Location-based Information in Context

By Dr. Mark L. Felman
CEO
Space-Time Insight
Fremont, Calif.
www.spacetimeinsight.com 


orangearrowsIn 2003, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku declared that time travel, “…once confined to fantasy and science fiction… is now simply an engineering problem.” Today, from the standpoint of operations improvement and top-line growth, it’s an engineering problem that’s been solved.

Solving the time problem hasn’t been easy. Business intelligence systems and databases were engineered for rear views. Worse, rear-view data collection capability was incomplete. Organizations hadn’t designed their systems to store rapidly changing – but critical – data about external events that radically affected their business, such as extreme weather and natural disasters.

Forward-looking tools such as forecasting systems remained disconnected from operational systems. Enterprise architects walled off real-time transactional systems from historical data and real-time feeds coming from equipment and environmental sensors, and weather stations and forward planning systems. Data that could be used to create a full-context view of reality along the time continuum resided in different worlds, accessible only in part through a dozen different screens.

Why undertake integration of time-context into location intelligence and across business operations?

Each element of the time continuum – real-time situational awareness, historical playback, and what-if scenario planning – is critical to assessing operations performance and contributing to profitable top-line revenue growth. Companies that can correlate multi-source information across a time and space context prosper from their own more informed decision making and more effective action taking.

Growing the Top Line with Real-Time Information: Oil and Gas

Recent studies by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) in the oil and gas sector have found that companies that manage oil and gas operations in real time and on demand can increase field productivity by 100-400%, decrease operating costs by 10-20%, and increase average production rates by 1-3%. Meanwhile, delayed identification of underperforming assets, leaks, spills, and faulty valves that cause fires and downtime cost a fortune. With assets distributed across thousands of square miles and with huge volumes of streaming data from every aspect of operations, tracked and stored daily, oil and gas enterprises are challenged to make sense of that information in both time and space to prevent losses and maximize profits.

That challenge can be met with the Space-Time Asset Composite, which geospatially displays real-time asset condition and correlates current and historical performance with maintenance history, schedules and environmental factors such as severe weather and other natural events. Early detection and resolution of asset repair and replacement needs are enabled by geospatial visualization, real-time sensor alerts and intelligent dashboards. The result? Optimal asset performance and profitable top-line growth.

A critical element in growing the top line profitably is to have complete, location-based information in context whenever you need it. For example, this includes the ability simultaneously to receive streaming data, extract and correlate stored data and deliver informed alerts on the actual and projected impact of natural and man-made events – intense wind, sand accumulation, flood, storms, lightning strikes, explosions, even unauthorized local activity – as these events unfold.

Actions that need to be taken quickly to mitigate revenue loss and environmental impact include initiating proactive asset maintenance and stopping leaks at an early stage. Simultaneous integration of real-time streaming data from equipment and environmental sensors, aerial photography, GIS applications, pipe centerline data, and other enterprise systems reduces guesswork and risk and accelerates confident action-taking.

By enabling geo-links, users can drill down on the same screen for deeper risk analysis and finer detail on asset condition, initiate appropriate prevention and mitigation, and track activities in the field to meet compliance reporting requirements – all from within the same portal. See Figure 1, where a geospatial composite enables initiation of remedial action and incident reporting for an oil spill. By thus enabling fast, appropriate, and authorized action, a crisis can be prevented from becoming a catastrophe.

Figure 1. This image shows the initiation of remedial action and incident reporting for an oil spill.
FIGURE 1. This image shows the initiation of remedial action and incident reporting for an oil spill.

Growing Carbon Credits in Real-Time

For most industrial and infrastructure sectors, emissions, spills, and carbon footprint can cause debilitating business liabilities if left unchecked. On the flip side, mitigation of pollution and other such system failures contributes to profit margin; carbon credits can equal cash. At electric utilities, operators using the Space-Time Asset Composite with real-time sensor data from equipment and environmental sensors and continuous emission monitors are able to monitor their brown assets, such as high carbon emission coal- and gas-fired stacks, and their greener assets, like stacks with effective scrubber systems and stacks linked to carbon sequestration systems, on a satellite image. Operators click geo-links that take them to back-end processes where they can schedule condition-based or proactive maintenance involving asset or parts tuning, repair, or replacement to turn their brown assets green, and where they can display popup dashboards showing carbon credit financial gains.

Living in the Past Can Be Profitable

Mom always said living in the past was bad. But living in the past also can be profitable if you use it as both a problem-solving and a training exercise. The Space-Time Awareness Server, used with all the Space-Time Composite applications, enables operations teams and planners to perform animated play-back of history in full context, which means including details that are normally outside operational data stores.

Enterprise databases are designed to store data about, for example, how sales hit a record low during an extreme storm season. However, these databases usually don’t contain details about the storms, and they don’t enable planners to deduce exactly how the storms affected operations. In the context of an electric utility, see Figure 2, where a geospatial composite shows full-context historical replay of a hurricane over a utility’s synchrophasor assets for training and scenario-planning purposes. Large phase angle differences indicate a potential system disturbance that could lead to a cascading outage. Historical replay capability enables training and planning that can lead to a more balanced grid and more reliable energy during future storm seasons.

