GIS for telecoms and utility network operators

GIS – what is it?

A Geographic Information System (GIS) combines the power of a map with the power of data to allow people to create, manage and analyze information, particularly information about location. For telecommunications, electric, gas and water utility network operators this is especially important to be able to create, manage and maintain their networks. A GIS typically contains information on the assets and resources that exist within telecoms and utility networks. 

A GIS is sometimes referred to as GIS software, GIS technology, GIS mapping software, desktop GIS or as the “System of Record” (SoR).

Desktop GIS – time for a change

Conceived more than 20 years ago, legacy desktop GIS takes a cartography-centric approach that was designed to create paper maps. Built before the proliferation of mobile devices and applications like Google Maps, these legacy systems are rooted in centralized, monolithic, fat clients with complex, proprietary databases, and applications.

Complex to manage, desktop GIS software was engineered for 5% of the workforce that are specialized GIS professionals, sitting in the back office controlling operational processes. This approach is simply no longer viable because it cannot deliver the current and accurate network view that is essential for the digitally connected network that is essential for todays’ telecoms and utility operators.

Going beyond GIS

Telecoms and utility operators today manage networks that are more complex than ever. With the creation of 5G and smart grids we are constructing some of the world’s most complex, distributed “machines” ever imagined. This means that operators are now forced to deal with numerous rich information systems across their enterprise, each with specialized tasks or applications that usually require highly skilled people to curate them. These include systems for managing customers, network assets, inventory, workforces, processes and many more. A GIS is another one of these many data resources, where the main “asset” is the geospatial position of a record and connectivity. In this way, GIS proponents often position it as a kind of information hub, because most data can be represented geographically in some way, via a coordinate, an address, or other spatial reference.

All this technology is essential for managing our increasingly complex network machines, but it frequently leads to a plethora of applications and “experts” with siloed information that makes for inefficient operations with often conflicting or out-of-date information. The search for consolidated access to disparate information is as old as information itself (the difference between data and knowledge). Geospatial technology finds itself in a privileged position by representing data in a uniquely compelling and powerful way, showing us the spatial relationship between previously disconnected information.

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At IQGeo we believe in the power of geospatial technology, but it must go far beyond the concept of “enterprise GIS” as a centralized solution. For any solution to be successful with today’s, and tomorrow’s, complex network requirements it must be focused on the network itself (not just the geospatial aspect of the network) and bring together applications, data, and workflows into an easy-to-use “single pane of glass” for all stakeholders across the organization.

Rich Weiss, European Regional Manager, explores this topic further in a blog post 'Managing your network through a single pane of glass'

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The new System of Action

Telecoms and utility network operators are dealing with a multidimensional set of challenges that are impacting virtually every aspect of their business. This includes a rapidly changing competitive landscape, growing customer expectations, increasing regulatory oversight, new network technology, and an evolving workforce.

With so many variables at play, it has become clear that the technology and processes developed 20-30 years ago are simply no longer workable. Legacy GIS that was intended to provide a System of Record does not provide the data quality, currency and collaboration needed for next generation networks. To take companies forward and continue to meet revenue, cost, and safety KPIs, many network operators are embarking on major digital transformation initiatives, redesigning their back office System of Record into a field focused System of Action.

 

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While this challenge can be daunting, it also creates tremendous opportunity to rethink strategies and relationships. Using modern mobile- first, geospatial software organizations can now visualize, capture and take practical action to transform operational processes across their entire network lifecycle.

IQGeo turns the GIS legacy model upside down with a System of Action approach that empowers field crews and office staff to easily monitor, capture and edit network information anywhere, anytime. A living digital twin of the physical network assets that is integrated with business-critical applications and data streams creates a single source of truth realized through a powerful geospatial view across enterprise planning, design, construction, maintenance, and sales processes.

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What is a modern geospatial System of Action?

Unlike the software from legacy GIS vendors that use a centralized, process-heavy architecture dependent on highly specialized engineering resources, IQGeo’s System of Action empowers field and office staff to easily monitor, capture, visualize and manage geospatial network assets without specialized training. We deliver an end-to-end solution with measurable ROI that increases productivity and collaboration throughout the entire organization and across the operational lifecycle.

 

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Our easy-to-use, modern geospatial software solutions are built for 95% of the workforce  that can contribute to, and benefit from, a geospatial view of their network. The IQGeo software employs a modern, open source, browser-based, mobile technology that is far more cost-effective than a legacy GIS approach. It enables rapid and informed action that captures today’s digital realities. We achieve this with our mobile-first, native-cloud architecture that is cost-effective, rapid to deploy, and simple to maintain.

