The ArcGIS for Water Utilities Approach to Meeting Water Utility GIS Needs

ArcGIS for Water Utilities is an evolutionary step in how Esri’s GIS technology can be deployed at water utilities.  Over the last year we’ve had many conversations about how ArcGIS for Water Utilities enables water, sewer and stormwater utilities to take a better approach to meeting their GIS needs.  We’ve found one of the most effective ways to communicate the “ArcGIS for Water Utilities Approach” is to compare it with two other approaches to meeting water utility GIS needs we’ve seen – “The Legacy Approach” and the “ArcGIS System Approach”.

Legacy Approach

A Legacy Approach to Meeting Water Utility GIS Needs,arcgis city works,gis utility

What we call “The Legacy Approach” to meeting water utility GIS needs was an approach commonly used about 10 years ago.  This approach was typified by water utilities building their GIS from the bottom up, often with many projects over a multi-year period.  With this approach water utilities were spending a lot of time and money assembling a GIS platform and then creating customizations to perform industry common functions.

By assembling a GIS platform we mean that utilities were typically deploying GIS technology components in a piecemeal way, usually as multiple stages or phases of projects to build out their desktop, web and mobile GIS applications. For example start with a desktop GIS to edit data and create maps, a few years later go to a multiuser editing environment, a few years later start deploying web applications than after that deploy a mobile GIS application.   Efforts were often more focused around bringing in pieces of technology (“I’m implementing SDE” “we are deploying ArcIMS”) rather than the applications supported by the GIS technology.  With each new piece of technology brought into the GIS platform, the utility would have to modify existing customizations, build new customizations that utilize the new technology, create new workflows and perhaps make schema modifications.

When talking about the Legacy Approach, we’ve had some astute people say, the term “legacy” has a negative connotation to it.  Absolutely, it does…  today.  To be fair, this was a logical approach years ago, but with the advancements of ArcGIS and more broad advancement in information technology, knowledge about deploying GIS in the water utility industry and the financial realities of running a modern water utility this isn’t a viable approach any longer.

The ArcGIS System Approach

The ArcGIS System Approach to Meeting Water Utility Needs,arcgis city works,gis utility

About 5 years ago we began seeing more water utilities taking what we call “The ArcGIS System Approach”.  This approach was typified by deploying ArcGIS as a single comprehensive system or platform for geo-spatial information at a water utility.  This enabled water utilities to meet their general GIS platform needs with a COTS system with all the components designed to work together.  Water utilities need to utilize GIS through desktop, web and mobile applications as well as to integrate GIS to other enterprise systems through IT standards and have all applications working off a single authoritative source of data.  At a platform level, this is what the ArcGIS System does.  Deploying ArcGIS as a platform eliminates the need for the utility to assemble a custom GIS platform in a piecemeal manner.

Implementing ArcGIS as a single geo-spatial platform at a water utility still leaves a gap to meet the needs of an individual water utility.  That gap is comprised of industry specific needs and unique organizational needs. Water utilities were bridging this gap by “do it yourself” implementations/customizations, purchasing 3rd party applications that sit on top of the ArcGIS Platform and/or hiring consultants.  If you think about meeting the GIS needs of a water utility as project, the ArcGIS System Approach enables water utilities to reduce the cost, time and risk in comparison to the Legacy Approach.

It is important to note that many water utilities used Esri’s water and sewer datamodels as a way to address some industry specific needs, in particular having a geodatabase schema to store water and sewer pipe networks in GIS.  The old Esri water and sewer datamodels were both ground breaking and very beneficial for water utility GIS, however their focus on pipe networks caused water utilities to have to build out their own custom schemas to accommodate things like operational data and base mapping.

As we interacted with water utilities that were deploying ArcGIS as platform, we observed that there were common customizations that utilities were creating to meet their industry specific needs or more appropriately their industry common needs.  Those customizations are what first drove the creation of the Water Utility Templates which ultimately evolved into ArcGIS for Water Utilities.

ArcGIS for Water Utilities Approach

ArcGIS for Water Utilities Approach to Meeting Water Utility GIS Needs,arcgis city works,gis utility

The “ArcGIS for Water Utilities Approach” is to deploy a focused set of maps and applications that utilize a harmonized information model on top of the COTS ArcGIS platform.  The ArcGIS platform meets the general GIS platform needs of a water utility and the ArcGIS for Water Utilities maps, apps and the Local Government Information Model meets industry common water utility needs.

Deploying the COTS ArcGIS platform gives water utilities desktop, web, and mobile GIS applications configured for a water utility as well as the ability to spatially enable other enterprise systems.  The COTS platform utilizes a single authoritative source of data and includes ArcGIS Online for cloud based geo-collaboration.  So simply put the ArcGIS for Water Utilities maps and apps and the Local Government Information Model are configurations deployed on top of the COTS ArcGIS platform.

The ArcGIS for Water Utilities approach enables water utilities to focus their GIS efforts on meeting true organizational needs through do-it-yourself activities, purchasing 3rd party applications that sit on top of  ArcGIS for Water Utilities and/or by engaging consultants.  The types of efforts typical to bridge the gap between ArcGIS for Water Utilities and an organization’s unique needs are extending the maps, apps and/or the information model or deploying new maps and apps that utilize the information model.

By following the ArcGIS for Water Utilities approach water utilities can reduce the cost, risk and amount of time it takes to meet organizational GIS needs.  Of course to maximize your benefit from ArcGIS for Water Utilities, you must embrace the industry common functionality included in the maps, apps and information model and also have a clear understanding where true organizational needs require additional effort and the effort is worth the cost.


April 13, 2012, in Water Utilities, by Howard Crothers via Esri

arcgis city works