Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L) has been active with distribution automation (DA) projects for more than 20 years. The utility understands one of the keys to successful DA projects rests on the cornerstone of effective, practical training methods that address each user group.

In July 2008, the KCP&L acquisition of Aquila introduced much change. As a result, KCP&L quadrupled its service territory. The number of service centers increased from seven to 18; however, the workforce increased by less than half. This caused an immediate need for widespread DA training in many work groups while the number of employees in the DA group did not change.

Room for Improvement

In the past, for training, the DA group has prepared PowerPoint presentations with handouts and issued these electronically. When new equipment was introduced, DA engineers scheduled training sessions with each group at their work center. The new equipment was shipped to each training location to allow users hands-on experience.

Even though this training was effective, the DA group realized this process could be improved. The training was geared for an initial deployment and not refresher training. The process relied heavily on each work group passing on their experience personally to each employee who entered into the various departments.

DA requires a significant level of technical training on new equipment applications that often includes new processes. Retention of this detailed training is sometimes challenging for craft groups. DA projects rely on an array of work groups — including engineers, dispatchers, linemen, relay technicians and other groups — to install, operate and maintain evolving and changing technical equipment. Therefore, since each work group has diverse needs and interests, the training must be customized for each group.

Finally, there was no central repository for the electronic presentations. Users did not have a convenient way to access these documents. In addition, these documents were updated frequently. Users often worked with dated documents, because they did not know the document had been revised or did not have time to look for the updated document during a crisis.

Need for Change

After the KCP&L acquisition of Aquila, the DA group manager saw this as an opportunity to enhance the DA training methods and sought assistance from the KCP&L technical training department. The new solution would need to provide cost-effective training that could be customized for each work group's needs. The solution also needed to leverage traditional training tactics such as PowerPoint presentations because resources in the DA group were constrained. It also was important for the new solution to have a common electronic repository.

Rapid development and deployment were essential, plus the training needed to be available at a moment's notice. And there was a need to be able to track training progress and results for each work group. The process needed to capture and preserve subject-matter expertise that could be readily shared.

The timing of this request was fortunate. KCP&L's technical training group had just begun using electronic learning programs in place of traditional craft and safety training. They were eager to expand the use of this new learning format beyond their immediate group. An employee who had moved from the KCP&L information technology (IT) division to the technical training area was driving this new electronic learning format.

Development and Hosting Tools

The new electronic learning format consisted of two main aspects: development tools and hosting tools to enable the total solution. The development tools in place consisted of standard Microsoft PowerPoint coupled with the following:

  • Articulate Studio, a PowerPoint add-on that converts PowerPoint .ppt files into standard electronic learning modules.

  • Articulate Studio Quizmaker, which builds standard tests that can be packaged with the learning modules.

  • Photo and editing tools to enhance the presentation by use of packages such as Photoshop and Microsoft Movie.

  • Cameras and camcorders to capture and record training modules, and add movie clips to enliven the presentation.

  • Audio equipment to provide a low-cost yet professional way to record sound clips.

The DA manager was pleased to learn the cost of this software and audio and visual recording equipment was modest. Further, the technical and training group had already purchased everything needed and was ready to assist.

Hosting tools can be initiated by low initial cost solutions such as stand-alone modules as simple as recording and distributing the training material on DVDs. Additional low-cost solutions include the use of SharePoint or Vimeo. However, these options lack effective ways to track when and how often a course is accessed, user progress and test scores.

KCP&L had purchased an over-the-counter learning management system to meet the needs for Sarbanes-Oxley training sessions. The utility was using a product from SAI Global called Occam Software that provided good tools to track electronically the courses users take and their test scores. It is installed and managed in house by the KCP&L IT department.

User Library

The DA e-learning courses are loaded and stored on the learning management server and organized in central electronic libraries. These courses are available for assignment to employees. Each user has a unique library of mandatory and optional courses. As the user enters the specific DA learning course, there is an option to view or skip over a brief primer showing how to navigate the controls that operate the training course. Then the user views a detailed outline of the course content. If the course contains multiple modules, the outline briefly describes the content of each module.

