Mobile Computing and GIS
High Tech Tools for Utility Field Work

High technology isn’t just for use inside the substation or in the utility back office. Utilities are finding tremendous value in pushing technology into the great wide open where the field work force can interact with customers and distribution assets while still remaining digitally connected to the utility enterprise.

Technologies such as automated mapping, outage management systems, computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location are all interwoven in the modern utility. The implementation and integration of these technologies have made utilities better able to respond to customer service requests, quickly restore power in outage situations and maintain a more reliable power delivery system.

Extending this technology into the field has increased its value exponentially. Mobile computing devices are decreasing in size while simultaneously increasing in power and functionality, making them an essential part of the field technician’s toolset. Meanwhile, advances in wireless communication add the element of continuous connectivity between dispatchers and the mobile work force.

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By this point, the potential benefits that can be achieved by adding some type of mobile computing device to the field worker’s tool belt and backing it up with GIS technology are well understood. Accordingly, North American utilities are making significant investments to strengthen the mobile enterprise.

A recently released market research study from InfoNetrix (www.InfoNetrix.com) found more than $72 million worth of GIS and mobile computing project activity under way at the 200-plus U.S. and Canadian utilities InfoNetrix interviewed between April and July 2002 (see table). The same market research firm also found $55 million worth of GIS and mobile computing projects in 2002’s first quarter (January through April).

These market reports give an indication of the value utilities are placing on mobile computing and GIS. Properly implemented, these technologies strengthen not only the field worker, but the reliability of the distribution system as a whole. The following pages provide a snapshot of the mobile computing/GIS technologies currently available, and how they will shape the future of utility work.

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