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7 Reasons to Invest in a Field Management Platform Featuring GIS Technology

For utility companies, effectively managing assets, documenting those activities, and scheduling any necessary maintenance or damage response is essential to promoting operational efficiencies and service uptime. Having real-time data on how personnel, equipment, and infrastructure are performing across the service area allows utility field crews and back-office teams to streamline the scheduling of routine maintenance, inspections, and service calls, and enables the swift response times consumers expect when outages occur.

To unlock the high levels of situational awareness utility companies need today, they are increasingly investing in advanced GIS mapping solutions that capture and process field asset data digitally, in real time. With this critical infrastructure data at their fingertips, field operations teams can quickly assess conditions on the ground and make more informed scheduling, dispatching, and planning decisions accordingly.

So, how can utilities leverage GIS asset management technologies to improve their operations, reduce outages, and deliver safer, more reliable energy to the customers they serve? Here are a few pivotal use cases for GIS mapping solutions that speak to the benefits of the technology.

1. Using data to drive maintenance and repair decisions

GIS mapping technology allows utility companies to automatically trace and track the history and condition of infrastructure assets throughout their lifecycles. With the technology, utilities can also track the exact whereabouts of field crews, equipment, and vehicles in real time – and view all this field data through one holistic, digital map-based interface. Using intuitive navigation tools, these interactive dashboards allow back-office teams to drill down into inspection, maintenance, and repair records for infrastructure assets displayed on the map, determine which assets are in most need of servicing, and – with touch-screen simplicity – automatically generate field crew assignments, work orders, and dispatching instructions accordingly.

2. Leveraging data to expedite field crew scheduling

Modern GIS mapping solutions drive scheduling across the entire service area as well, allowing back-office teams to automate the many processes and workflows involved in field operations management. Because field data is seamlessly integrated across a utility company’s enterprise, field crew scheduling can be conducted based on a breadth of information, including which crew members are available at any given time, what their skillsets are, and their proximity to infrastructure assets in need of attention. Once field work is scheduled, the work orders are immediately accessible for viewing and processing by all stakeholders, from back-office teams to crews out in the field. The most advanced solutions on the market also include route optimization tools that automatically provide field workers with the fastest route to get to their next assignments.

3. Reducing manual touchpoints – and the associated human errors

Field data collection today is still typically handled through a hybrid model whereby information is captured through both digital and manual processes. For back-office scheduling and dispatching teams, that often means scanning and keying in data from hand-written field crew notes and schematics and combining it with digital photos, video footage, online communications, and other data sources. This labor-intensive data collection process slows operational productivity, hampers decision-making processes, and is prone to human error. With an advanced GIS mapping solution in place, utilities can take advantage of integrated workflow automation technology to digitally collect, process, store, and synch field data across systems and applications. As a result, they can dramatically reduce the manual labor involved in data collection – and eliminate opportunities for clerical errors as a result.

4. Establishing a comprehensive, centralized data repository

Crews need real-time access to field data to get their work done properly once on site. When data access is limited – or when field data is outdated altogether – crews must pause what they are doing and check in with the home office by phone or email to clarify their next steps. Using an advanced GIS mapping solution allows all stakeholders, from frontline field crews to back-office schedulers and dispatchers, to be working off the same page, with data on infrastructure assets synched in real time across all the systems, applications, and devices they use. In turn, field crews arrive on site with full visibility into what needs to be done so they can conduct routine work more efficiently and strategically address any unplanned issues as well.

5. Leveraging mobile devices in the field

Field crews are comprised of a mix of full-time, part-time, and contracted workers, each with their own smartphones, tablets, and other computing devices. And they are employed by utilities in the thousands. To keep field crews seamlessly connected and communicating with back-office teams, the most advanced GIS mapping solutions on the market come with a mobile app that is easily downloaded and operated from any Windows, Android, or iOS-based device. Empowering field crews with the ability to conduct and report on their work via their own smartphones equips all employees with the data they need to nimbly and intelligently respond to conditions in the field, collaborate and troubleshoot more effectively, and better ensure that infrastructure assets are performing optimally.