Electronic photographs are used to augment training material. Video clips showing how equipment operates are especially practical and useful. An interactive quiz is available after viewing each module. These provide instant validation or constructive feedback. As each quiz is completed, scores are calculated, displayed and stored on the server. This allows supervisors of each work group to track the progress of each employee while giving the DA group feedback on training use. When DA training objectives become a part of each group's performance objective, their use becomes self-fulfilling.

Other Creative Electronic Training Solutions

KCP&L has used the Sensus PowerVista website for supervisory control and data acquisition applications and monitoring devices for 10 years. During this time, KCP&L and Sensus have developed several applications to enhance the PowerVista website's suite of tools.

KCP&L has deployed numerous kinds of intelligent electronic devices in various parts of its service territory, and dispatchers use the PowerVista website to monitor and switch automated devices. The number of new dispatchers using the PowerVista website increased after the acquisition. All of the changes in personnel for dispatching caused challenges. In addition, procedures and operating instructions require frequent updates for such progressive technology.

The KCP&L DA group saw an opportunity to address these challenges by adding links on the PowerVista website to written procedures and application documents. The utility cofunded a project that would allow it to transfer PDFs to the Sensus DA server. Written documents, PowerPoint procedures and training manuals were converted and posted on the Sensus server. These files were tagged with global categories to make it easier for users to find what they need.

Because of the flexibility of the PowerVista website, users can now easily find the most up-to-date procedure or field documentation immediately. Users are only a couple of mouse clicks away from being able to find valuable information that allows them to understand equipment applications and operating procedures. Documented photographs allow dispatchers to communicate to field users through these visual aids.

E-Learning Realities

KCP&L has used this new process for more than two years. To date, eight DA course topics are available with a total of 20 training modules. The high number of users and their positive feedback demonstrates the success of this e-learning. However, it is still a work in progress as user needs are fluid and general workload at KCP&L has increased because of various organizational realignment efforts and streamlining in April 2011.

The e-learning solution continues to rely heavily on subject-matter experts who must devote time to developing the electronic courses. However, once a course is developed and deployed, it can be leveraged in a highly effective manner. It is fairly easy to modify a course and update portions of specific modules as needed. The innovative e-learning solution depends on some KCP&L IT and training support. For KCP&L, it is convenient that some of this IT support is provided by the utility's technical training group.

Ongoing Training

There is no substitute for hands-on training, especially for craft groups. Therefore, the DA group continues to provide this during initial deployment of new equipment such as various intelligent electronic devices often used in DA projects. However, the e-learning process is outstanding for refresher training or for incremental training for select new employees who are added to the workforce.

E-learning for DA projects is particularly popular during inclement weather when crews are on standby, such as on extremely cold days when customers still enjoy continued electric service. On such days, managers and supervisors use their personal course library to schedule group learning sessions where they project a training course and set up a sound system for viewing in a group setting.

Carl R. Goeckeler (carl.goeckeler@kcpl.com) is the lead distribution automation engineer at KCP&L. He received his BSEE degree in power systems from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 1975. Under Goeckeler's direction, KCP&L has won five national awards for its distribution automation projects. Goeckeler is now working in the KCP&L Smart Grid Engineering department. He is a registered professional engineer.

Seven Steps to a Successful E-Learning Session

  1. The subject-matter expert creates a PowerPoint presentation for the targeted training audience. This is one of the most important considerations to make the courses effective and credible.

  2. Photos, videos and narration are added to the PowerPoint presentation to enliven it. Often, these photos are taken during a live training class to capture the energy and place the student in a comfortable environment. The content is packaged into sections, or modules, that last no more than 20 minutes. The modules are ordered, indexed and described to let the user easily find the topic of interest.

  3. 3Quiz modules are constructed and attached to the training sessions using Articulate Studio Quizmaker.

  4. The electronic content is converted into a standardized learning module so it is in a format that can be deployed.

  5. The course is loaded onto the learning management system (LMS) server.

  6. The course developer tests the application by viewing the contents.

  7. After updates and corrections are complete, the course is rolled out to the users electronically. Each user accesses their personal course library (called My Courses) to find courses assigned to them by the LMS administrator. Each student accesses this LMS process through the KCP&L intranet.

Companies mentioned:

Articulate www.articulate.com

Kansas City Power & Light www.kcpl.com

Microsoft www.microsoft.com

Occam occam.co.uk

Sensus www.sensus.com

Vimeo vimeo.com