An Effective Mobile Strategy Links the Corporate Back Office to the Field Workforce. Today, electric utilities can achieve measurable business benefits for a range of mobile operations with end-to-end solutions. By improving the productivity of mobile workers, utilities can increase revenue, cut expenses and improve customer service.

The following are examples of three utilities using field-force automation to improve operations.

INTEGRATING OPERATIONS

Knoxville Utility Board (KUB), a multi-utility providing water, wastewater, gas and electric services to more than 400,000 customers in the Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S., area, implemented an integrated outage and mobile workforce management system. KUB has integrated this solution with the geospatial infrastructure management, customer information, SCADA, interactive voice response and high-volume call systems.

The system provides a seamless environment for dispatching, mobile workforce management, scheduling, crew management and outage management. This allows KUB to create a consolidated operations environment and make informed decisions related to both trouble- and service-order work. The system tracks individual trouble calls from customers and associates these calls with an outage event for a specific device. In addition, the outage management system minimizes paper forms in the field and reduces radio voice communication.

Operations personnel can optimize assignments by viewing each vehicle's location in real time on detailed map displays. The system also tracks the events that a crew has worked on, the time spent on the event and the resolution of the problem when the outage is restored. By integrating operations, KUB has increased productivity, decreased back-office support, improved resource allocation, and increased the speed of deployment of job-related information to the field.

MOVING BEYOND THE FIELD MAP

Traditionally, utilities have stored operations and maintenance (O&M) information in independent department files, an asset database or registry, plant maintenance files, and on maps and miscellaneous documents. Field crews can now assemble and access data sources from a single point for unified analysis for inspection and maintenance.

For example, Hawaiian Electric Co. (Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.), which provides electricity and services to 95% of the state's 1.2 million residents, used field-force automation to automate infrastructure inspections for both the field and office operations, as well as the recording and submission of inspections and work planning.

The inspectors upload their inspection reports and digital photos to the enterprise nightly, thus providing more efficient communication and data sharing with other departments across the company. The solution has allowed them to increase the number of completed inspections and work planning documents and improve the quality of the information.

CAPTURING ACCURATE DATA

FortisAlberta, an electric utility serving more than 453,500 residents in Alberta, Canada, implemented a multipurpose mobile collection application for pole inspections, ground testing, line patrols, outage statistics and capital retirements.

Customer service linemen record facility and field conditions, recommend the necessary actions and identify the priority of the work. Contractors then record the actual work completed. The data is uploaded and immediately available for viewing, analysis and reporting by FortisAlberta's centralized O&M team.

Accurate and up-to-date data enables FortisAlberta to perform effective trending of facility conditions and failures. This allows the company to make timely and cost-effective decisions on preventive-maintenance programs. Maintenance planners can produce work plans quickly, with the additional benefit of being able to combine work with neighboring service points.

The accuracy of the data also allows FortisAlberta to more effectively and efficiently manage contractors' work, measure distribution performance against other utilities, identify worst-performing feeders and provide accurate statistics for performance-based regulations. Labor savings is a significant benefit of their application. The utility has reduced 10,350 man-hours per year across new service connections, pole test administration and field work, line patrol administration and field work, and mapping automation. Overall, the utility saved about US$333,000 per year, which allowed the company to increase their maintenance budget by $10 million without increasing their existing staff.

By improving the productivity of mobile workers, these three utilities have been able to gain a competitive advantage, which is becoming increasingly important due to the economic downturn.


Kecia Pierce is the 2009 GITA Geospacial Infrastructure Solutions Conference chair and serves as the Utilities Industry manager for Intergraph Corp. kecia.pierce@intergraph.com.