Derek Kern, Chief Architect at IQGeo, shares ten key requirements that are critical for any modern geospatial System of Action, which include:

  1. Mobile-first
  2. Cloud-native
  3. Easy-to-use
  4. Delivers high performance and scalability
  5. Quickly configured and customized
  6. Employs an open system approach
  7. Enables enterprise design management
  8. Provides smart modeling
  9. Meets rigorous security standards
  10. Supports modern reality capture technology

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Why empowering field teams is key

Having access to accurate geospatial data in the field, where the action happens, is vital for telecoms and utility engineers and contractors, providing a current view of the network assets dramatically streamlines processes and empowers field teams to capture the reality on the ground, improving data quality.


The only way to prevent "data rot" is to give the field the mobile tools they need to capture data quickly and effectively on any device, online or offline. Field teams are willing to capture data as long as it is easy and quick to update back-end systems. Taking a photo to highlight an issue or identify a change on a map and associating it with an asset is simple to do with a modern geospatial platform. This as-built information creates a dynamic and accurate System of Action that can optimize operational processes and improve collaboration between departments and applications.

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Telecoms and utility network reliability, safety and emergency response depends on efficient field operations that creates dependable network data, and this network data can only be kept current is through a "Field Sourcing" process that captures the most current network data. Our most successful customer deployments are with those changemakers within network operators that see the direct business benefits to creating a a positive and engaging "Field Experience" for their remote mobile teams. They don’t tolerate legacy GIS systems built for workstations that have been poorly adapted for field users because they know they won’t be adopted by field crews and widespread adoption is essential to process transformation.

Key features that are important to field workers include:

  • One common interface on any device
  • Device to device session sharing
  • Google integration
  • Network tracing and schematics
  • Quick field capture

Jay Cadman, SVP Enterprise, explores each of these key features in more detail in a blog post ‘Don’t field forget about the field teams’.

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Modern mobile-first geospatial solutions

Because mobile geospatial systems are so critical to your success, it’s important to ask potential vendors the right questions about their mobile capabilities. You cannot assume that just because you have a GIS in your utility or telecommunications office that it easily extends to the field. This is illustrated by the fact that many of the major legacy GIS vendors all have very different architectures for their mobile solutions. Simply web-enabling a back office GIS interface will fail to achieve field acceptance since it is far too complex and has not been designed with the very specific needs for field teams in mind.

The other failed approach is to put the burden of field mobility onto their customers by forcing the use of third party products or delivering SDK’s that require companies to create, deploy and support their own mobile solutions on proprietary platforms.

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With 120 detailed questions and supporting notes, IQGeo has produced an RFP template in an Excel format that will help you think through the various components of a successful mobile geospatial solution. You can use this template to inform the creation of your own mobile RFP in order to choose a long-term partner who understands your business challenges and has a mobile-first approach that addresses your long-term requirements.

Download free RFP template

The importance of usability in geospatial software and applications

Many key business processes in telecoms and utility companies depend on access to accurate and up-to-date geospatial data about network assets. Providing key stakeholders with self-service data access, where and when they need it, transforms what can be achieved by an organization. It improves productivity and collaboration, accelerates restoration times, improves safety, and enhances customer service. Usability is vital to achieving this transformation. Without it, access to information often requires the involvement of technical specialists, which creates significant process bottlenecks and crippling data gaps.

While legacy GIS companies may sometimes talk about “GIS for all”, their typical approach is to force their customers to build their own “simple” applications using proprietary development tools.

Usability is especially critical for field workers as they need to be focused on the job at hand, so it’s understandable that they are so intolerant of applications that are not easy-to-use. IQGeo has extensive experience in designing mobile apps for field users and achieve excellent adoption with field staff and contractors. Visit the video library to see how easy it should be for field workers to capture and edit data in the field 

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After a recent system rollout, comments we  from end users included:


“I’ve been here for multiple decades and this is the best thing I’ve ever seen rolled out”
 

“Who designed this? It’s awesome! Can they design all our products?”

 

Having great usability is especially critical when improving work with contractors and responding to emergencies, in both situations, having access to geospatial software that doesn’t need special training to use makes the difference between success and failure. 

Read our blog post to learn more about the importance of usability in geospatial software. 

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The System of Action alternative to legacy GIS

Given the high cost, complexity, and risk with implementing and upgrading some of the legacy GIS products in the market, such as the Esri Utility Network, telecoms and utilities owe it to themselves to evaluate alternatives, rather than being resigned to a complex and expensive rollout or migration.

 

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At IQGeo we have completely reimagined what an enterprise geospatial System of Action can be and the ROI it delivers to your business. To meet today’s challenges, network infrastructure should be deploying a mobile-first, cloud-native System of Action that provides one common architecture in which all applications can run in any web browser or on any mobile device, online or offline.

 

Reimagine the role that geospatial software plays in your business

Together with IQGeo, telecoms and utility network operators are transforming their business by setting new standards for productivity and collaboration that increase revenue, decrease operating costs, improve customer satisfaction, and enhance safety.

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Visit the customer stories page to how IQGeo is helping them to reimagine the role of geospatial software. 

Customer stories