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Out-of-the-Box Spatial Dashboards Improve Utility Outage Decisions

Tuesday, February 15th 2011
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Summary:

This article, by Oracle Utilities’ Guerry Waters, describes a “spatial dashboard” designed for utility executives that can be used in high-stress times to help make decisions. “There’s little time for deliberation [during an outage]. Call in too much support and the bottom line suffers. Call in too little and you’re pilloried in the press.” The dashboard combines a utilities network management system, a power-restoration application that combines a power grid’s status details with spatial information from a utility’s GIS or other geospatially enabled application. There are some interesting challenges in stitching this all together.

A windstorm whips through the city. Power lines are down. As the utility's COO, you face a series of major decisions. How can you best direct fire and police departments to neighborhoods likely to need extra protection? Does the mayor need to know that the situation could get worse before it gets better? Should you count on your own field technicians to fix the problems, call in stand-by contract crews, or ask neighboring utilities for help?

There's little time for deliberation. Call in too much support, and the bottom line suffers. Call in too little, and you're pilloried in the press.

Situations like these have put utilities on high alert for technologies that can improve decision quality and speed during outages. Map displays clearly respond to that demand. And utilities - experienced users of GIS - are well prepared to enlist spatial technologies in support of outage decision-making. At the heart of the many utility Storm Centers, for instance, lie robust network management applications with highly detailed, wall-sized maps showing power grids and outages in extraordinary detail.

Executive Needs
It's not easy or appropriate, however, to use this detailed GIS content in applications designed for executives and decision makers. Providing direct access to operational systems for these users can compromise system performance and does not deliver relevant information in a concise, actionable manner. Nor does it give the executive or business analysis a birds-eye view of the overall network and response status.

Filling the gap is the new Oracle Utilities Advanced Spatial Outage Analytics. It uses the underlying data of Oracle Utilities Network Management System, a power-restoration application that combines a power-grid's status details with spatial information from a utility's GIS or other geospatially-enabled application. But where Network Management uses the data for detailed, engineering Storm Center presentations, the Advanced Spatial Analytics product formats the data into a standard business intelligence star schema structure, pushes it to Oracle's enterprise-wide business intelligence application, and presents it as a series of intuitive map-centric dashboards for use by a utility's executives and other staff. The product updates the dashboards at an appropriate frequency for these users - typically, every five minutes - rather than the real-time updates needed by Network Management.

Mousing over outage locations (red and yellow circles) reveals location-based statistics (yellow hats indicate crew locations). (Click for larger view.)


Outage locations color-coded by number of customers affected. (Click for larger view.)


"Oracle Business Intelligence lets us provide pre-built spatial dashboards that answer executive questions quickly, without slowing down the Storm Center's restoration activity," says Oracle Utilities Vice President Brad Williams. Those dashboards help harried communications professionals provide updated outage maps to first responders as well as to local TV stations and other interested parties. Utilities can also display maps with an appropriate level of detail on their websites.
Supplementing the spatial information are trend charts, tables, bar graphs, etc. to provide performance snapshots, permit drill-downs into outage details, and analyze reliability.

Outage dashboard summarizing outage impacts, duration and restoration times. (Click for larger view.)


Decision Support
"During the outage," says Williams, "executives can click on points on the spatial display and get details that help them decide among alternative actions. Contact center staff can drill down to get specifics about individual buildings, so they can help customers make decisions about closing an office for the rest of the day or moving the family to a relative's house."
Utilities can provide additional details to first responders. "A spatial display shows police departments exactly where additional personnel can best compensate for stoplight outages," Williams explains.
"Utilities spend considerable resources to minimize outages," he continues. "Spatial analytics helps them spend those resources wisely. Maps make it easy to spot relationships between activities and responses that might be difficult or impossible to glean from a set of tabular statistics. With map-centric business analytics, utility analysts get clearer pictures of where to begin to probe the issues slowing power restoration."

Spatial Strategy
The new Oracle Utilities outage products are part of a larger Oracle initiative to integrate map visualization and spatial analysis with application products serving a variety of government and industry sectors including transportation, communications, construction, and more. Today, these include other Oracle Utilities applications (Oracle Utilities Mobile Workforce Management, Oracle Business Intelligence, Oracle Utilities Work and Asset Management), Oracle Transportation Management, Oracle Communication Unified Inventory Management, Oracle Primavera P6, and Oracle eBusiness Suite (HR, SiteHub, Field Service, and TCA/Customer Model).

"Oracle's strategy is to bring together vertical applications with enterprise-wide technology," says Jim Steiner, vice president of Spatial Product Management at Oracle. "Other software vendors can and do provide sophisticated spatial decision-support and BI tools for utilities. But they often depend on third-party technologies and proprietary approaches that must then be integrated - at considerable expense - with existing business applications."

Contrast this with out-of-the-box vertical BI applications built on an enterprise-wide spatially enabled BI structure. "As our verticals incorporate spatial capabilities into their applications, providing executives with intuitive access to a growing number of information layers at their fingertips," says Steiner. "The savings in cost and time are remarkable."

Outage information on a background heat map of historical outage customer impacts. (Click for larger view.)


Once the applications are in customer hands, the results can be unexpectedly broad. The outage playback and historical features turn out to be excellent tools, for instance, for training utility crews and community first responders.
And one utility has already spotted the product's potential for dealing with regulatory issues. "Frequently, utilities use statistical tables to illustrate the potential for a capital investment to shorten an outage," says Williams. "But a mapped playback with and without the improvement is far more dramatic. Our utility customer anticipates significantly speedier approvals."


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