Transmission & Distribution, Trends, Reports & Analyses

Software Improving Service in Field

By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: May 31st, 2013

When line emergencies happen, every minute counts. Software designed for a mobile workforce can save time and resources and keep members happy. That’s what electric cooperatives are finding out.

The Connexus control room has an AVL map on the big screen to view crew locations. (Photo By: Connexus)

The Connexus control room has an AVL map on the big screen to view crew locations. (Photo By: Connexus)

“These types of savings have allowed us to avoid raising our prices as much as we might otherwise have needed to,” said Doug Wolfe, group leader, application services at Connexus Energy in Ramsey, Minn., which installed the Clevest Solutions system in its departments for credit and collections, meter technicians, and special meter readings.

“Our credit people have more time to devote to our members’ concerns rather than just shuffling paper service orders,” Wolfe said. “Some of this translates into higher satisfaction ratings from our members that we are seeing.”

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) and mobile workforce management (MWFM) platforms are geared to electric cooperatives that often face rugged terrain, long distances and limited fleets during maintenance emergencies.

So far, 65 co-ops have installed the Clevest platform during the past five years, according to Robert Dreskai, Clevest Solutions market manager—cooperative and municipal utilities.

“We developed [the AVL and MWFM software] with the co-ops in mind,” Dreskai said. “That was the first market we approached. We have solicited their feedback and have taken that into consideration.”

Steven Walker, system engineer at Covington Electric Cooperative, said his co-op in Andalusia, Ala., has realized several benefits from the new software already.

Computer maps at headquarters pinpoint the service trucks in the field equipped with laptops. At times, this can enable field workers to start their day at 7 a.m. by going directly from their house to their first job. Co-op crews also get orders for the following day on their laptops without having to drive back to the office at the end of day.

As a result, work orders are completed more efficiently. When crews “see five orders on the map, they want to clean them up before tomorrow,” said Walker. “When you put a picture in front of a worker on what they’ve got to do, it is very motivational.”

In times of emergencies, the bucket truck seen on the map as closest to the incident is dispatched quickly rather than waiting for a truck to arrive at the office for the order or sending another from a farther distance as was often the case in the past.

The software has also trimmed time to complete cutoff orders—one of the more time-consuming field jobs. Now, when a worker drives up to a house, there’s no question of whether a payment has been made.

“If the order is still on the screen, it has not been cleared up,” said Walker. “If someone pays, that order is going to be canceled within 5 to 7 seconds of the payment being processed on the billing side.”

Connexus’s Wolfe agreed the immediate cancellation of a cutoff comes in handy.

“The member is better served by not having their power interrupted and we do not have to send a worker out to reconnect them saving us a trip,” Wolfe said. “Through our mobile devices we have also been able to accept credit card payments from customers in the field.”

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