How Digital Construction Management Supports the Rapid Growth of Electric Infrastructure

How Digital Construction Management Supports the Rapid Growth of Electric Infrastructure

As utilities rebuild and expand their T&D infrastructure, their current work order completion/as-built processes must meet current demands. Capturing, reporting, and updating the vast number of assets being placed into service into GIS/OMS are stretching systems to their limits, putting workers and the public at risk.

While strides have been made in utilizing digital technologies to construct more efficiently and with higher quality, digitalization in utility construction is still lagging. Relying on existing technologies and as-is processes is no longer an option. Utilities must take one final step in their DCM journey to keep up with rapid growth.

While global warming and resulting climate change continue to wreak havoc on the electric grid, a host of issues, from the dramatic increase in energy consumption to system automation, are creating a perfect storm inside electric utilities. In addition, the Federal Government is investing trillions of dollars to support these efforts to rebuild and harden the T&D electric systems.

As utilities rebuild and expand their T&D infrastructure to address these challenges, their current work order completion/as-built processes must meet the current demands. Capturing, reporting, and updating the vast number of assets being placed into service into GIS/OMS are stretching systems to their limits, putting workers and the public at risk.

While strides have been made in utilizing digital technologies to construct more efficiently and with higher quality, digitalization in utility construction is still lagging.

Relying on existing technologies and as-is processes is no longer an option.

Existing As-Built Processes Can’t Keep Up

Extreme weather broke multiple records last year across every continent, wreaking havoc on people and infrastructure. Thousands of miles of new overhead and underground transmission and distribution facilities are being constructed across North America to counteract the effects of these devastating events. For example, utilities in Florida and California are undergrounding over 40,000 miles of overhead T&D facilities.

Extreme weather isn’t the only factor creating an increase in electricity demand. The proliferation of EV charging stations and conversion to electric heating and cooking creates a complete disruption of traditional energy load curves.

Utilities face significant increases in base load requirements from their electric T&D networks.  The existing distribution infrastructure of 25 kVa transformers, 1/0 Al primary wire, and #4 Al Triplex services will no longer be effective in serving the needs of the highly electrified customer base. Additionally, current load curves will be replaced with significant overnight energy loads becoming the norm.

To adequately manage increasing demand, utilities are investing heavily in their electric T&D network: installing high-tech equipment to monitor energy flow and load, sense and clear faults, smart switching technology, and innovative outage management systems to respond to outages.

All this electric T&D rebuilding significantly burdens the current construction work order closeout/as-built updating processes.

The Dangers of Maintaining the Status Quo

As utilities invest hundreds of millions of dollars to install new assets, pressure will continue on already overburdened GIS, OMS, WMS, and systems of record updating processes. Currently, asset data updating is typically delayed by weeks to months. The massive build-out of the T&D systems will further extend these delays and enlarge mapping backlogs.

Delays in data updating result in a disconnect between field and corporate decision-making systems. The inability to maintain a ‘Digital Twin’ means slower outage response time, potential safety issues due to improper mark outs, and ineffective data analysis due to an incorrect system data model.

More alarming is the data capture process. Current asset data capture is typically manual and minimal in content, with no high-fidelity data currently being captured. Acquiring this detailed data at installation is critical for ADMS and advanced engineering tools to perform effectively.    

For this technology to work effectively and improve power reliability and quality, utilities must document and update their various systems of record (GIS, ADMS, EAM, and WMS) faster. The updating must include accurate, robust, and timely data with highly accurate spatial locations.

The current manually intensive work order/as-built updating processes cannot meet these needs.

A Larger Industry Problem

An expanding electric T&D infrastructure impacts the utility and affects the entire supply chain, posing a more significant looming problem—the safety of its workers and customers and its bottom line.

As new T&D infrastructure is installed in the utility distribution network, the need to rapidly update these new facilities into their GIS applications is critical for the safe and effective operation of the electric system.  All utilities rely on in-house staff or external  ‘mark out’ service providers to identify the location of underground facilities before any construction.  This process depends on an up-to-date GIS application that reflects all newly installed assets.  Suppose the GIS is not current, and the resulting mark outs are incorrect. In that case, the workers and the public are at risk for severe injury or death due to contact with energized conductors during excavation activities.

