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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long, staff at Missouri-based Ameren relied on mobile mapping solutions that were only updated quarterly, resulting in outdated information—or data that could only be used online—which was impractical for workers on the go.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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Ensure Your Field Solution is Configurable for Your Utility Operations

Utility company field operations run on a complex maze of systems, applications, and networks that have been developed and advanced over time. Within these distributed environments, legacy systems must connect to the latest cloud, on-site, mobile devices, platforms, servers, and applications to expedite workflows and enable efficient and accurate field crew and resource deployment. This often needs to occur seamlessly across thousands of miles of physical assets within the utility’s service area. For many utility companies, the sheer complexity of infrastructure assets they must maintain presents numerous challenges, especially when new technologies are introduced into the environment. To take full advantage of all that Big Tech has to offer the industry, new software implementations must be tailored for the unique composition of each utility’s infrastructure. And no two utility company enterprises are alike. Like many utilities today, you may be looking to modernize your field operations systems in order to achieve greater integration across assets, data visibility, workflow automation, and other pivotal benefits. To ensure you are selecting a platform that can be configured for your own unique needs, investing in the right partner provider and solution is key. Here’s what you need to know.

Developing A Platform Configured for the Way You Work

While there are many infrastructure solutions for utilities on the market today, not all enable the flexibility, scale, and configurability needed to adequately serve the industry’s complex demands. When selecting a platform, it is of paramount importance to ensure that the solution you standardize on will meet your needs now and grow along with you as you add field assets, your service area population grows, and new innovations emerge designed to streamline utility field operations. First, you need a platform that enables digitization of field asset and crew data – and that serves as a point of integration across the full array of software and hardware solutions that populate your enterprise. This type of ecosystem-wide framework will ensure that you are able to leverage the investments your utility company has already made in other infrastructure assets, including feature-rich point solutions that address pressing operational challenges. Because there is an urgency about the work you perform, the solution you select should facilitate automation of routine tasks, such as data entry, that can slow field scheduling and dispatching processes and become devastating bottlenecks should an unexpected outage or unfolding emergency occur. Real-time, two-way data synchronization between all mobile devices field workers may use and both the back-end systems and cloud-hosted applications driving your enterprise is essential to have as well, as this will enable easy, fast, communication and dissemination of data to all stakeholders. This solution you choose should also work in concert with a companion scheduling engine, designed to leverage digitized field mapping data and enable the deployment of field crews and resources to wherever they need to be quickly and easily. The most sophisticated platforms on the market today present field data to all stakeholders in a single, holistic, digitized map of the service area, which automatically populates and updates as work is performed and field crews are redeployed. This real-time data sharing provides your teams with the ongoing situational awareness needed to pinpoint and troubleshoot problem areas and ensure that crew deployments are prioritized and positioned optimally, according to your service area’s needs. The interface of this dashboard is important to consider as well. The ability to dispatch and reassign crews automatically with drag-and-drop simplicity allows your team to work more collaboratively and to visually see what is happening with deployments, and where, without having to manually prepare and pore over work orders and other manual documentation.

Beyond the Platform: Why Service and Support Are Key

Because the solution you choose today will serve as your operations foundation for years to come, you need more than technology to ensure reliable energy delivery. You need ongoing access to technical experts that bring both the engineering experience and deep industry insights required to help you build out your field operations platform as your needs grow and change. This right partner should include full-featured, infrastructure-wide digitization, work scheduling, and dispatching solution you need to meet the challenges you face on a daily basis. It should also maintain a full staff of engineers, project managers, and other industry experts who work with your own internal teams from the initial design phases to tailor the features and functionality of the utility platform for your needs. For utilities, the need for configuration is most pressing when it comes to workflows and scheduling, with workflows presenting the greatest challenges. This is because each workflow that is configured can impact the performance of others that it touches across the technological continuum. To ensure that workflows are optimized and prioritized in ways that meet the needs of all stakeholders, make sure your partner developers hold pre-design workshops that bring together all who will work with the with the goal of generating a list of project deliverables for everyone involved.

Unlocking Data Visibility, Automating Workflows

To achieve the integration across the environment to enable the real-time data sharing utility companies need, the best utility field operations automation platforms should be able to directly communicate with all of your utility company’s application stack and databases – including fundamental business process applications, such as Esri, Oracle and SAP. To complement this, a queue mechanism should be able to handle long-term processing tasks, such as work order creation, which requires tracing an electrical feeder to identify all structures along a circuit in need of inspection, for example. The use of Python scripts allows both process execution and automation in configurations that are unique to each company’s needs as well. With the right tool deployed, your field operations administrators can schedule and dispatch resources with the full confidence of knowing that data is up to fully up to date. This means, for example, if someone has taken a vacation or sick day, the scheduler automatically knows this and sets schedules accordingly. And when an emergency occurs, the system should quickly deploy the right workers, with the right skillsets, who are located in proximity, to the most critical locales to get services up and running quickly.

Making the Transition

While transitioning from manual processing and reporting of field data to full digitization of these workflows can present a learning curve for employees and field crews at first, your teams will appreciate the simplicity of EpochField’s interface, and the dramatic improvements they realize in efficiency, productivity, and resource utilization when using the tool. Ultimately, having the real-time data they need right at their fingertips is transformative, enabling visibility into work being performed and the seamless collaboration between teams your utility company needs to keep service levels high for your valued customers. See how EpochField can be configured to handle the unique demands of your utility company’s field operations. Schedule a free demonstration today.
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How to Use Geospatial Technology to Automate and Streamline Your Utility Field Operations

For many utility companies, data collection is largely a manual process, or one that involves a mix of technology and manual record keeping. Data must be collected, digitized, processed, and kept up to date when on-site infrastructure and assets change. Field workers are often also deployed to remote areas with no online connectivity, making it difficult to access and enter the data required to do their jobs. 

In-office personnel also face a variety of challenges around field workforce management – namely, the sheer volume of data being collected from a variety of sources. Data recorded in legacy, on-site systems is also challenging to disseminate to teams of field workers, particularly when it is siloed in disparate computer systems and applications and needed in real time. 

So, what is the solution? With the geographic reach and service demands of utility companies continuing to expand in both size and complexity, the need to digitally streamline operations is more pressing than ever. The right geospatial technology can help companies automate and streamline the management of their geospatial data. 

Key advantages of geospatial technologies include: 

  • Integration of data into operational and business workflow processes to influence decisions on resource allocation and expediting the deployment and management of field crews. 
  • Ability to display physical assets digitally in interactive maps that allow utility personnel to drill down to pertinent details about the assets and their surrounding terrain. 
  • Fast, easy workflow creation and management, efficient work scheduling engines, and data synchronization modules for asset map data. 
  • Integration with enterprise GIS and business applications used by employees and other stakeholders, including Oracle, IBM Maximo, and SAP.

View the recording of our recent webinar, “Uncover Opportunities to Automate & Streamline Field Operations Through Geospatial Innovation”, to learn more about geospatial technologies, as well as the features to look for when selection the right solution for your company.

View the Webinar Recording

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