Big Events in GITA Southeast

By: Tammy McCracken

The Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) has been in a flux of change as they move from a paid staffing model to one that is volunteer-driven.   While GITA National is mapping out an ambitious plan going forward, GITA Southeast is forging ahead with an equally aggressive plan that includes events and activities that focus on education and the industry’s best practices.

GITA Southeast territory includes the states of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.  Quarterly, GITA Southeast hosts a popular venue called “Lunch and Learn”.  These events, scheduled during the lunch hour, are a great way to get out and meet new people who share a passion for our industry.   Typical programs include skills training, product application training, and professional development.

The April 2013 Lunch and Learn, “Using GIS to Support the Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Response of Electric Utilities”, held at the Esri Atlanta office focused on gaining insight into work done by Photo Science  in support of Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC).  Presented by Donald Enderle, he demonstrated how the use of GIS will better support disaster preparedness and response.  Efforts that support disaster preparedness were highlighted such as the use of  Vulnerability Maps and associated reports, staging site analysis and tabletop drill exercises that address those ‘what if?’ scenarios.    Mr. Enderle also highlighted how the use of facility maps and Disaster Response Plans become critical tools for the utility industry.

The highlight of the presentation came when Mr. Enderle demonstrated how it was possible to overlay existing weather event data to visualize impact of a new site location.  He walked our group through the overlay of the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak (the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded) onto a new area – Atlanta, GA!  Being able to demonstrate the ‘what if’ scenarios will go a long way to assisting the industry implement better, more responsive plans when disaster strikes.

facility mapping tornado events

In the works, GITA Southeast is planning a networking event at one of the Atlanta Braves games over the summer, a fantastic opportunity to meet and greet those developing innovative ideas in our industry.

To participate in this networking event or to sign up for GITA Southeast’s next “Lunch and Learn” go to the GITA Southeast website at:


Estimating the ROI of a GIS (Geographic Information System) Solution for Location Analytics

By: Tim Calkins

If your organization is evaluating the feasibility of a GIS solution or already has a mature Location Analytics platform, calculating the derived benefit to the bottom line is powerful and constructive exercise.  The goal of this post is to help build the business justification with ROI (Return on Investment) as the quantitative yardstick for measuring the cost/benefit and value achieved from a GIS solution.

There are many tangible and intangible benefits derived from the problems a GIS solution will solve.  Qualifying and quantifying the results of the ROI exercise and then documenting them is a common practice and many tools are available to assist with the calculation.

Building the business case

A business case is best described as a financial story based on facts, structured assumptions, and logic. It provides a vehicle by which the financial impact of the options can be examined and conclusions drawn.


A bank wants to analyze its customers and loans by location, product, industry, risk and risk exposure.  The bank would like to assist a manager’s ability to visualize their accounts in an easy to use dashboard.  After review of their capabilities, a spider chart was produced with current and desired functionality.


Visualize Customers Current Desired
By Geography



By Topography



By Risk Rating



By Product



By Collateral Class



By Catastrophic Scenario



By Industry



By DPD (Days Past Due)



The bank had considerable gaps between where they were and where they desired to be as an organization.  They wanted the ability to overlay a map of customers along with a hurricane’s path or see what customers or facilities are within 25 miles of the San Andreas Fault or below 25 feet above sea level along coastal areas.  Working with senior management, gaps were prioritized and then assigned a value.  Results were tabulated and reported back to senior management using a standard ROI template.

The above use case has been oversimplified but building justification can be boiled down to a few basic steps.  The outline below uses a five-step process derived from standard practices around calculating ROI.  These steps were adapted from “The Business Benefits of GIS: An ROI Approach” but summarized for a more agile approach.

The 5 steps are:

  1. Determine the need and benefits of a GIS solution
  2. Outline and prioritize business requirements and opportunities
  3. Assess budget and project timelines
  4. Estimate benefits
  5. Document and present results

Step 1 – Determine the needs and benefits of a GIS solution

Does your GIS solution align with your organization’s strategic objectives?

The first step in calculating your ROI will involve looking at what’s driving the need of a GIS solution.  You’ll need to assess your organizational pain points and weigh them against your goals and objectives.  During this step you must consult crucial stakeholders and identify the improvements and benefits of a GIS solution.  Key decision makers must be identified and should be made aware of the ROI study.  Their involvement and approval is crucial to the ROI process

Step 2 – Outline and prioritize business requirements and opportunities

Defining the scope of the project is next.  Getting agreement on what problems the GIS solution will solve and the functionality needed, along with knowing what is nice to have versus what you need to have, should be documented.  The pain points should be objectively laid out and prioritized with the end users and business partners.  Also you should outline the opportunity costs and what the risks are of not having a GIS solution.  The intangibles are much harder to quantify but a value should still be placed on them.  Critical objectives should be benchmarked for a before and after appraisal.