6. Improving customer experiences

Today’s digital-first consumers and businesses have come to expect broad real-time data access for virtually any service they use – from Amazon deliveries to Uber ridesharing and restaurant wait times – and they expect the same kind of experience from utilities. The deep situational awareness enabled by GIS asset management tools allows utility employees that interact with the public – from contact center agents to field crew teams – to keep customers informed on exactly when workers will arrive, what type of work is being performed, and how quickly services will be restored.

7. Saving time, labor, and costs

Without the deep data access and visibility enabled by GIS mapping technologies, utilities may find their crews crisscrossing the vast service areas they manage to address issues that pop up unexpectedly in a scattershot manner. By contrast, having geospatial data universally accessible allows utility company employees to move from a reactive posture to a more proactive stance, in which they can identify and mitigate infrastructure issues and risks before costly outages occur. As a result, an investment in GIS asset management technology helps utility companies operate more efficiently and strategically, cut their response times, save time and labor, and deliver better outcomes for the communities they serve.

Discover how an advanced, platform-grade field asset management solution featuring GIS technology can digitally transform your field operations. Watch our video.

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Digitizing Workflows: How 4 Utilities Are Putting Geospatial Mapping to Work

Natural disasters like the recent landing of Hurricane Ian on the shores of Florida remind us of how important our energy resources are and just how complex the management of them can be.

While millions of Floridians waited patiently for power to be restored in the aftermath of the storm, the utility companies grappling with the event pulled thousands of field crew operators together in a coordinated taskforce to bring much-needed energy resources to the areas impacted.

While hurricanes the likes of Ian occur infrequently, the fact is that the gas and electricity Americans rely on from coast to coast are both vitally important to the safe, efficient operation of our economy and reliably available thanks to the dedication, expertise, and responsiveness of utility companies nationwide.

To help mitigate the effects of outages large and small, a new generation of geospatial mapping technologies is fast advancing. These innovative solutions are already proving to be true game changers for the industry by streamlining, automating, and expediting energy delivery processes and enabling real-time data visibility and sharing across field crew and back-office teams alike.

Here are a few examples of how the technology works – and how Epoch Solutions Group is leading the way to a new, more efficient, reliable energy delivery network by placing cutting-edge innovations in the hands of digital-savvy utility companies.

Empowering Mobile Field Crews at Ameren

For too long, staff at Missouri-based Ameren relied on mobile mapping solutions that were only updated quarterly, resulting in outdated information—or data that could only be used online—which was impractical for workers on the go. And because Ameren’s existing work management tool didn’t have an integrated map, mobile crews struggled to gain spatial reference as to where their work needed to be done.

To address this challenge, the utility partnered with Epoch Solutions Group to implement its EpochField field operations management platform and leverage the company’s extensive GIS consulting services.

Scalable and highly configurable, the EpochField mobile mapping solution is built on ArcGIS Runtime SDK for .NET. Using the SDK’s Xamarin libraries, the app runs on Windows 10, iOS, and Android devices, allowing users to work offline or online, download and view updated GIS data on demand, and draw accurate field diagrams with the map markup tool.

Equipped with an offline, map-centric mobile solution configured to their unique needs, mobile crews at Ameren are now completing their daily work—from routine maintenance and inspections to making repairs and dealing with service outages—using the most up-to-date information available.

Because they enjoy offline functionality and real-time data sharing with back-office staff, field operations have been transformed, communication between teams is much faster and clearer, and all stakeholders company-wide can now deliver the outstanding, reliable service their customers have come to expect.

Read the full case study here.

Modernizing Workforce Management at Entergy

A full-service utility, Entergy generates and distributes electric power to 2.9 million customers across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and natural gas to 108,000 customers in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.

Recently, Entergy embarked on an enterprise strategic initiative to modernize its electrical and gas operations by deploying an enterprise asset management system (EAM) and a workforce management system (WFMS) across all its operating companies.

Initially, Entergy selected EpochField to enable faster, more efficient field inspections of gas assets, and in 2018 the utility company built on this implementation by deploying EpochField as its mobile workforce management solution for all field crews responsible for electric transmission and distribution, gas, and vegetation management.

