In January 2011, a giant lake of floodwater 86 km (55 miles) long washed over the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia. Powercor had never experienced anything like it before. It was the worst flooding since records began some 130 years ago. Before long, floods inundated 30% of the state, causing widespread outages across Powercor’s network.

At one point, 43,000 customers were out of power, 8,000 of which were as a result of a zone substation being removed from service. This unprecedented event occurred only a few months after the utility’s faults group went live with its first mobile workforce management system.

Unanswered Questions

As crews raced to cope with the sort of natural disaster that might happen only once every 200 years, work orders managed through the new mobile software increased by 60% over the previous week. With such a major spike in work order volume, there was considerable concern over the crews’ limited experience with the new mobile software. Would the system scale quickly enough to handle the extra load? Were the crews sufficiently familiar to become adept in using the new mobile software and devices? And, did field crews have confidence in the new system to manage their schedules in the midst of a crisis of this proportion?

These concerns prompted management to identify the flood as an escalation event, which gave crews freedom to revert to the more familiar paper-based system they had used previously. However, only a few crew members chose that option, while the majority pressed on with the new mobile system. Consequently, despite the huge increase in workload, the crews were able to achieve the same ratio of complete jobs to generated work orders that they had achieved during the prior normal week. It was a successful conclusion to a severe and unexpected stress test of the new system, which came through with flying colors.

Validated without reservation in the catastrophic floods of 2011, Powercor’s mobile workforce management journey continues on, with results including increased field worker and dispatcher productivity, access to more accurate and timely data for driving better decisions, enhanced governance, improved network safety and shortened outage times.

Kerang terminal station

First Step to Mobility

Powercor’s initial experience with mobile workforce management software stemmed from a government mandate requiring utilities in Victoria to replace all their manually read electricity meters with remotely read interval smart meters by 2013. Powercor and its sister utility, CitiPower, together supply more than 1.1 million distribution customers across the state, with CitiPower serving the state capital of Melbourne and inner suburbs and with Powercor operating throughout western Victoria. Approximately 86% of Powercor’s network is rural.

Historically, ongoing meter replacement programs at both Powercor and CitiPower were managed manually. But, this new program, involving exchanging more than 1 million meters in service, was far too complex and time sensitive to be managed by a paper-based process. Therefore, in 2009, Powercor and CitiPower rolled out their first mobile workforce management system, specifically to schedule and dispatch crews tasked with replacing existing meters with smart meters across their combined service areas.

Regional Asset Manager Ian Gillingham

The advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) installation provided a perfect proving ground for a mobile workforce management system. The system would have to manage high volumes of work and new work types, and support a team of 24 dispatchers and schedulers. In addition to enabling the long- and short-term planning, scheduling and dispatching of work to the field, the system also would need to enable the capture of data to reconcile meter information in the host systems.

Moreover, in the early technology evaluation phase, CHED Services, the technology and services arm of Powercor and CitiPower, recognized the opportunity to derive further benefits from the software by extending it to support the management of faults.