Sophisticated Technology Plays a Key Role in Helping Cobb Electric Membership Corp. (Marietta, Georgia, U.S.) to operate efficiently and keep costs down. The utility has implemented a whole host of technologies, such as a state-of-the-art supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system and remotely controlled switches and devices. One of the utility's biggest and most beneficial technology projects over the past few years has been the development of a fully integrated geospatial technology system.

About six years ago, Cobb EMC sought to improve its outage response and make better use of its wealth of geospatial data. Specifically, the utility wanted to:

  • Improve its ability to respond to outages more efficiently and provide quicker restoration time

  • Increase data availability and accuracy with an open geospatial database that could be leveraged through other applications

  • Integrate geographic information system (GIS) data with key business applications to streamline operations and improve customer service.

To achieve these challenging goals, Cobb EMC first implemented an integrated outage and mobile workforce management (MWFM ) system called InService, from Intergraph Corp. (Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.), to replace the manual method of locating outages and dispatching crews. Next, the utility replaced its existing GIS with Intergraph's G/Technology. Finally, Cobb EMC tied these systems together, as well as to other key applications, creating a true enterprise geospatial system that meshed well with the utility's existing enterprise application integration architecture.

MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Cobb EMC went live with the Intergraph outage management system (OMS) in September 2004 and followed with the MWFM component in June 2006. Acquiring both OMS and MWFM technology in a single product was a huge benefit to the utility.

The OMS system allowed Cobb EMC to gain a consolidated environment for trouble and same-day service-order-related work (turn-on/turn-off), further streamlining work processes, increasing service reliability and speeding restoration time during power outages.

The MWFM component enabled the utility to optimize the scheduling of daily work orders. The automatic dispatch capability of InService assigns routine work to crews and performs same-day workload balancing of elements, such as crew location, shortest route, type of work, cost of service, customer priority and time. To achieve optimal crew dispatch and visual tracking, Cobb EMC deployed the automated vehicle location feature of InService for trucks equipped with GPS.

Within two weeks of implementing the OMS technology, Cobb EMC experienced the benefits of the system after a storm. The utility's response time improved, because it was able to pinpoint the exact location of field crews and the probable cause of an outage. Dispatchers were able to drag and drop an outage-response work order onto the nearest truck, enabling quicker restoration time and improved customer service. Additional benefits related to improved outage management include reduced labor and fuel costs for trucks, because crews no longer have to drive long distances to outage locations.

NEXT-GENERATION GIS

Cobb EMC has been a customer of Intergraph GIS technology since 1989. In order for the utility to continue its migration to next-generation technology, Cobb EMC chose to implement Intergraph's G/Technology in November 2006.

The application provides users with access to accurate, up-to-date information from a single geospatially enabled data warehouse based on Oracle. The open platform of the system was a key selling point, because it would allow Cobb EMC to integrate GIS data into other enterprise applications without sacrificing data integrity. The technology is also unique in that it allows crews in the field and dispatchers in the office to view the same map, ensuring accurate data sharing and unifying decision support across the enterprise.

Integration with other applications has produced additional benefits for Cobb EMC and its customers. For example, by integrating Intergraph technology with Cobb EMC's customer information system, a "power out" notification is automatically sent to the OMS when an outage call is received. The OMS does trouble analysis and predicts the probable location and source of the outage.

Cobb EMC also integrated its work management system with the geospatial data from its asset management system.

REAPING THE BENEFITS

Cobb EMC's systems are now all integrated and many benefits are being recognized. In the past, the utility had to continuously key the same information into multiple systems. Now, there is one source for inputting data and that information is funneled to all the other systems.

Having easy access to information across the utility offers several benefits. Cobb EMC is able to retrieve instant reports on the status of its workforce and its jobs, and always has the big picture of the utility at the forefront. Whether at a glance or through a quick query, Cobb EMC can find out what is going on within the utility and its service territory at any given moment. With the new systems integrated, Cobb EMC has a complete technology infrastructure to support improved service for its customers.

Simply stated, the integrated GIS system has resulted in streamlined information, the elimination of data re-keying, higher accuracy, improved reporting capabilities, time savings due to the use of automated processes, and faster, more-efficient outage response.

WHAT'S IN STORE

In the future, Cobb EMC engineers and designers will be able to create sketches and generate estimates electronically using Intergraph's design tools. The solution will provide reports on the most efficient designs. It also will assist with activities like determining the optimal transformer size based on the customer load. Engineers and technicians will be able to create designs in the field instead of in an office environment, boosting productivity and efficiency.

Other plans include providing geospatial data to employees through the Web and equipping trucks with more mobile capabilities to enhance field crews' remote work experience. This will include access to interrelated systems, consisting of GIS, outage management and work management, all from within the vehicle in the field.

The GIS integration project has greatly increased the efficiency of Cobb EMC's daily operations. The integration of all of these systems and data has already made a tremendous difference to the utility and its customers. As the utility continues to leverage its data through additional applications, the data will become that much more powerful.

ABOUT COBB EMC

Cobb Electric Membership Corp. (Marietta, Georgia, U.S.) is an electric membership cooperative providing reliable electric energy to Georgia residents and businesses. Formed in 1938, Cobb EMC started as an electric utility with 489 residential members and 14 commercial accounts. Today, with more than 193,000 members and growing, Cobb EMC is among the largest of Georgia's 42 EMCs and one of the largest of more than 900 EMCs in the nation. The physical plant of Cobb EMC consists of more than 10,000 miles (16,093 km) of line in the metro Atlanta area and in several counties in southwest Georgia. In 2006, Cobb EMC sold more than 3.9 billion kWh of electricity, with revenue exceeding US$346 million. Cobb EMC's total utility plant is valued at more than $650 million.

Cobb EMC is dedicated to providing customers with the best commercial and residential electric service at the lowest-possible price. In fact, the Georgia Public Service Commission recently reported that out of the state's 42 EMCs, Cobb EMC had the 7th lowest rates at 500 kWh and 14th lowest rates at 1000 kWh. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Cobb EMC members' costs declined by more than 7% while average electric rates in the country increased by more than 28% between 1994 and 2006. Among the largest 15 electric cooperatives in the United States, Cobb EMC was the only co-op to decrease its cost to members during this period.


Sam Newman (Sam.Newman@CobbEnergy.com), manager of geospatial resource management, joined Cobb EMC in 1989. He is responsible for the management and direction of AM/FM/GIS, outage management, mobile workforce management and work management technologies, with a focus on data quality assurance, project management, and software design and implementation. Newman previously held a position in logistics management with the U.S. Air Force. He holds a bachelor's degree in management from the University of Massachusetts and is an active member of GITA.