Integrating Utility Billing Software with GIS & Asset Management

One of the things we do different around here is the way we integrate with utility billing software.  We’ve done quite a few utility billing integrations with our Elements XS asset management software, many of those integrations with various degrees of functionality depending on the individual customer scenario.

How it’s typically done.

It seems that most folks in the industry do an integration by (essentially) copying records from one system to the other - for example, you create a “Service Order” in the utility billing software and that triggers a “Service Request” in the asset management software.  Once the “Service Request” is closed in the management software, the “Service Order” in the utility billing software gets closed as well.

The key problem here is ultimately you'll end up with two records for the same problem, each record with slightly different information (the billing side contains information related to billing, the asset management side contains whatever came from the billing software plus additional information not tracked on the billing side).  So, when you look up the history in the future, which application should you be looking in?  Each application will give you a slightly different take on what happened, with a few common denominators between the two sets of data (the information that was passed between the two applications).

How we do it.

Our philosophy is that there should be a single data source for each piece of data, with all of the data sources communicating with each other.  This means that in order to take full advantage of the integration it should look like this:

  • Billing software is the sole repository for Location, Customer, Meter, and Service data
  • Asset management software is the sole repository for all work history
  • ESRI’s ArcGIS geodatabase is the sole repository for spatial assets

How does that work?  It’s probably less complicated than you think.  The billing software looks the same as it otherwise would - the work history is just stored in another database.  The asset management software continues to operate like the asset management software otherwise would - additionally it provides tools for the billing software to reference the asset management data.  And lastly, the ArcGIS geodatabase continues to work like it always has, the asset management software referencing the geodatabase for asset attribute data and spatial information.

How to make it work.

In order for this to work, both parties (asset management and utility billing) need to be willing to play ball.  Ultimately the utility billing vendor may be sacrificing their “Service Orders” module for the asset management software (in this type of integration).  Better for the customer (one data source), potentially worse for the billing vendor’s pocket book (you’re spending money on the asset management software instead of purchasing the billing vendor’s Service Orders module).

Our school of thought is to let each software do what it does best.   We’ve worked with several utility billing vendors - some are in the same boat as us, some are not even in the same ocean.  Ultimately the depth of the integration you’ll be able to achieve depends on how willing the two companies are to work with each other.

See it in action.

The end result of the methodology described above is that everyone is always on the same page, all data is realtime, and each of the applications (ArcGIS, asset management, and utility billing) are doing what they do best.

If you’d like to see it in action just drop us a line, we’d be happy to let you try it out!

GIS & Work Order Management Systems: 6 Things to Consider

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably come to realize that there are more than a few options for integrating GIS with a work order system. There are a multitude of products out there that will let you integrate your work orders with your GIS and at some point you’ve probably even considered building the integration yourself using existing ESRI tools.  At the end of the day, most of those options will likely work to some extent, and will allow you to successfully create a work order and tie it to your GIS in some fashion.

That being said, it can be difficult to find a solid work order system that’s a good fit for your organization (especially when integrating with GIS).  Here are a few items to consider when evaluating GIS-based work order and asset management systems:

1. Web Based

Do you want your GIS and work order system to be accessible via the web?  If so, you’ll  probably want to look for a system that 1) does not require an installation on the local device and 2) is cross-browser compatible (works in Chrome, Safari, Firefox, IE, or your browser of choice).  Some work order systems require a client side application to be installed and maintained – especially when integrating with GIS.


2. Live Field Access

Does your service area allow for real-time data access via the web, or do you need to take data offline?  Web-based applications are great, but if you don’t have the web in your service area, make sure your web-based application has some method of taking data offline.


3. iPads and Tablet Access

Do you want to access the work order system via iPads, iPhones, Androids, and other devices?  You’ll want to make sure that your work order system (including your GIS data) will be available on the device of your choice – either via an App or via live web access.


4. GIS Integration

Do you want to make changes to your GIS from the work order system?  If you want users of the work order system to be able to make changes to your GIS you’ve basically got two choices:

    1    Real-Time Integration. (Best Choice!)  In this case we’re reading directly from and writing directly to the GIS application (typically using ESRI’s ArcGIS Server and ArcSDE technologies).  Users can make real-time, live changes to your GIS (with appropriate user permissions) directly from the work order system.

    2    Data Synchronization.  If the above option is not a viable solution (due to cost or other resources), users can also make changes to the GIS in the work order system then synchronize those changes back to the GIS.  This method can get messy in a hurry if not properly managed – we don’t recommend it.


5. Non-GIS Assets

Are you going to track assets that are not in your GIS?  It seems that the non-spatial assets (things that don’t belong on the map) tend to get overlooked.  If you plan on tracking work on trucks, heavy equipment, and other assets that are not GIS-based be sure to take that into consideration.  Some GIS-based work order systems store the asset management data in the same database as the GIS, some GIS-based work order systems don’t.  If you’re tracking work on a backhoe, and your backhoe is not an asset in your GIS, it doesn’t make much sense to use GIS to track the backhoe.  Make sure you understand how data is stored and tracked for non-GIS assets – make sure the work order system doesn’t require to you add things to your GIS that don’t belong there.


6. Financial and Utility Billing Integration

Do you want to integrate with your utility billing or financial application?  If so, you’ve again basically go two options here:

    1    Real-Time Integration. (Best Choice!)  Here we’re reading directly from the utility billing (or other) application, getting information in real-time.  In this case no data is being duplicated or stored in multiple locations.  When combined with a web-based and GIS-integrated work order system this becomes a very powerful tool.  Users of the work order system can access job-specific customer, location, and meter information directly from the billing system while on the job site, using the work order system.

    2    Data Synchronization.  In this case data is typically copied or synchronized periodically from the utility billing software to the work order system.  This method typically gets the job done, although the data is not live, it’s being stored in multiple places, and it usually requires a bit of manual intervention to keep it running.


So there you have it – six things (of the many) to consider.  For information on how we integrate GIS with work orders and other asset management data visit