By Jeffrey Cohen, Intergis LLC
Utility companies have some of the most complex fleet management and field force deployment requirements of any business.
Consider a routine workweek during which a single regional office must schedule and route hundreds of service stops and work orders. Jobs may consist of neighborhood meter readings in rural or urban settings, or they may involve construction with dozens of cranes, aerial lifts, equipment trucks and cars. Appropriately trained personnel and exact work materials must arrive at the right times and locations. That could be an existing pole or transformer with a specific GPS coordinate or radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Conversely, it could be an unmarked ditch.
A view of the software from a utility manager’s computer screen.
Exacerbate this routine fleet activity with a major snowstorm, sizeable hurricane or other natural occurrence and it is incredible that these companies perform as well as they do.
Smart utility companies seek to manage their diverse fleets and work forces to enhance productivity, reduce fuel costs and become greener, as well as increase operation safety and compliance.
Immediate Significant ROI
Enterprise mobile resource management (MRM) solutions integrate real-time GPS vehicle tracking and navigation tools with automated scheduling, dispatching and route optimization applications.
Automatic routing solutions generate efficient daily schedules to work sites and service calls. What might take a utility fleet manager hours to complete manually can be generated in minutes by an intelligent and intuitive enterprise MRM solution.
The software performs complex tasks effortlessly, regardless of business size, combining variables such as equipment required, load configuration and the most direct route. These intelligent MRM solutions deploy the most qualified workers for each job based on skill level and availability to minimize overtime. The software also can handle dispatching for emergency and new service calls that come throughout the day and send closest available crews.
Just the Facts MRM
Intuitive routing software also streamlines processes and integrates with back-office systems such as accounting, payroll and work order invoicing, which reduces paperwork, enhances productivity and reduces error. GPS devices in the field track vehicles and mobile workers and a Web-based software solution allows managers to analyze detailed vehicle or mobile worker activities on the map. Top-tier enterprise MRM solutions combine this data into a myriad of reports that are fully customizable, so fleet managers see only what they want, as desired. Reports are available in real time, daily, weekly and monthly on screen or via e-mail. These reports deliver operational information about fleets and mobile workers including idle time, speed, mileage, maintenance and more.
A Clearer Picture
In addition to return-on-investment (ROI), enterprise MRM solutions can provide an additional level of driver and vehicle safety while reducing corporate risk.
The best MRM systems feature GPS-wireless communications capabilities that pinpoint a vehicle and driver’s location in real time. Equally important, the systems provide reliable communication among field personnel and managers even when they are out of cellular range because of distance or outage.
MRM technologies with connected navigation enable drivers and managers to communicate on GPS-enabled handheld devices. Managers can send drivers audible, turn-by-turn directions and determine their locations in relation to a site.
The system is invaluable in emergency conditions, such as when a driver seeks a blown transformer or downed line at night in a snow or rainstorm or other hazardous conditions. GPS tracking technology in vehicles that reports real-time location enables managers to pinpoint drivers’ locations and surrounding landmarks and to direct them to sites.
Smart utilities also use enterprise MRM solutions to monitor field workers and their vehicle use. Proof that workers showed up and of their locations at specific times can be important for customer-complaint resolution and overtime management. Unauthorized route diversions or after-hours vehicles are easily spotted using MRM with geo-fencing violation alerts and real-time reporting. Utility managers also can create alerts and be notified when speeding occurs or if drivers are on unauthorized routes with hazardous materials. Fleet managers can reduce insurance premiums by demonstrating compliance with system-generated reports on vehicle maintenance, tire changes and tune-ups. Proper vehicle maintenance also extends vehicle life and reduces mileage costs.
Insurance providers are keen on systems that can track high-value utility assets, and in this difficult economy, thieves are becoming more brazen and creative. Reports abound about thieves who lift coils of wire with their own trucks from sites, and vehicles simply vanish, never to be found. Vehicles and assets equipped with GPS tracking can be recovered quickly, more frequently and in one piece. Several prevented thefts of high-value assets easily can cover the cost of a system, reduce insurance and minimize risk.
MRM: A Bright Green Idea
Utilities can save by deploying an enterprise MRM and logistics software solution. These solutions save hundreds if not millions of dollars for large enterprise fleets. They can give companies a new perspective and greater understanding of how its people and assets are deployed. Moreover, the savings in overtime, mileage, theft and insurance are considerable.
Enterprise MRM becomes part of the green initiatives that utilities are mandated to implement in a myriad of customer programs. Greater efficiency means finely tuned vehicles and less fuel consumption. MRM reduces emissions, and the idling alerts it provides prevents vehicles from emitting toxic exhaust. Hybrid vehicles consume far less fuel, but if they are driven 15 to 20 percent more than they should be driven because of inefficient routing, the green chain breaks down at that weak point. Enterprise MRM systems will help utilities conform to legislated 2010 emissions standards and reduce their carbon footprints. The smart utility uses MRM to save green and stay green.
The real benefit of MRM to a public utility is its customer service impact. Automatic routing and tracking allow utilities to give customers more specific arrival windows and inform them about problems. Field service workers are more accountable for appointment arrival times with real-time monitoring, and work orders are completed faster. At their worst, delays or wasted hours during emergencies can be life or death situations. Speed and efficiency are of the essence.
Jeffrey Cohen is CEO of Intergis LLC, a leading single-source provider of mobile resource management and logistics technologies for small to midsized businesses and large enterprises in many industries. On the Net: http://intergis.com