The distribution network reimburses your technical debt


Pay off your debt. Lower your mortgage. Eliminate payment for your car. Even reduce your college loan. Wait. What? No, he can’t do any of that. But it can pay off your technical debt.

The father of the Wiki, Ward Cunningham coined the term technical debt. This metaphor refers to the inherent inefficiencies of software. This could have happened when the developers rushed the software into production due to their inability to fix the intended problem. Or it could have happened by creating software with vague requirements. Or by over-customizing standard software – forcing software to do what it was never designed to do.

In deference to Cunningham, I will expand the metaphor. I would like to include inefficiencies in the job itself. Like time wasted working. Money spent to compensate for bad data. Lower reliability due to lack of analysis. Cunningham uses the term burden. Since every time you have dept, you have to pay interest. So, rather than using the burden, I would like to invent the term technical interest. It is the price or the penalty for the wasted effort or inefficiency associated with technical debt. It’s not just about money, either. It could be poor customer satisfaction, damage to reputation, or even poor employee morale.

When my wife and I bought our first home, we stretched the budget. Every month for years, we have taken on credit card debt just to meet our expenses. Over time, interest payments have been one of our biggest monthly expenses.

We did the only thing we could to get out of debt. We have changed the process. We both got second jobs.

Sometimes you bite the bullet and change the process.

ArcGIS Utility Network changes the process

One of the most common questions I get ArcGIS utility network is “what is the return on investment of the migration to the distribution network?” “

Here are some additional questions. Will the implementation have a positive impact on my key performance indicators? Will it reduce overtime, operations and maintenance, and capital expenditures? Will my utility have fewer gas, electricity and telecommunications outages? Will employees get their jobs done faster? Will our business have fewer accidents? The answer to these questions is yes. How? ‘Or’ What? By reducing built-in inefficiencies – reducing your technical debt.

Does it require effort? Sure. This means that utilities will have to add missing data, such as component z, to their network assets. It means rethinking entrenched workflows. It may even mean changing the way utilities view GIS.

ArcGIS Utility Network provides the tools and functions to change processes – for the better.

The nature of the technical debt of public services

When I worked for the electric company, one of the job categories was that of underground inspector. Here is what the inspector did. A designer would specify a new underground cable to be installed in the rows of conduits and manholes. The inspector visited each manhole to verify if the ducts specified by the designer were empty. Wait. You mean the company didn’t trust their records?


They had a manhole database and a GIS. Yet they weren’t integrated, the updating process was messy, and the accuracy was questionable. And they didn’t have a GIS that modeled the structural networks.

It was safer to drive in the field. Open each manhole. Go inside. Spend an hour in a dark, spooky space using cardboard manhole cards trying to decipher the exact conduit the designer intended. Then document what the inspector found. On paper.

The idea was that if the designer was wrong and the duct was not empty, they would have to abandon the entire design. And start over. The deadlines would be missed. Rather than changing the process and solving the fundamental problem of bad data and modeling, the practice continued.

They would not eliminate technical debt.

Structure Networks repays technical debt

Utilities struggle to accurately represent their dense urban underground structures in their GIS. Some have used CAD to represent the interiors of manholes, substations and vaults. The result is very little integration and faulty workflows. Often underground cables in the GIS are not displayed near their actual location. This limits the use of the wonderful ability of augmented reality.

To repay the technical debt, change the process. Migrate to the ArcGIS utility network. Model the structural network – manholes, duct banks, vaults, cable trays, tunnels and cable supports.

Of course, this will take work. Is it worth it? Yes. Once done, it will transform the way a utility deals with complex underground systems. It will speed up problem diagnosis, repair and asset management. The alternative is to keep paying the technical interest – lost time, arduous field trips and prolonged downtime. The benefits in terms of productivity, material costs and customer service will be substantial.

What else?

The fabric network is just one of many enhancements built into ArcGIS Utility Network that pay off technical debt (and reduce technical interest payments). Others include:

  • Extensive attribute rules – ensures data is accurate and consistent
  • Services Architecture – allows network functions to exist on any device
  • Accurate device modeling – realistic 2D and 3D modeling
  • Treat subnets as entities – simplifies network management
  • Enhanced security – adheres to the highest cybersecurity standards
  • Much more

ArcGIS Utility Network may not be able to repay your student loan. But it can definitely save you money and lower your interest payments on your technical debt. Learn more about the ArcGIS utility network download our latest e-book.


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