Illinois Power Realizes The Power of Going Wireless

Illinois’ second largest utility, Illinois Power serves 650,000 natural gas and electricity customers in a 15,000-square-mile territory. The company, which has been providing energy services to customers of all sizes throughout Illinois for more than 75 years, is part of the Dynegy performance team. As a leader in the move to bring deregulation to the state, Illinois Power has examined every aspect of its operations to ensure that it is doing the most to be an efficient, customer service-oriented business.

One successful program that the company has implemented to address these needs is a wireless data dispatch solution for its field operations. For years, Illinois Power had used two-way radios and paper work orders in its dispatching operations. Reasons to upgrade were numerous and obvious. The company wanted to improve communication with its customers by giving them more accurate arrival times and job status reports. It also wanted to reduce paperwork in the field and balance workloads to become a more efficient organization. Of course, this had to be done without compromising the bottom line.


Illinois Power’s dispatch solution utilizes Itronix mobile computers, MDSI’s Advantex mobile workforce management software and the Cingular Interactive Intelligent Wireless Network.
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In early 1997, Illinois Power decided on the components of its wireless data solution. The system consists of the nationwide Cingular Interactive Intelligent Wireless Network from Cingular Interactive (formerly the BellSouth Intelligent Wireless Network from BellSouth Wireless Data), MDSI’s Advantex mobile workforce management software, and Itronix XC6000 ruggedized mobile data terminals.

Illinois Power chose the Cingular Interactive Intelligent Wireless Network for several reasons:

  • Coverage-The Cingular Network covers 93 percent of the U.S. urban business population. As Illinois Power’s customers are located in both urban and rural areas, Cingular Interactive has worked with Illinois Power to supplement coverage in the critical areas Illinois Power serves.
  • Availability-The Cingular Network boasts 99.93 percent availability.
  • Cost-Since the Cingular Network is nationwide, it already covers many of the urban areas in which Illinois Power will operate as the company’s traditional boundaries expand.

To supplement the wireless network, Illinois Power chose MDSI’s Advantex mobile workforce management software to integrate the company’s mobile resources with the enterprise. Using Advantex, Illinois Power can process work orders generated by enterprise applications and legacy systems and automatically dispatch work to mobile workers, manage the work in the field, and capture results of the work orders for use in other enterprise applications. Vehicle-mounted Itronix XC6000 laptops were chosen for their combination of reliability, features and value.

Implementation

Implementation began in June 1997 with six units in Jacksonville, Ill. The implementation soon expanded to three more areas with 30 users. Recognizing that many of the solution’s end users would be field technicians, some of whom might have little computer experience, Illinois Power set up a training program that eased technicians into the process. This ensured a smooth transition and little resistance to what was a major change in the way technicians worked. Since then, the solution has been rolled out to more than 500 vehicles operating throughout Illinois Power’s service area. To date, Illinois Power has processed nearly 2 million orders through the system.

How it Works

When a customer calls Illinois Power’s service center and books an appointment, the customer service representative enters the information into the system, which intelligently assigns the work order to the appropriate field worker. The skill set and location of mobile workers are factored in automatically when the assignment is made to help ensure that the most appropriate personnel are sent to each job. MDSI’s software also contains an appointment control system, which enables Illinois Power to schedule jobs to the hour.

Each morning, mobile workers simply turn on their ruggedized mobile data terminals, and their work orders for the day are wirelessly downloaded from the main office in Decatur via a connection to the Cingular Interactive Intelligent Wireless Network.

Prior to installation of the Cingular Interactive solution, Illinois Power’s mobile workers had to drive to a regional office each morning to get the day’s printed work orders. Now, because the work orders are sent directly to the field workers’ mobile computers, they can travel directly to their first job site.

When each job is completed, the field worker enters the job information into the mobile terminal. The information is transmitted wirelessly over the Cingular Interactive Intelligent Wireless Network to Illinois Power’s customer call center and accessed by customer service representatives, who then have timely knowledge of job status.

In an industry where customer service is a key differentiator, implementation of the wireless data solution has been a success for Illinois Power. With wireless data, Illinois Power has the ability to give customers near real-time status of job orders. When a customer calls the center to request the status of a service order, Illinois Power can inform the customer of the mobile worker’s arrival time immediately and accurately.

Using a paper-based system, the status of jobs would not be known for days. With the old system, after the work was performed and the papers filled out, the information still had to be entered manually. Also, errors due to lost orders or illegible orders would cost time. Since adopting the wireless data solution, Illinois Power has eliminated much of the field paperwork and enjoyed much greater efficiency.

Historical information generated via the use of the wireless data solution is another key benefit for Illinois Power. With the paper-based system, it was difficult to measure a mobile worker’s productivity, travel and emergency response time. Using wireless data, this vital information is easily tracked and reported.

Wireless data has caught on in other parts of the company as well. For example, Illinois Power has outfitted supervisors in the Central Staff and Forestry Group with Interactive Messaging PLUS from Cingular Interactive. This wireless data solution allows Illinois Power supervisors to send and receive wireless interactive messages and exchange Internet e-mail using the RIM 950 Wireless Handheld-a wearable device with full QWERTY keyboard. Using Interactive Messaging PLUS has helped speed customer responsiveness and streamline internal communications.

The Future

While the system currently in place is light years beyond the paper-based system Illinois Power previously used, the utility continues to seek improvement. Illinois Power currently is looking for their next generation of subscriber units. The Panasonic Tough Book is being piloted in their Champaign, Ill., service area. Illinois Power also continues to work with MDSI on software improvements, adding more functionality to the system. Illinois Power’s goal is to someday dispatch all orders electronically.

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