Introduction to GIS

My Introduction to GIS

Looking back, I can remember the first time I ever heard the term, GIS. A 19-year-old sophomore attending Radford University, I was at the library about to enroll in courses for the fall semester. On the list was Introduction to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and I signed up without hesitation. I was immediately intrigued; maybe because of my landscaping background or the few introductory Geology courses I had already taken to help me understand the underground. Little did I know this course would lay the groundwork for the rest of my career! But, what on planet Earth was so interesting about GIS, and what did I learn?

I learned that GIS is a program used by millions of people around the globe to solve problems. People use GIS to map, model, and visualize data, including underground gas reservoirs and wells, as well as underground utility assets such as gas lines, water valves, storm drains, and much more. GIS is a visualization and analytical tool that delivers answers which are normally buried beneath the surface. I quickly learned the value GIS has to offer to the utility industry.

By using GIS, utilities and facilities can better operate and manage their systems. With one central database rather than a cabinet or local hard drive full of hundreds of as-built drawings with no organization or revision process in place, end users can quickly see their updated information on one map. All as-built information and GPS data is converted, integrated, and accessible on any device, anytime, anywhere giving people answers fast when they need them.

With GIS technology, utilities no longer worry about which folder the latest drawing is in, or which contractor has the latest redline markups, or have an engineer spend countless hours opening hundreds of individual CAD drawings and test-hole reports for a few diameter values. GIS is the answer to these workflow inefficiencies. As utility systems are marked, designed, and built, GIS data is updated to reflect the true configurations of what is underground. We take all sources of information and update the map, and keep it updated as more and more data is collected.

GIS technology is not new to the utility industry; it has been around for decades. With latest advancements in technology such as smartphones, cloud platforms, mobile GPS, and Augmented Reality, GIS is no longer your single tool for drawing points and lines on aerial imagery; it’s now an entire platform for understanding, integrating, and optimizing the operation of utilities. Engineers, surveyors, technicians, planners, and upper management all contribute and benefit from the value of a well-implemented and well-funded GIS. GIS technology allows utilities to integrate data from additional software platforms such as SAP, SCADA, SharePoint, visualize scenarios & risk potential, identify conflicts, solve complicated problems, present powerful ideas, and develop effective solutions accurately.

BENEFITS OF GIS TO UTILITY DEPARTMENTS & FACILITY OWNERS:

• Conflict Detection

• Damage Prevention

• Operational Costs Reduction

• Save Time Relocating Utilities

• Enhance Asset Management Workflows

• Efficiently Manage New & Aging Infrastructure

• Boost Public and Customer Relationships

• Achieve Maximum Productivity

Companies need to know what assets they own and where they are buried. Utility costs are rising and more and more utility departments and facility owners are turning towards GIS to help reduce overall expenses. GIS data is becoming a required deliverable on RFPs, meaning utility locating and mapping firms are required to deliver these services and data formats. The good news is that it is not too late to begin learning and offering GIS services. The lack of accurate underground utility data is creating a massive opportunity for jobs around the globe. Utility locators and surveyors are in a great position to start offering GIS services to help utilities and facilities improve their maps and data.

BENEFITS TO UTILITY LOCATING, SURVEYING, AND ENGINEERING FIRMS:

• Win Multi-Million Dollar GIS Contracts

• Land Repeat Business with Clients

• Blow Past Your Competitors

• Sharpen Your Business Blade

• Become the “Go-To” Locating Firm

• Grow Your Business and Client Base

GIS software will continue to evolve as an important piece of software utilized by utilities and facilities. There are several ways to get started using GIS including YouTube and other online GIS training courses.

Tyler Bristow is a certified GIS Professional (GISP) with over ten years of experience. He is Owner and Founder of Centerline Mapping. Visit his online GIS training course, Utility Mapping Bootcamp at centerlinemapping.com or contact him at tyler@centerlinemapping.com.

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