Among the many business functions enabled by the use of mobile technology, no single application stands out as “the choice” that will deliver the most benefit to all co-ops. According to an upcoming NRECA research project, the mobile technology benefits enjoyed by co-ops vary widely and include the following:

  • More up-to-date information concerning outages
  • Improved field staff productivity
  • Virtual elimination of paper documents and data-entry errors
  • Reduced drive time and vehicle mileage

NRECA project #07-19, The Present and Future Potential of Mobile Technology, includes six case studies that demonstrate how mobile workforce applications and technology can help both small and large electric co-ops reduce expenses, improve customer service, increase system reliability, and enhance field workflow efficiency. Three of the six case studies are presented below.

Mobile technologies are typically designed to be scalable, allowing cooperatives to add additional devices and applications as their staff and needs continue to grow. Depending on how the mobile application is designed, field staff can either enter data directly into the cooperative database on a real-time or a near real-time basis. This eliminates the need for paper copies or for office staff to re-key data. Thus, depending on how the mobile application is designed, cooperative data is either kept current at all times or updated on a same-day basis (i.e., when a near real-time approach is utilized).

Blended or “hybrid” solutions, which leverage existing mobile technology and wireless networks, are often the most cost effective and easy to deploy. In addition, because more co-ops are realizing the need for collaborative technology planning among all co-ops, they are using this larger process as their vehicle for introducing mobile technology to their field workforce.

The successful field workforce management projects studied in this research project had a common theme: they started with a simple problem that was resolved through the use of mobile technology. With initial success, co-op staff found it easier to expand mobile technology solutions into other areas of the company. Success can be measured in many ways, including the elimination of steps in workflow or the automation of a process, and can be tied to measurable financial gains or simply to improved customer and employee satisfaction.

CASE STUDY #1: Delaware Electric Cooperative (DEC)

Greenwood, DE
139 full-time staff
70,000 customers
6,200 miles of line
Service area of 1,100 square miles

Strategy #1: Enable Field Access to Browser-Based “Miss Utility” Statewide Utility Locate System In Order to Receive New Locate Requests and Send Completed Locates Directly From Field

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
Verizon Wireless AirCards in non-ruggedized (consumer) laptops, which provide data updates in real-time.

Business Functions Impacted
Mandatory Underground Service Locates Requests (DEC Receives 48,000 Locate Requests/Year)

Benefits Realized

  • Utility requesting locate notified of completion in near real-time

  • Labor time saved when field locator receives new locate and is already nearby or in the area

Strategy #2: Connect Laptop-Based Client Software via Wireless VPN Connection to CIS, E-mail, and Credit Card Payment Gateway Batched Payments

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
Verizon Wireless AirCards in non-ruggedized (consumer) laptops, which provide data updates in real-time.

Business Functions Impacted

  • Field Collections

  • Service Department Reconnections

  • Customer Call Center

  • Benefits Realized

  • Drastic reduction in unnecessary cut-offs

  • Cut-offs reduced 10%

  • Less labor intensive to verify valid cut-offs

Strategy #3: For Meters Not Providing Readings via AMR, Use GPS-Based Directional Routing to Optimize Reading Routes

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
Laptop-based GPS using Route Optimization Software, which provide data updates in real time.

Business Functions Impacted
Meter Reading

Benefits Realized
8,000 labor hours saved/year (Based on 3-hour savings/ route/day and an average of 10 routes per day)

Strategy #4: Route Optimization and GPS-Based Directional Routing for Field Workers Using Digital Cameras to Take Digitized Pictures of Poles for Inclusion in GIS and for Pole Attachment Billing

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
Verizon Wireless AirCards in laptop-based GPS, which provide data updates in real time.

Business Functions Impacted

  • All GIS Use

  • Pole Attachment Billing Performed by the Staff Services Department

  • Benefits Realized

  • 2-hour saved/day/field person

  • 10% fewer miles driven to get pole information

  • Accurate and documented pole attachment billings completely offset costs of digitized pictures

Strategy #5: Wirelessly “Transmit” Up-To-Date GIS Database to Laptops in DEC Vehicles via Wi-Fi Access Points in Yard and Garage Areas

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized

  • Private Wi-Fi access points at yard & garage

  • GIS laptop databases in all DEC fleet vehicles in near real time

Business Functions Impacted
All GIS Users Utilizing “Remote” GIS Databases in DEC Vehicles

Benefits Realized
Field staff using Remote GIS databases access current information

Conversion from docking station-based update process to Wi-Fi process saved 1,300 crew labor hours per year

CASE STUDY #2: Wheat Belt Public Power District (WB-PPD)

Sidney, NE

29 full-time staff

5,000 customers

2,300 miles of line

Service area of 2,500 square miles

Strategy #1: Provide the Telecommunications Mechanism to Transmit and Collect Remote Meter Readings and System Performance Data Points From the Deployment of Cannon’s Power Line Carrier (PLC) AMR/AMI System

