‘Geospatial technology has helped SEWA rise to the next level’

‘Geospatial technology has helped SEWA rise to the next level’

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Atif Ahmed Karrani
Managing Director – IT Department, Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority

Geospatial technology has helped utility organisations across the world to simplify their work and improve their functioning. Atif Ahmed Karrani, Managing Director of IT Department at Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (SEWA) talks about the extent of technology use in his organisation and the problems facing the growth of geospatial technology in the region

Please tell us in brief about SEWA and its activities? What was the major reason behind the implementation of geospatial technology at SEWA?

SEWA or Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority provides electricity, water and gas to more than 350,000 consumers across the Sharjah Emirate. The main aim of the Authority is the provision of better, advanced and efficient services of electricity, water and natural gas to the residents, satisfying the consumers” demands and meeting the increasing requirements of the ongoing social and economical developments.

The major aspect which prompted us to use geospatial technology was to simplify the work. Prior to deploying geospatial technology, we were working with drawings and also some AutoCAD files, but using GIS has really simplified the work and data can now be made available simultaneously for all the staff and not only for one engineer. Another motivation was the ability of GIS to integrate with other data, so the civil engineers could integrate their information with the maintenance and construction data, which could together provide the management with an overview about the network and thus help take better decisions.

When did SEWA first start using geospatial technology and how has it benefited the overall functioning of the organisation?

While the technology has been used since a long time at SEWA, we officially started using geospatial technology from 1999 with a couple of GIS licenses. Subsequently, the first enterprise level project in the field of natural gas was initiated in 2001. The main enterprise level application of the technology, which included all three segments of our services i.e. electricity, water and gas started in 2005. Since that time, we have been using enterprise GIS across SEWA.

For all the three utility segments that we deal with, the most important use of GIS is for editing the network; thus all the daily network updates are carried out from within the department itself. Another important aspect of using the technology is to make data available for our engineers and other staff. For the same, we have built a GIS portal where the staff can carry out various functions such as locate their sub-stations or locate the consumer. Recently, we have also made GIS a part of the billing system, which entails giving every consumer a geographic location, which will assist the technician to reach the customer within a certain period of time in case of a problem. We are also using mobile applications for maintenance purposes and also for collecting the sub-station data.

Please brief us about the new projects or initiatives at SEWA.

One of our most recent and biggest projects is the Geoportal, wherein we have made all our information from across the organisation available on the portal. The Geoportal, which is meant for the use of our staff, also includes certain basic applications such as an application that allows you to locate various assets such as the sub-station and electrical network. It can also provide details about consumers in an area, the consumption for each area or each plot etc.

You recently attended the Geospatial World Forum in Rotterdam. How was your experience there?

It was a wonderful event with a lot of learning opportunities. We met a lot of people from across the world and shared knowledge with them. We learnt a lot about standards, as you get an opportunity to see the kind of approach being used by other organisations and thus practice the same back home. At the same time, it was also a great opportunity to get a glimpse of various applications that are available with other vendors from around the world. Such an approach helps a lot in saving time and resources as you do not have to start from scratch. The knowledge gathered from the event has helped us to look towards the future wherein we are looking to have more mobile applications in terms of smart phones, PDAs etc which is the current trend across the market.

Have you done any kind of assessment, monetary or non-monetary, to measure the kind of benefits that the application of geospatial technology has provided to the organisation?

Nothing of that sort has been done yet as we are still in the process of adding more GIS applications. As of now our data is complete and up to date but we still need to build a lot of applications on top of that so that the users can benefit from these applications. However, we can safely say that geospatial technology is a major factor that has helped the organisation grow to the next level.

Out of the various services that SEWA provides (water, electricity and gas), which according to you, is the most potential vertical for the use of geospatial technology?

Although all three sectors are making extensive use of geospatial technology, electricity network is the most important and updated of all, which is followed by water and gas respectively. A major reason for the same is the primary importance of electricity. However, we also have other projects on water and gas.

You have worked as a GIS Manager at SEWA and are now the Managing Director of the IT Department. Do you think GIS and IT should be looked at as different technologies or complementary to each other?

While GIS started primarily as an engineering tool, but with new technology and new applications coming in, both GIS and IT are going in the same direction. The hardware, software and mobile applications etc are an integral part of GIS and it is not possible to separate one from another. So, we can say that although GIS has more engineering part and IT has more service part, but both put together can only complete the network for an organisation. GIS will never be a part of IT for editing, networking and engineering. However, it will be part of IT as service provider. To ensure smooth functioning, the IT should make sure that there are licenses available, the network is available and all other issues related to IT are taken care of.

Any particular success story that you would like to share with us?

The Geoportal project which we have recently completed is extremely important for our internal users. Through the portal, they can have easy access to all the information right on their desktop. The users can access various kinds of information that they are looking for such as information on billing or information on all the networks (water, gas and electricity), information for new planning, giving new connections etc. The portal is fully functioning and we are constantly adding new features to it.

What would be your message for the geospatial community in the region?

The most important thing that we should make sure is to have adequate cooperation between the GIS and IT teams, where the output should be accessible to the management for better decision making. While the users should look to enhance the network, the management should try to use that information for the overall enhancement of the business process.

In terms of use and application of geospatial technology in the region, there is still a lot of scope for improvement. A major reason for the same is that GIS is a huge subject wherein for each element there is a sub-type and for each sub-type there is a lot of information to be captured.

Another important area of consideration is that the education sector should focus on getting more and more geospatial professionals as the human resource is a major challenge facing the growth and development of the technology in the region. Having more of trained geospatial professionals will ensure the further expansion of this technology and the overall growth of the region.