Utility Data Collection: The Past and Future of Inventory

Posted by Mary Ashley Canevaro on October 8, 2019

Utility Data Collection - Past Future Inventory

For utility companies, accurate data is essential to effective asset management. Power providers need up-to-date data to ensure their plant is free of violations, double poles, hazards, and trespass. Trusted methods have been used to collect data on utility poles for decades, with little or no changes made to keep up with the millennium technology boom.

But as we know, the technology landscape is changing. In far greater numbers than ever before, telecommunications companies need space for their equipment on utility poles. To enable rapid expansion of high-tech services, finding space on poles is essential to deploy broadband service. As the pace of deployment increases, some larger utilities are seeking more efficient ways to collect essential data. Declining costs eventually will make new methods available to a broader range of companies.

At Alden, we continue to collect data using the expertise and tools that utilities have trusted for years, but we also see the trajectory of data collection and understand where it is headed in the future. Employing modern technology is crucial for keeping up with the ever-changing joint use industry.

Tried and True: Hot Sticks and Digital Cameras

For years, utility companies have collected data by sending an experienced technician into the field armed with a hot stick. This device is a fiberglass pole that telescopes in sections of 5 to 6 feet. It can reach to higher-placed power distribution lines, as well as to the communication cables that rest lower on the pole. The fiberglass material makes the hot stick completely safe for contact with live electrical lines.

Although slow and time-consuming, this method of data collection has been very effective for collecting accurate data, especially when combined with the use of digital cameras. Photos record images of hot stick measurements, poles, cables, and any attachments.

The old methods of storing and managing data on the back end have not weathered the years quite as well. Initially, companies recorded pole data on paper documents, which were stored in physical files used by multiple departments. Later, most paper records were digitized into spreadsheets. The longer time goes on, the more obsolete spreadsheets are for handling large amounts of increasingly detailed data.

Faster Speeds and Changing Needs

If the data needs of utility companies were static, the old methods of data collection would suffice into the foreseeable future. But that is not the case.

Rapid advances in broadband and telecommunications mean more frequent requests from companies wanting to attach their equipment to utility poles. The new 5G wireless technology, with its higher speeds and wider range of automated uses, will require support from many small cell units to function adequately.

The utility pole is now a dynamic space, and well-maintained data is becoming more and more crucial. A utility must know how much equipment is already attached to a pole before granting permission for a new attachment. Along with the increase in permitted attachments, the challenges are compounded by the found attachments on many poles without the owner’s permission.

At Alden, we know first-hand that many utility companies are struggling to keep up. For a company with 100,000 or even 1 million poles, performing data collection quickly enough to meet the new demands is a massive task. “It is a volume issue and resource issue,” says John McConnell, VP of Business Development and Alden’s data collection expert. “Many of the utilities have limited resources, [and] they simply do not have the personnel or the manpower to be able to go out and physically collect that information on a timely basis.”

The New Method: LIDAR and Drone Technology

The solutions to these changing needs involve new approaches and new technology. While the technology has existed for years, it has been unavailable to most companies largely because of prohibitive costs.

LIDAR (Light Imaging Detection And Ranging) is a key part of this revolution in data collection, especially when paired with drone aircraft. The possibilities of LIDAR, be it ground, mobile, or aerial methods, are endless. Such technology can compliment boots on the ground methods, while improving efficiency. It also offers a higher level of detail and a wide range of applications.

Staying Ahead

The future of data collection is beginning to arrive in waves, and Alden is on the cutting edge. We offer both traditional and high-tech methods of utility pole inspection, and we can perform all the necessary operations from start to finish.

Once the data is in hand, Alden also has the best system available for back office data management. Life cycle asset management is the end component for long-lasting data maintenance. Alden One® is an asset management platform for joint use that leaves outdated electronic spreadsheets in the dust. It keeps essential data organized. The system is easy to update, easy to access, and easy to share -- internally and, when needed, externally. It’s especially ideal for use on a tight schedule, which many joint use companies are facing with the boom in 5G and small cell attachments. Lastly, the system is fully supported by our team of hands-on consultants.

If you’re interested in learning more about what Alden brings to data collection and data management, click below to speak with a product and services specialist.

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