Step 3 – Assess budget requirements

After the scope of the solution is agreed upon, the cost of the project should be estimated.  The steps are the same if the GIS solution is already in place and you are just adding features or functionality.

The ROI model allows you to break out the elements associated with the specific projects in your portfolio to allow comparison between the benefit value of a calculated base case without GIS and a calculated case with GIS. To complete the template, it is necessary to revisit the original opportunity list.

Step 4 – Estimate benefits

In order to estimate a type of return on an investment in location analytics, a value must be assigned to derived dividends of the solution.  Mapping out capabilities at the start (current) of the project and what’s expected to be achieved (desired) allows you to see the “gap” and assign that gap a value.  Working with senior executives and your organizational goals, you should be able to team up and assess the value of reaching your desired capabilities.  It’s a great exercise to get buy-in and prioritize which capabilities add the most value.

There are many different ROI templates available for free on the web and you can dive as deep in the financial weeds as you want.  How deep is dependent on what level of detail your management requires.  Using these templates and mapping capabilities you should be able to use the estimated benefits to assign a quantitative value with the templates.  Based on the results of the analysis, it may be necessary to adjust the budget or seek additional examples of quantitative benefits that can be modeled in order to make a strong argument for GIS.

Step 5 – Document and present results

The final step will have you compiling your templates and creating reports with the purpose of demonstrating to senior management the value of funding a GIS solution for location analytics.  There are many different styles you could use to format your report but I suggest you start with an outline containing the following key components:

Executive summary It should be a high-level overview of your findings and a proposal for moving forward.  It should be written with your senior team leadership in mind.

Background and history – Describe the need or shortfall that started this project and why your organization decided to look at this type of solution.

Purpose and scope – Next you need to provide an outline of the justification for this project and a review of processes and capabilities.

Proposed project – The next step is to describeas the solutions to the problems outlined above.  It should be detailed enough to accurately describe what features and functionalities will be included.

Cost and time frame – The almighty budget and dollars will receive the most scrutiny.  Time frame and internal and external resources should be included in this section.  This is the most challenging section of the report and should receive the most attention.  If this part is not deemed accurate then it will put the entire solution in jeopardy.

Recommended action – The purpose of the final section is to summarize the results and make a recommendation to senior management that the program should be funded as proposed in the report. This final sec­tion should be very focused on your key arguments and should be no more than a few paragraphs.

Glossary of terms – The last section should content an appendix with a glossary of the terms used in your report.  Your glossary should include both GIS terms and ROI financial terms.  Most likely the report will be presented to both audience and there is a good chance that only readers will only know either financial or GIS terms, not both.  So it will be useful to keep everyone on the same page.


A positive ROI tells a compelling story, especially if the advantages line up with your organization’s mission and strategic direction.  Both tangible and intangible benefits can be achieved along with better access to data and improved quality of a data for decision-making.  Without ROI estimation, senior leadership can only focus on how much a GIS solution costs and not the organizational advantages. Estimating the value of your GIS solutions provides an effective framework and roadmap for the location analytics solution.

If your organization is about to evaluate a GIS solution, our team can provide help in calculating its ROI.  We offer a few free hours to help guide you on your project and get started in the right direction.  If you would like more information, feel free to fill out the form below and we will be in contact with you shortly.

Integration through Location

Are you getting the most out of your GIS?

By: Joe Howell

How well are Oil and Gas companies leveraging their investment in GIS?  GIS uses database tables and layers to analyze how things relate to each other geographically and most companies barely scratch the surface of its potential.  The biggest gap in corporate vision for GIS that I have observed is the ability to use location to integrate otherwise non-related systems.  Oil and Gas companies have different systems to manage Leasehold, Wells, Drilling, Pipeline Integrity, and SCADA monitoring (among many others).  From the perspective of the database, there is no easy way to tie these systems together.  But all of the systems have something in common… LOCATION!

LocationIntegration1I have been in operations centers that have both digital and paper maps for visualizing these assets.  The striking thing is that in virtually every case, they only use these tools for visualizing.  They don’t use the location information to tie the systems together digitally, they depend on manual efforts to examine the map and determine the relationship.  So what’s wrong with that?  It’s expensive and it entirely underutilizes the investment already made in building a GIS system.  Most energy companies use the ArcGIS suite by ESRI.  They spend thousands on desktop software and hundreds of thousands on servers and server software just to give them access to spatial analysis tools.  This is a large investment, and it is one that provides a lot of value.  The question is can it do more?  And the answer is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, YES IT CAN!

