Do you know how much time your dispatchers spend calling out employees to handle after-hours emergencies? Can you tell exactly how many callouts you made, how many employees you called, or how they responded? Do you know what a dispatch center's acceptance rate was for the past week, month or year?

Before adopting its Automated Callout System (ACO), Illinois Power (Decatur, Illinois, U.S.) answered “no” to all of these questions. Few performance statistics could be produced and standardization among dispatch centers was minimal, but that began to change starting in 1996 when the company implemented an in-house application solution to its callout woes.

Today the automated system handles an average of 20,000 callouts per year, which typically translates to about 65,000 individual calls. System-initiated calls free dispatchers to concentrate on resolving the emergency rather than on finding workers willing to accept after-hours jobs.

System data provides a basis for establishing performance measures as well as documentation to address individual performance issues. And because an automated system is unable to understand the idiosyncrasies that exist from one dispatch center to another, standardization is now the norm. System errors, such as incorrectly calculating overtime and calling the wrong individual, have been minimal. In fact, in the last six years there have been fewer than 10 system errors — a reliability rate superior to calculations handled manually.

Has the news all been good? Absolutely not. There is still much resistance from field employees on the use of ACO. Often they object to not knowing what the emergency situation is or whom they will be working with prior to accepting the callout. In short, ACO has eliminated a worker's option of accepting only the “gravy” jobs. Once the employee accepts the callout, he or she is transferred to the responsible dispatcher and all pertinent information is provided to the employee at that time.

Current plans for ACO include integration with Illinois Power's outage management system. ACO then would be able to calculate response time, which could open the door to improving reliability, as measured by SAIFI and CAIDI indices. After all, the sooner workers are on the job, the sooner dispatchers can prioritize the work necessary to get the power back on.
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