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Utilities can learn from Ants!

Over the past two years I have confused many people when I bring up this topic.  Luckily I have refined my pitch and simplified my story which can now be delivered more concisely.

You see, ants do not have an organizational structure.  Contrary to popular belief the queen ant does not give orders.  When a crew of worker ants is out in the field they make decisions together for the benefit of the colony; there is no middle or upper management weighing in and prioritizing against competing interests.

How can a utility benefit from this?  Consider a field crew stumbling upon a records issue which does not match what is in the field.  Let’s assume a digital sketch is prepared and sent into the mapping department to update the GIS and As-Built records.  Everything sounds good so far, right?

Well, how many Utilities take that information and modify their records?

Are we to modify the As-Built drawings which were previously confirmed upon installation and stamped?

Should we update this twenty year old drawing, which has worked well for so many years?

Can we update the GIS with this sketch or should we keep it the same so as to match the original drawing?

How can we be sure that the field crew who identified the discrepancy is correct?

With all of these questions how can the records or GIS management team move forward?

What if that level of decision making was removed and we simply updated the map with every opportunity received from the field.  The records would become organic and we would be continually improving the data.  I suppose we would never want to claim the records are 100% but at least we could state that they are improving every day.

I will be presenting these ideas, including using Swarm Theory for improving Utility Asset Management and Crowdsourcing to eliminate bottlenecks, at the upcoming URISA Ontario conference on February 24th, 2015, in Oakville, Ontario.

Hope to see you there!


Kris Philpott