GIS Blog Series – Part 4: Challenges in planning work with ability to view spatially

This is the fourth in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Planning for the maintenance of assets includes parameters like:

  1. How often should I inspect or service assets?
  2. What tasks are involved in the maintenance of the asset, and on which maintenance cycle?
  3. What materials and/or tooling are required to inspect or service the assets?
  4. How should I group maintenance work?

When dealing with geospatially dispersed assets, planning takes on additional importance, particularly with items 1 and 4 above. Costs associated with inspecting or repairing remote assets are increased due to travel, time for asset-locating and environmental conditions. Therefore, optimization of maintenance activities can be very attractive to planners and the C-Suite alike.

The good news is that when SAP and GIS are integrated effectively, geospatial planning becomes a powerful tool, not an obstacle to overcome.

Take for example, electric utility distribution poles that may have a wide variety of inspection intervals. In times past, poles would typically be grouped by a plat map number – from a simple grid that covers the service area. Consider the geographical and man-made features within each plat map that would potentially inhibit timely inspection of these poles: rivers, mountain ranges, interstate highways etc.  In addition, if individual poles had been replaced, the newer poles may be on a different inspection cycle than other poles that are nearby. This example can be seen in the below illustration:

Maintenance planning with geospatial awareness enables assets to be grouped according to how they may be most efficiently worked, including the following factors:

  • Geographical obstructions (e.g. Rivers that are difficult to cross)
  • Man-made obstructions (e.g. Interstate highway with no local over/underpasses)
  • Municipal or county lines
  • Plant regions/Work centers/Corporate divisions
  • Different access requirements (e.g. Helicopter vs automobile)

As a result, maintenance can also be more accurately planned for the workforce. Maintenance plans can be more consistently balanced, compared with the highly varied asset composition of the plat map approach (eg. inspection work orders that may take a few hours to execute, or a few weeks).

Geospatially aware planning requires a GIS tool that can automatically, or with human assistance, create shapes on a map, and have assets within the shapes extracted and put in SAP maintenance plans.

It is important to note that this process also lends itself to good “asset based maintenance” practices. For example, in the case of pole asset inspection, each pole has a time-stamped and detailed historical record assigned to it, rather than the system saying “this polygon area was inspected”.

Of course, the life cycle of new and retiring assets needs to be managed in this scenario, so that maintenance plans are always accurate for the spatial area they cover (and every asset belongs to a maintenance plan).

Let’s take a look at some of the tasks that might be required to move to this approach, including adjustments to perhaps outdated geospatial planning methods.

Below are key roles and business units in an organization, and some of the considerations in moving to a geospatial, asset centric planning solution.


  • Breaking down plats to assets
  • Ensuring data accuracy (both existence and location of assets)
  • Implementing geospatial selection tool
  • Drawing new shapes (planning work geospatially)


  • Establishing an interface to accept GIS-planned work
  • Configuration of standard SAP PM objects
  • Enabling new features such as measuring points as a method for recording inspection results


  • Create an initiative or project
  • Align software decisions with corporate direction
  • Software procurement if necessary


  • Identifying regulatory needs and internal reporting requirements
  • Establish cutover plan
  • Adjust compliance/reporting processes

In summary, planning for the maintenance of assets requires intense consideration for various asset related parameters. However with SAP and GIS integrated properly, geospacial planning becomes a powerful and efficient tool for your business, not an obstacle to overcome.

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