Ultimately, EpochField proved to be the right solution for Entergy because the platform was able to integrate with the utility’s complex legacy systems for GIS and asset management, and with its mobile client application as well.

A single product suite for all field workflows, EpochField delivered the geospatial data crews and back-office employees needed to schedule, author work types, and create work orders for the utility’s thousands of field crew workers. According to Entergy’s management team, EpochField outperformed other solutions on the market in its ability to automate and expedite field service operations and workflows.

Since the full deployment of EpochField in 2020, Entergy has achieved the operational efficiencies and enterprise-wide integration the utility company needed to ensure reliable energy delivery to its vast customer base. Today, the tool is proving instrumental in the utility’s quest to reduce overall storm response time which, in turn, is yielding significant financial benefits – and consumer goodwill – as efficiency gains are improving service uptime while reducing operational costs.

Read the full case study here.

Enabling Real-Time Data Visibility at FortisAlberta

As a regulated electricity distribution utility serving central and southern Alberta, Canada, FortisAlberta is responsible for ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of electricity to more than half a million residential, farm, and business customers across the region.

To achieve the consistent reliable service its customers require, the utility’s 1,100 employees work day and night to keep systems up and running, prevent and respond to outages, survey and repair infrastructure assets, and maintain the power grid. Recently, FortisAlberta has developed a Grid Modernization Program that includes enhancing, replacing, or upgrading existing operational technology and information technology systems to better serve its customers, improve the reliability of its distribution network, be prepared for changes in the regulatory environment and distribution grid with the introduction of renewable energy, and gain operational efficiencies.

The solution is an enterprise-wide Mobile Workforce Management (MWFM) system based on Epoch Solutions Group’s EpochField technology and specifically, its Work Scheduler Solution.

Unlike other applications on the market, FortisAlberta found the EpochField platform to be configurable for their unique needs. “Our objective is to put in place a single system for all work scheduled in the field, and to provide all stakeholders wherever they may be located with a single source of truth on what has been completed, what is happening now, and what is planned for the future,” said Dave Stratichuk, Manager of Operation Technology for FortisAlberta.

According to Stratichuk, the tool is performing as planned. “When we are making real-time scheduling decisions, we automatically have accurate, up-to-date information on who is on vacation, who is taking sick leave, and who has other scheduling limitations. Before, all this information had to be input into systems manually,” said Stratichuk.

Read the full case study here.

Digitizing Field Operations at San Diego Gas & Electric

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) serves approximately 1.5 million electric and 900,000 gas customers in Southern California’s San Diego and Orange County communities. Until recently, the utility company relied on its legacy back-end systems and applications to guide its field operations, including annual infrastructure patrols, technologies put in place years ago.

However, when the software provider of SDG&E’s primary field management solution announced its plans to retire the application, SDG&E’s management made the decision to invest in new infrastructure tools and technologies to power the future of its field operations

According to Jeffrey Lewis, an experienced industry consultant working with SDG&E to orchestrate the digital transformation initiative, the utility was seeking a new platform designed to deliver more robust functionality to its field crews and to aide in the annual patrols critical to identifying areas in need of further inspection, vegetation management, repairs, and other routine maintenance tasks.

After a thorough review of solutions, SDG&E selected the EpochField enterprise-grade field crew mapping and management solution. A platform-level application, EpochField digitizes field operations data and connects field workers on the frontlines to third-party, back-office systems and applications – from anywhere their deployments take them via its device-agnostic mobile app.

Before implementing EpochField, SDG&E field workers relied primarily on paper maps – some 27,000 of them – to manually record infrastructure data collected in the field during its annual field patrols. This process generated volumes of hard-written forms, sketches, and other documents that had to be individually digitized and formatted for uploading to SDG&E’s back-end systems and applications.

For SDG&E, implementing EpochField has been a huge step toward faster, more efficient field operations – and more sustainable business practices overall. “EpochField has empowered our field workers with its intuitive, automated mobile app which has delivered all the functionality workers need to quickly and easily record infrastructure data in the field, right from their smartphones, tablets, and laptops,” said Lewis. “Now, for the first time, SDG&E is bypassing many of the redundant manual steps once involved in the collection, recording, and processing of field data.”

