While utility executives increasingly understand that geospatial data is critical to the future successful operation of the smart grid, the integration of geographic information system (GIS) tools and services with smart grid applications, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), energy management systems (EMS), outage management systems (OMS), and distribution management systems (DMS), has been limited to date. According to a recent report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, that will change rapidly over the next five years, as the penetration of GIS into these smart grid applications accelerates.

Utility spending on electric utility GIS software and services will essentially double from 2011 to 2017, growing from $1.8 billion in 2011 to $3.7 billion in 2017, the market intelligence firm forecasts.

“Until recently, complexity and quality issues surrounding geographic data have constrained utility adoption of GIS technology,” says chief research director Bob Gohn. “But the success of the smart grid revolves around the SCADA/OMS/DMS/GIS matrix, and having all these aspects operating in concert, driven off of the same data sources, is a mission-critical requirement.”

The other factor driving the penetration of GIS tools and services in the utility sector is an increasingly mobile workforce. Approximately 60% of all utility employees work in the field on assets that have spatial attributes. Until mobility recently became viable, asset changes or status updates were made on hand-drawn maps and provided to office-based GIS technicians, who would interpret and enter the data on a schedule that often ran months late, resulting in a GIS database that was not current and perhaps not accurate. The spread of mobile GIS tools is automating that process and ensuring that updates are made accurately, in real time.