When was the last time you pulled out a paper map to get directions?  If you are like me, it has been several years.  Why?  Because you can go to (or bing or yahoo or…) and ask the computer to give you directions.  (Or better yet, have your phone or navigation computer handle it.)   Now when you pull up that map, do you go through it visually to figure out each turn?  Of course not… the application does it for you. Well there is no relationship between you and your destination, so how does the computer figure it out?  It uses GIS, of course.

Geography can be used to figure out the relationship between the meter and the lease, distance between valves (along the pipeline, as the crow flies, or driving), or even to find the nearest maintenance personnel for the compressor that is having issues. GIS really enables some out of the box thinking.  Virtually everything we do in this industry can be tied together with location.


Using location as an analysis tool isn’t limited to just proximity, density, or how things are connected in a network.  I recently worked on a tool that would allow executives use a sliding scale to see aggregated lease expiration by county across the entire nation.  Another project uses GIS to demonstrate percent of MAOP across pipelines based on SCADA information real time.  The operations center sees a data driven map interface which changes color and brings up a table and chart when threshold values are exceeded.  Geography can be a useful Business Intelligence tool to show how key performance indicators are impacting business.  Here are a few examples:

  • Production profitability by state and county or section.
  •  Evaluation and reporting of high consequence areas.
  • Comparison of lease expenditure and production or transport cost
  • Weather forecasting against drilling schedule
  • Lease expiration forecasting
  • Pipeline inspection and maintenance scheduling
  • Encroachment trends
  • Construction routing and cost estimation
  • Geologists can outline plays and direct leasing efforts
  • Coordination of leasehold and right of way acquisition between brokers

These are all location based processes that can help increase profitability.    The possibilities are limited only by our ability to find ways to examine and deliver the data.  As I said before, In the Oil and Gas industry, location is a part of just about every question.  Shouldn’t it be part of every answer?

Location – The Tie that Binds

As an executive, how hard is it for you to get a complete view of what is really happening in all parts of your enterprise?  Is the information you receive fragmented?  Out of date?  Do you have multiple versions of the “truth”?  Can you spot trends?  Would you like to wake up in the morning and use your iPad to review KPI’s?  Can you can make timely decisions about your business with confidence?

In other words, are you getting the information you need, in the format you need, when and where you need it?

Organizations have worked for years to tear down information silos, but challenges remain.  If this is the case for you, consider utilizing geography as an integrating platform to organize, analyze, visualize, and share your enterprise data assets.

Spatial, or location information is contained in much business data.  For example, wouldn’t it be great to integrate and visualize:

  • Customer addresses and disaster event data
  • Supply chain requirements with weather and traffic data
  • Point of sale and demographic data
  • Indoor customer mobility patterns with product placement and customer demographic data
  • Regulatory compliance requirements with housing loans history
  • Store location and crime data
  • Location of related Tweets to marketing campaign actions
  • Asset information and maintenance compliance performance
  • The list goes on.

My point…… It makes good sense to utilize geography as an integration strategy because location is often the common denominator across disparate data assets and systems.  Once these items are integrated and organized around location, the next logical step is to use spatial technology to analyze, visualize, and share the data.

Esri, a company who has been building Geographic Information Systems (GIS) since the late 60’s has developed an entire technology stack for utilizing geography as an enterprise platform.  Wiring-up CRM’s, ERP’s, Data Warehouses, and other operational business systems to a geographic platform is not as hard as you might think.  If you want, you can start with small investments in technology and services and quickly develop new and powerful ways of running your business.

The trends are clear.  It will be common place for organizations to have specialized spatial analytics divisions.  Interactive maps will be a standard part of the executive’s BI dashboard.  Geographic platforms are increasingly being recognized as good options for dealing with Big Data, predictive analytics, risk analysis, and data from mobile devices, to name a few.  Geography is also a great platform to use for providing value added services for your customers.  Put simply, maps serve as a common language for effectively communicating complex ideas.

Geography as a technology platform is a game-changer that delivers a distinct competitive advantage.

Don’t get left behind.

Keith is the General Manager for GISi’s Private Sector Group.  Please contact him at or 205-941-0442 x159 with questions or comments.

Five Ways Location Based Technology Can Support a Pipeline Integrity Management Program

For gas transmission companies, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 mandates a set of regulations to ensure the safety and integrity of the pipeline system. Central to the legislation is the requirement for operators to prepare and implement an integrity management program (IMP), which requires operators to perform tasks such as risk analysis, assessment of baseline integrity for each segment in the system, and inspection of the entire pipeline system according to a mandated schedule. Failure to adequately implement an effective integrity management program can lead to significant penalties in the best case, and significant loss of life and property in the worst.