FIGURE 2. A utility gets full-context historical replay of a hurricane over its synchrophasor assets for training and scenario planning purposes with Space-Time Insight.
FIGURE 2. A utility gets full-context historical replay of a hurricane over its synchrophasor assets for training and scenario planning purposes with Space-Time Insight.

Also, in other industries, inclement weather can have significant impact not only on customers, but also on production capacity, inventory levels and the timely delivery of products for sale. Think about being able to play back historical operations events in full context, visualize them on satellite images, watch weather patterns exactly as they unfolded, and visually correlate this information with inventory levels, supplier status and locations, shipping, production, sales locations, and demographics. This ability helps planners see more clearly what went wrong and what could be done differently during the next serious weather event to get product to market and hit sales targets.

Growing Rich From “What If…”

“What if” scenario planning allows executives to prepare their companies to take advantage of anticipated opportunities the instant they arise, make contingency plans, and run their businesses efficiently. In the rail industry, safe on-time arrivals and efficient operations are critical to revenue growth. A train can have two licensed paths – the main path and an alternate. The paths may typically force decisions regarding speed, distance, fuel, other trains, local constraints and even track and bridge conditions.

While a train is scheduled and expected to use the main path as the primary route, a range of external factors could cause delays and force travel along the licensed alternate route. Planners need timely geospatial and situational context for both routes, so they can exercise informed, intelligent choices when and where necessary in order to deliver their loads safely, efficiently, on time and profitably. Good forward scenario planning provides the informed flexibility necessary to make intelligent choices.

To be fully effective, this planning capability must be enabled by geospatial composite applications that provide planners with spatio-temporal displays of all available location, context and schedule variables that will influence route choice – safety, distance, track conditions, speed limits, construction zones and so on. Once en route, these factors will include unknowns at the time of route selection – unscheduled maintenance, vandalism, actual weather forecasts, and potential extreme weather conditions. Everything must be evaluated in space and time.

Utilities: The Dollar Value of Connecting Information Across Time

Electric utilities and Independent Systems Operators have the important responsibility of balancing energy across their piece of the electric grid. A balanced grid is central to the delivery of safe and reliable energy to all customers – no matter what happens. This responsibility is ever-present, and even more important if storms, fires, hurricanes, tornados, and floods are ripping through the assets distributed so widely across the geography. Even brief power outages can produce wide-ranging and costly economic disruptions.


“Companies that can correlate multi-source information across a time and space context prosper from their own more informed decision making and more effective action taking.”


Regardless of the prevailing conditions, a utility’s performance on safety and reliability metrics directly correlates with its rate case, a correlation that justifies to regulators how much they can charge corporations and consumers for energy. Keeping their assets up and running with a minimum of disturbance is fundamental to proving effective management of resources and to delivery of reliable public service.

To this end, utilities must constantly balance their knowledge of historical patterns of energy usage and assets’ mean time to failure against real-time data (from equipment sensors) and real-time situations (wind, fires, storms, ice, vandalism). To this they must add projected energy delivery requirements, asset performance expectations, and weather forecasts, to name just a few factors. The time dimension – past, present and future – is as fundamental as location data, asset taxonomies and other system inputs in getting this right.

The Space-Time Energy Composite automatically aggregates, correlates, visualizes, and enables analysis of all the relevant enterprise and real-time data from all the applicable systems, providing comprehensive situational awareness for the relevant time horizon. See Figure 3, where the geospatial composite correlates field workforce proximity to an outage, provides geo-links to additional detail and authorized procedures, and enables more informed workforce scheduling. Geo-links to remedial action schemes and automated compliance reporting are self-documenting. Operators can initiate fast, appropriate, and authorized action. This might include timely rerouting of power or islanding of system disturbances to prevent cascading outages without time-consuming searches across multiple applications and databases to sort out answers. All of this contributes to safe, reliable energy delivery – no matter the circumstances – and stronger rate cases.

FIGURE 3. Space-Time Insight correlates field workforce proximity to an outage, provides geo-links to additional detail and authorized procedures, and enables more informed workforce scheduling.
FIGURE 3. Space-Time Insight correlates field workforce proximity to an outage, provides geo-links to additional detail and authorized procedures, and enables more informed workforce scheduling.

Time Travel: Solved

Today’s time-traveler can now be equipped to connect information across both time and space. Our intrepid time traveler now has rich, intuitive, geospatial-temporal visualizations, with contextual real-time analytics, condition-based alerts, remedial action schemes, and workflow links that enable accelerated, geo-aware responses from a single screen. Come to think of it, our time traveler no longer has any reason to leave his current space and time. Whatever needs to be done can be accomplished wherever and whenever he wishes.