Plus, he adds, fewer manual touchpoints have led to greater data integrity and accuracy, vitally important to grid safety and compliance, and to ensuring reliable service uptime for all the utility’s customers.

Read the full case study here.

Discover how geospatial technology can transform your own field crew operations. Request a free EpochField demonstration today.

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How Utilities Can Improve Productivity and Decrease Labor Costs with Automated Scheduling Software

For utility companies today, field service scheduling is one of the costliest and most complex tasks they undertake – and one of the more critically important. According to industry research published on Energy Central, field operation labor costs typically represent as much as 60% of the overall asset maintenance costs utility companies incur. For many water and gas utilities, these costs can be as high as 80% of total spend. This is because so much of the scheduling and workforce management processes are carried out manually by utility personnel. While this labor-intensive approach was sufficient for the needs of the industry years ago, today’s public is accustomed to much faster, more responsive services from the organizations that touch their lives (think Amazon and Netflix), and utilities must digitally transform their service models to keep their operations in step with what consumers today expect from them.

Achieving Workforce Efficiencies, Cost Savings

Consider that the average utility has about 500 to 800 field crew workers – without field service scheduling software, utilities typically employ one scheduling administrator for every 12 to 15 field crew members they manage. In implementing an automated scheduling software solution that is data-driven and mobile-ready, utilities can “cut ratios from one scheduling staff member per 15 field workers to one staff member per 80 in the field,” according to commentary published by consulting firm BCG. The productivity gains achieved through an advanced, automated scheduling solution allow utility companies to increase workers’ availability in the field as well – by as much as 50% and “reduce by 25% the time needed for routine jobs.” This is because scheduling and workforce automation allows utility companies to dramatically accelerate their ability to track all the moving parts involved in the scheduling and dispatching processes and complete field work much more efficiently. Digitizing and automating the scheduling solution also allows utility companies to leverage AI and machine learning technologies, which can create predictive models of their future staffing requirements based on historical data. As a result, advanced field service scheduling software can enable highly accurate, data-driven capacity planning throughout the year so utility administrators can arrange for all the field crew workers they need well in advance. And when a crisis occurs that leaves a group of customers out of service due to a storm, fire, pipeline leak or other adverse event, automated field service scheduling software can quickly process the real-time geospatial data surrounding the area and determine the best, fastest routes for field crew teams to get to impacted areas. In addition to saving valuable time for field workers and operations managers alike, an intelligent automated scheduling solution can significantly cut labor costs for utilities as a direct result of these productivity gains.

Choose the Strongest Scheduling Tool for Your Field Automation Needs

The most advanced automated work schedulers on the market today empower operations managers and dispatchers to streamline field operations resources. They offer these capabilities:
  • The ability to map out both scheduled work and work to be scheduled
  • Dynamically updating maps that display the location of all field crews and equipment
  • Access to field data from any connected device, from field crew smartphones to back-office servers and the cloud
  • Both map-centric and non-spatial presentations of work order information, with the ability to query the database
  • Work and work cycle scheduling functionality and dispatching features for the field – considering each worker’s personal time off and other scheduling data recorded in external systems
  • Automated assignment of work to users, user roles, and groups of users
  • Management and assignment of field equipment resources
  • Automatic creation of work orders based on network tracing operations
  • Auditing features for completed work
  • Creation and archiving of historical records
  • Reporting and analysis functionality for work performed
  • System and application event logging features
Learn how utility companies are using automated field service scheduling software to streamline business processes, accelerate field crew response times, and deploy the right equipment to locales in need with our latest guide, Working Faster, Smarter: A Guide to Automated Field Crew Scheduling.
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3 Unique Utility CEO Challenges Solved by Digitizing Field Operations

For utility company CEOs, the demands of the job have never been higher. An aging workforce and staffing shortages are impacting the ability of utility companies to maintain high service levels and quickly address emergency outages when they occur.