Due to the spatial nature of a pipeline system and its relationship to potential threats along the system, location based technology (sometimes referred to as geographic information systems, or GIS) has a significant role to play in an integrity management program. While not an exhaustive list, the following five areas illustrate how location based technology can make pipeline integrity management more efficient and effective.

1)     Delineation of high consequence areas (HCA)

High consequence areas along a pipeline system are those areas characterized by a high population density or containing facilities that are difficult to evacuate in the event of an emergency, such as hospitals, schools, or prisons. While an accident is unwelcomed anywhere along the system, an accident in a high consequence area has the potential for much more damage, and therefore benefits from additional resources for assessment and remediation. The very idea of an HCA is spatial by nature, and practically demands to be displayed on a map.

The process of identifying HCAs illustrates some of the classic functionality of a location based information system. First, each pipeline segment is buffered by the required distance (200 meters, e.g.) to create polygons representing the areas within the critical proximity to a pipe. Next, the segment buffer polygons are intersected with population density and facility location data so critical information from the underlying datasets can be extracted for each segment area. Finally, the segment areas can be queried to find the features deemed as high consequence areas.

2)     Data integration

Making optimal use of pipeline integrity data requires compiling and maintaining datasets that describe a variety of pipeline characteristics and auxiliary information, such as maintenance records, aerial surveys, and construction documents. Since all of this information is tied directly to a pipe segment (or segments) in the system, a location based approach to managing these data is a logical choice. Once tied to the spatial component, such data can come to life and be used to evaluate relationships between the data that may not have been conceptualized earlier.

A linear referencing technique can be used to tie relevant tabular data to specific segments of the system using relative from/to positions along a pipe. Data models such as the Pipeline Open Data Standard (PODS) support the management of such data along the system and can be integrated with any location-based information system. In addition to describing the current state of the system, historical information can be integrated as well. The PODS ESRI Spatial Implementation is an example of the PODS data model implemented in an ArcGIS geodatabase.

3)     Risk assessment

For any situation, risk can be defined by determining 1) what can go wrong?, 2) how likely it is to go wrong?, and 3) what would be the consequences of a failure? As dictated by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, risk assessment analysis is required for all segments within high consequence areas. Pipeline operators employ a variety of modeling techniques to assess risk along the system, including hazard and operability analysis (HAZOP), fault-tree analysis, and scenario-based (“what if?”) analysis. Such techniques generally focus on specific factors that relate to the probability of a pipeline failure as well as to the severity of the consequences of such an event. Each segment is then assigned a number that indicates relative risk within the system or likelihood of a failure occurring at that location.

As mentioned above, location based systems facilitate the integration of the wide variety of data required to execute these types of analyses. Most such models also utilize a spatial component, especially when factoring the impact to the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants (consequences).

Modern location based information systems are for much more than maintaining and viewing spatial data. Most of them include a powerful suite of geostatistical analysis tools and the ability to implement custom analytical logic. The ESRI Model Builder application provides a good illustration of the flexibility and analytical power built in to a modern GIS.

4)     Pipeline inspection

Not all of the work involved in carrying out a pipeline integrity management program happens behind a desk. Pipes need to be inspected, they need to be hydro tested, and sometimes repaired. Fortunately, a good location based information system doesn’t need to stay on the desk either. Field crews can be equipped with a GIS that integrates global positioning systems (GPS), digital cameras, laser rangefinders, and a variety of other peripherals to make their job easier.

Crew personnel on the ground, for example, might receive GPS locations and a digital photo from an aerial patrol for an observation they need to investigate. Using a location aware application on a smart phone or tablet, the crew could get driving directions using the coordinates provided and verify the observation using the photograph.

5)     Documentation and reporting

In a dynamic environment, where data are changing quickly, it’s important to be able to pull meaningful information out of the system when it’s needed. In the context of pipeline safety, of course, the information desired almost always centers around a set of pipeline segments. Within a location based information system, where all data are integrated with their related segments, data may be retrieved spatially (show me all the segments within the selected county on the map), or by using an attribute query (show me all segments with a diameter less than 8), or even both (show me all the gathering lines in the current map extent). The flexibility that such a system provides allows custom reports to be generated effortlessly and quickly and ensures that the data in the system are being used effectively to answer a variety of questions.

In addition to the power and flexibility of information contained in a GIS, the impact of using a map to support information displayed in a table or chart shouldn’t be underestimated. Sometimes a map is worth a thousand words.

Effective pipeline integrity management requires the integration of a variety of data sources into a coherent system, powerful tools for performing analysis, and the ability to produce meaningful summaries of the results. Location based information systems provide an ideal framework for such a system.