An equally important safety consideration is the timely updating of new infrastructure into the utilities OMS application. Newly installed equipment, conductors, or network topology changes significantly affect the network's safe operation. If the OMS application doesn’t reflect the actual conditions in the field, switching scenarios, grounding processes, and isolation clearances may be faulty. These faults result in construction crews being placed in danger while working on the T&D network. Even though utilities have extreme safety protocols to avoid these types of injuries, an accurate ‘digital twin’ of current field conditions to the GIS / OMS applications is the first step in any safety process.

It is becoming a challenge for the entire supply chain to meet North American utility demand. It currently takes up to 38 months to deliver new transformers. Product delivery lead times, raw materials sourcing, and fever pitch production are reaching their limits. With increased demand also comes a growing issue around product defects.

After a utility receives products, they are distributed across a service territory and used to complete hundreds of work orders. When manufacturers identify product defects, they notify utilities of product recalls. The utilities are then burdened with locating these products in service or the warehouse.

Recalls are incredibly costly to a utility—days to weeks spent combing through hundreds of work order records to locate assets, construction crew time, and labor to confirm the potential asset and its subsequent replacement if required.

These hard costs are in addition to the hidden cost associated with the utility’s reputation with customers and the Public Utility Commission, not to mention the potential impact on the utility’s standing with local and state governments.

The Solution: True Digital Construction Management

Utilities must implement a digital construction management (DCM) solution to optimize their work order closeout and as-built workflows.

A robust DCM tool must contain several elements to ensure the field's final as-built data is ready for import into GIS and WMS applications. The process begins with the ability to interface with any format work order design package.

Utilities create their work orders utilizing several methods, such as:

  • Graphic Work Design
  • CU estimates via Work Management Design modules
  • Drawing applications (AutoCAD or MicroStation)

Therefore, the DCM solution must be able to access and transmit any of the work order source documentation and deliver it digitally to the field crew.

Once the work order package is in the crew's hands, the DCM solution must be designed with a field-first approach—intuitive, easy to use, and in construction crew terms for materials and activities (not in CU or GIS  terminology).

If the construction crew deviates from the original design, the DCM solution must provide an intuitive method to collect changes, freeing the construction crew from extensive documentation and reporting.

Upon work order completion, the DCM must ensure that supervision and back office staff are notified—in real-time—of the work order status.  The work order package and supporting documentation are reviewed by the supervisor and approved for further processing. If there are problems with the work order data, a supervisor can return the work order to the construction crew digitally for resolution.

Once approved, the digital as-built work order package is sent to the GIS and WMS organization so they can continue the system updates. Instead of the typical manual process of physically transporting the work order packages to each downstream organization—often adding weeks to months of delay—the work order packages are digitally sent to each organization, reducing processing time from months to hours.

The rapid and consistent processing of the work order package to both GIS and WMS ensures consistent and near real-time updating of each corporate system, eliminating the endless question, “Which system is correct?” Additionally, the quality and completeness of the data collected and updated support the needs of all downstream users, including ADMS, OMS, Power Plan, and financial.

An emerging technology that will further automate DCM is industry standard barcodes that contain asset attribute information. Locusview is working with EPRI and IEEE through the Supply Chain and Asset Traceability for Electric (SCATE) program to create a universal ID that will enable the entire industry to leverage smart tags (barcodes, QR codes, RFID tags) to automate digital as-builting and asset traceability.


Utilities are bracing for a dramatic increase in infrastructure building funded  through internal sources and the Federal Government's Infrastructure bill resulting in:

  1. Massive storm hardening and undergrounding projects to counter the effects of Global Warming
  2. Electric load growth in cooking, heating, and EV charging
  3. The installation of smart grid technology to support the operation and recovery of the electric system

This volume of construction will overwhelm the existing manual work order closeout process. Adding these new programs to the current workload is a recipe for failure and cannot be overlooked or ignored!

DCM provides utilities with a proven method to vastly reduce the manual processing of work order as-built closeout processes.  Introducing digital data transfer to and from construction crews will significantly improve the rate and quality of completion data in the back office, reducing multiple weeks of delay currently experienced by utilities.  Additionally, field crews are freed from the current manual data collection and scribing tasks that consume a significant amount of time in the field.

The GIS and WMS staff no longer need to manually find, read, or update handwritten information from paper-based work order documents. High-fidelity data captured in the field is automatically populated into various systems of record, eliminating the source of data transcription errors and accelerating updating time from months to days (and, in some instances, hours).

Contractor construction crews have their work digitally documented for near real-time review by the contractor’s and utility’s back office and, ultimately, faster payment processing.