Pacific Hydro taps the power of GIS

With at least $A1.6B in new initiatives underway across the world, Pacific Hydro has sought to marry the collaborative qualities of SharePoint with its geographic information system (GIS) server to make geospatial data more broadly available in offices in Australia, Chile, and Brazil.

The clean energy future starts now with Australia’s Pacific Hydro, a global developer and operator of clean energy projects that include solar, geothermal, hydro and wind.

Maja Barnett, GIS Co-ordinator at Pacific Hydro, estimates that over 95% of documents across the organisation have some sort of geospatial reference and has cited this as the reason for developing a system to spatially enable documents stored within SharePoint.

SharePoint 2007 and an ESRI Geographical Information System (GIS) server have been in place at the organisation since 2009, however initially there were no links between the two platforms.

Limitations of a centralised approach to GIS became evident as different departments failed to receive updates to geospatial data, meaning their maps may be out of date.

SharePoint documents could not be searched spatially or by individual asset, and instead multiple documents for an individual asset or geographic location must be searched individually and often within different document libraries.

Also spatial relationships between documents could not be viewed and spatial information stored within documents was unable to be analysed.

A small team of GIS professionals located in both Melbourne and Santiago Chile undertook a project in 2010 to correct this by spatially enabling existing data for analysis.

Rather than have staff rely on maps and plans that must be generated by a small number of dedicated GIS personnel, the company also wanted to open it up to more widespread access.

“We treat our GIS as a centralised repository of information, its not just environmental data there is planning, legal and construction that all feed information into the GIS,” said Barnett.

The first objective was to open up GIS data stored within geodatabases and provide a dynamic link to the mapping interface within SharePoint.

Visual Fusion from IDV solutions was selected to link SharePoint and ESRI to enable this.. Melbourne-based IT integrated solutions company, Geomatic Technologies (GT), undertook the project to integrate the data sources, which ensures that any updates to the GIS data are now automatically reflected in the mapping interface.

Staff can now view the location of assets, for instance within a wind turbine power generator, and when selecting assets view additional information stored within the geodatabase.

Unlike other Internet mapping solutions, any data updated within the geodatabase is immediately reflected in the mapping interface.

“Making spatial data more widely available has allowed individual departments to be better informed and resulted in improved decision-making,” said Barnett.

Providing the ability for documents to be “spatially searched” was another objective.
Many documents that are specific to individual assets or a particular geographic location now have a metadata field that links them to assets stored within the GIS geodatabase. Geospatial data is manually added to documents as they are uploaded to SharePoint.

This provides for improved document search functionality as well as better efficiency and workflows.

“It also provides a user friendly interface for document searches,” said Barnett.
The move to spatially enable data has provided major benefits, for instance being able to analyse occupational health & safety incidents by locations. Events are traditionally recorded in an Excel spreadsheet, and when this is migrated to a SharePoint List the location co-ordinates (Latitude/Longitude) are added to enable this.

The success of the system comes from empowering non-GIS users in the business to access and contribute toward the physical location of assets, documents and incidents.

The Visual Fusion solution deployed by GT on the SharePoint platform has provided the tools to effectively extend the mapping and visualisation of business data without the need for all users to be trained in GIS.

All of Pacific Hydro’s operational wind farm projects are currently held in the system, and in the future it is hoped to extend this to include all projects in both development and operation. Another item on the agenda is the addition of reporting tools that can alert to health and safety incidents for instance.