addition, 3rd party desktop applications, web applications, tools and other custom development will need to be analyzed for ArcGIS Pro and the Utility Network Management Extension code framework.
As a system integrator, Cohesive naturally views this new extension from an integration and solution perspective. On one hand, the integration to EAM and work management systems is simplified through the use of feature services and a consolidated GIS data model. Having a single feature class to integrate with all GIS point devices (assets) for example, will allow for a more efficient integration. On the other hand, existing integrated environments will require in depth data analysis to maintain established relationships between environments. This likely means any conversion effort to use the new extension will need to include a phase for integrated system analysis.
From an ESRI partners perspective, Cohesive views the new Utility Network Management Extension as a positive direction for partners, ESRI and Utilities. GIS and ESRI’s software has never been more widely used in organizations and is truly an enterprise critical software. The new extension and the approach of a services based editing environment in general, fits the cloud based and connected model so many organizations desire. The new model, toolset and supporting software should eventually simplify editing workflows and analysis for most utilities. However, early adopters will face some challenges in data and software conversion both technically and in change management.
We encourage you to check our GIS resources page to stay up to date on the Utility Network Management Extension from ESRI. As an ESRI partner, Cohesive plans to provide services and products to support implementations of the new extension as follows:
- EAM and Work Management Integration analysis, readiness and full scale conversion services.
- Conversion and Migration Tools
View ESRI's whitepaper on the Utility Network Extension here.
View our ESRI partner portal page