Legislation governing utility companies continues to advance as well, imposing ever higher standards for vegetation management, environmental preservation, and other aspects of utility business practices. Rising costs to maintain and expand infrastructure assets are also impacting utility companies, a dynamic fueled by supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To meet these and other industry demands going forward, utility CEOs and their teams must make sound strategic decisions and technological investments now. Fortunately, new advanced digital utility tools are fast emerging that promise to help utilities better manage key aspects of their field operations and infrastructure.

So, what should utility CEOs be doing now to digitally transform operations, and how can investing in the right utility software solutions help CEOs and their teams overcome their most pressing field operations challenges?

Challenge #1: The Staffing Squeeze

With 50% of utility workers set to retire over the next decade, the industry will soon face a massive loss of field technicians, operators, engineers, managers, supervisors, and administrative employees. In addition to leaving them shorthanded, this loss of experience and institutional knowledge will create room for operational errors which can put field workers in danger.

To mitigate the impact of a shrinking workforce, utility CEOs must focus on supplementing experienced workers with intelligent technologies and hiring or training staff to utilize these tools that:

  • Digitize workforce management to reduce human error and accelerate productivity
  • Enable real-time tracking and tracing of assets and conditions out in the field
  • Integrate systems and applications across the environment for better communication and faster data processing

Solutions that support field-level digitization are continually being updated and expanded upon to meet the most current needs of the utility industry. Consider platforms that are planning to enable intelligent technologies, such as AR-enabled collaboration solutions which capture critical knowledge from video calls and other sources for future reference by inexperienced new hires entering the industry. They should also be preparing to leverage AI and machine learning to help guide critical operational decisions, such as where to deploy field crews first when disasters strike.

Challenge #2: Regulatory Headwinds

The regulatory landscape governing utility companies is changing as well, and CEOs are faced with increasing requirements for tracking and tracing the location and condition of their infrastructure assets.

For example, consider ASTM F2897, a new regulation requiring gas companies to track the location and condition of assets at a much more granular level. New mandates designed to preserve the environment and help prevent wildfires continue to be enacted as well, calling for greater, more detailed tracking of power grids, pipelines, and other infrastructure assets – with fines imposed when service outages occur.

Broad access to field crew data and the ability to digitally analyze this data can help utility companies prove that their operations are in full compliance with industry laws. The digital workforce management platform selected should also allow utility companies to:

  • Leverage geospatial technology to track and trace assets in great detail
  • Display data in visual, map-centric dashboards, making it easier and faster to identify risks
  • Automate business processes to expedite workflows and reduce service downtime

With the ability to capture and record pivotal field data in real time, utility companies are much better prepared to demonstrate compliance with the high regulatory standards being set for them.

Challenge #3: Spiraling Infrastructure Costs

Utility CEOs are also grappling with rising operational costs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related supply chain challenges. As the costs to repair, replace, and upgrade infrastructure assets rise, utility company CEOs must advance their utility’s digital tools and enact new business practices to reduce their labor needs and associated costs.

Implementing a single, enterprise-wide solution can help eliminate the workflow bottlenecks that can tie up personnel, delay field deployments, and result in compounded, costlier damages when emergencies occur.

Ideally, the platform selected should automate these and other essential business processes including:

  • Scheduling field personnel
  • Tracking work in progress
  • Assessing performance
  • Managing assets
  • Identifying opportunities for improvement

With an enterprise-grade digital workforce management platform implemented, utilities can achieve the operational efficiencies needed to reduce headcount which in turn, helps them offset the increasing expenses imposed by rising equipment costs and other supply chain challenges.

Choosing a Provider

For utility CEOs, an investment in a digital workforce management platform should be made with an eye toward the future. In addition to enabling design flexibility and scale, the platform should integrate well across a utility company’s existing infrastructure. The platform selected should also be backed by an organization with a proven track record for overcoming industry-specific challenges.

For more than 15 years, Epoch Solutions Group has helped utility companies manage the full complexities of their field operations by leveraging advanced geospatial and workflow automation technologies. See how EpochField can transform operations for your utility company. Schedule a demo with one of our geospatial technology experts today.

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