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The Utility Pole "Mr. Boring"​, Gets his Groove Back!

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

In my last article, “Mr. Boring – The Utility Pole” I outlined the importance of the utility pole and the role it will play in the race to deploy FTTH and 5G networks. For literally over 100 years the Utility pole has witnessed the last century rush by with all the advancements in technology and changes to our society, and culture.

We never really give much thought to the utility pole, they are just part of the landscape. And yet they are the underpinnings of our power, telecommunication, and broadband networks.

It’s estimated there are over 200 million utility poles that dot the North American landscape. We can only imagine the global numbers. All this infrastructure must be surveyed and inspected to insure for function and safety. Let’s not forget these utility poles are not always easily accessible and are exposed to the elements.

It is understandably a challenge in aggregating all the inspection data from the field into a cohesive database. For Utilities improving or developing asset management is critical. Poor data and record keeping will increase costs in maintenance, safety, and eventually profitability.

The are many companies now focused on creating standard record sets for utility poles. This includes hi resolution photos, and data collected on site. This all goes into the Pole record. Information logged such as GPS location, pole owner, attachments, attachment owners, identifying cable types, distances between cables, pole condition, guide wires, etc.

Managed efficiently the data can improve engineering decisions, design, planning, scheduling, dispatch, and not to mention fewer truck rolls. This information can be shared to improve efficiency for all Telecom, Broadband, and Utility usage. This addresses a lot of the issues raised in my previous article.

 If the data is managed and "Mined" properly with analytics and reporting it can become a competitive advantage.

Digital Transformation of the Utility Sector

The “Digitization” of their most common asset, the Utility Pole, is only the tip of the ice burgh for the Utility Sector. As with almost all businesses, Digital Transformation is inevitable in order to stay relevant and to succeed. All industry is at some stage of planning or transforming to a more digital information base of operation.

Utilities face a unique challenge in that their business models are extremely mature. Energy distribution is nothing new. Their methods are engrained in an industry that’s been around for a long time. For a true digital transformation to be effective it must filter throughout the entire organization. It’s about driving agility, connectivity, analytics, and collaboration to fully harness big data.

Power generation and distribution, electrical grids, connected homes and businesses, customer relations, will all undergo transformation to become adept in both business operations and operating models.

There are huge opportunities for Utilities to be central players in Smart City initiatives. Fully networked environments of buildings, integrated WiFi, connected commercial equipment, IoT devices providing data to cloud based storage to be used for large scale analytics.

Utilities face the challenge of attracting resources trained in digital technology. The three pillars are IT infrastructure, organization and governance, and digital culture and change management. These are no small tasks.The Utilities will face many challenges and will have many opportunities. Finding the right partnerships will be an important strategy.

So, on your next drive, or out in the neighbourhood for a walk, take a fresh look at “Mr. Boring” the Utility Pole. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and believe it or not, Mr. Boring is going to be right there on the front lines again as we rush towards an even more connected world with FTTH and 5G.

Doug McCluskey, Network & Broadband Specialist Missing Link Technologies Ltd.

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