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
IP-based mobile communication solution providing near-real time data updating and consisting of:

  • Private Wi-Fi access points at all offices & substations

  • Public Wi-Fi access points

  • WildBlue satellite Internet access

  • Private data radios from Motorola & 3Com Corp

Business Functions Impacted

  • Meter Reading

  • Meter Shop

  • Engineering

Benefits Realized

  • Minimizes ongoing cost and labor formerly involved in physically reading meters monthly

  • Availability of system and meter performance data used by Engineering to improve overall system reliability by detecting potential problems before they occur and being aware of actual problems sooner

Strategy #2: Provide the Telecommunications Mechanism Needed to Deploy Cannon’s Pro-Active Outage Detection Functionality

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
IP-based mobile communication solution (see #1 above)

Business Functions Impacted
Field Operations Dispatch


Benefits Realized

  • More timely awareness of outages decreases average restoration time

  • Improve customer service due to pro-active outage detection before customer may realize

Strategy #3: Provide the Telecommunications Mechanism Needed to Replace Old Analog Substation Meters With New Digital IP-Based Meters That Will Allow Them to be Read Remotely From WP-PPD’s Corporate Office in Real Time

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
IP-based mobile communication solution (see #1 above)

Business Functions Impacted

  • Operations Field Staff

  • Engineering

  • Benefits Realized

  • Ability to remotely read substation meters will save field staff 100s of hours of substation travel time and reduce fleet mileage by 8K to 10K miles per year

Strategy #4: Provide the Telecommunications Mechanism for IP-Based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) to Provide Voice Communication to Substations

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
IP-based mobile communication solution (see #1 above)

Business Functions Impacted

  • Operations Field Staff

  • Engineering

  • Safety

Benefits Realized
Allows voice communication to/from all substations including those having little-to-no radio or cell coverage


Strategy #5: Wirelessly “Transmit” Updates to Field-Based, Custom-Developed Data Warehouse Databases on Laptops in Fleet Vehicles via Wi-Fi Access Points in Yard, Garage Areas, and All Substations (Plan to deploy “Air Cards” in field laptops increasing connectivity availability.)

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
IP-based mobile communication solution (see #1 above)

Business Functions Impacted

  • Operations Field Staff

  • Engineering

  • Field Operations Dispatch

  • Benefits Realized

  • More up-to-date information — especially concerning outages available to remote field crews

  • Less reliance on voice radio communication

Strategy #6: Wirelessly “Transmit” GIS Database to Laptops in Vehicles via Wi-Fi Access Points in Yard and Garage Area

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
IP-based mobile communication solution (see #1 above)

Business Functions Impacted
GIS Users Using “Remote” GIS Databases

Benefits Realized

  • All field staff using “remote” GIS databases access current GIS information

  • Field crews no longer remove laptops and use in-house docking station based, This new update process will save significant labor hours per year.

CASE STUDY #3: East Central Energy Co-op (ECE)

Braham, MN

180 full-time staff

57,000 customers

8,125 miles of line

Service area of 4,300 square miles

Strategy #1: Load GIS Map Data and Limited Customer Data From CIS Along With Their Associated GPS Coordinates into a Garmin Navigational Unit In Order to Optimize Turn-By-Turn Audio-Based Directions to Work Site Locations

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
Garmin StreetPilot 7200 GPS Navigation Units deployed into 70 line trucks & other service vehicles in their fleet

Business Functions Impacted

  • Construction & Maintenance

  • Field Customer Service

  • Field Collectors

  • Service Restoration Operations

  • Benefits Realized

  • Reduced drive time and vehicle mileage

  • Lowered fuel costs due to reduced drive time

  • Faster response times to customer outages

  • Increased field staff productivity and safety due to reduced travel time

Strategy #2: Deploy an AVL System Using “Store and Forward” Messaging Technology to Compensate for Cellular Companies Only Having Partial Wireless Coverage Within ECE's Service Territory

Mobile Technology Communication Infrastructure Utilized
“OnComm Rocket” AVL units using an ECE specific custom interface to communicate GPS coordinates, vehicle speed, and diagnostic data to ECE’s dispatch group via wireless cellular network. “The OnComm Rocket” units also convey field service orders from a PC in dispatch equipped with a wireless air card.

Business Functions Impacted

  • Construction & Maintenance

  • Field Customer Service

  • Field Collectors

  • Service Restoration Operations

  • Fleet Service

  • Field Operations Dispatch

  • Benefits Realized

  • Store and forward function permits use of AVL and mobile field force service order dispatch without 100% connectivity coverage

  • AVL visibility provided to dispatch allows for more effective & efficient dispatching of service crews

  • Service order mobile dispatch to field crews improves customer service & promotes field work force efficiency

About the Author

Bill Durham is a wireless systems engineer for Engineering Associates, Inc. Bill has been in the wireless communications field for more than 20 years, evaluating customer needs and providing solutions with mobile voice and data systems.




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