Mobile Workforce Management Powers the Carolinas

By Steve Cauble, Duke Power

Driving forces in our industry are changing the way utility companies like Duke Power must compete with rivals, work with suppliers, and offer services to customers to stay competitive. In many ways, the story of Duke Power, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., is familiar. We have experienced merger and acquisition activity and have faced a number of technological and business challenges-all the while doing more with less. Despite the challenges our company has faced in recent years, we have maintained an unshakeable focus on operational excellence, safety, environmental stewardship, and customer and community service, wherever we do business.

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Our commitment to operational efficiency and customer satisfaction first led us to deploy a workforce management solution in 1997. Five years later, support concerns regarding an aging platform, in addition to technology enhancements, drove us to move toward a more scalable, next-generation solution so we could handle a greater volume of work more efficiently, serve our customers better and position ourselves for the future.

Duke Power is a subsidiary of Duke Energy, which was created in June 1997 by the merger of Duke Power Co. and PanEnergy Corp. Operating in a 22,000-square-mile service territory, the utility has more than 100,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines and serves more than 2.2 million customers. Duke Power serves the Piedmont area of North and South Carolina and is divided into three service regions: Northern, Central and Southern. The three regions are divided into nine operating zones with scheduling centrally located in one operations center for each region. Customer calls are taken via six call centers with approximately 400 customer service representatives.

The History of WFM at Duke Power

In 1997, Duke Power committed to implementing a workforce management (WFM) solution to replace paper orders and printers for nearly 1 million routine meter work orders per year. The first phase of our routine workforce management system (RWMS) project was completed by 1999, and the routine meter work for approximately 450 field technicians was automated with a significant unit cost savings. By 2001, a new customer billing and information system was up and running and provided the ability to auto-close these routine work requests. In 2002, we added GIS-based mobile mapping functionality to our system, which gave us improved routing capability. The work of an additional 65 field technicians was automated when our RWMS platform was extended to include the commercial metering business unit.

Replacing a paper-based system with a first-generation automated workforce management solution enabled Duke Power to receive, dispatch and close work electronically using mobile devices in the field. After three years of operation, Duke Power realized the following benefits:

“- Improved customer service as call takers could view real-time status of work requests;

“- Superior ability to respond to changing customer requirements and field conditions;

“- More effective management of workforce and workload thanks to real-time monitoring of the field;

“- Enhanced data quality and accuracy, leading to better management decision-making;

“- Lower per unit cost for different types of work performed; and

“- Reductions in administrative support to manage paper work and closing of work requests.

In spite of these improvements, in April 2002 we realized that WFM technology had advanced in the intervening five years, and it was time for an upgrade to ensure we maintained the operational efficiencies we had achieved.

Moving to Next-Generation Mobile WFM Technologies

Duke Power’s search for a new and improved WFM technology was a project in itself. We conducted vendor demonstrations, market research and evaluated our existing workforce management system. Our due diligence indicated that our existing system was on an aging operating system, for both server components and mobile device components. It was clear that our business could benefit from newer, faster hardware and “user-friendly” WFM applications to reduce the need for vendor customizations. We committed to implementing an integrated, truly mobile workforce management (MWFM) solution to replace our existing workforce management system. Our business goals with respect to our mobile work management system (MWMS) project were to:

“- Implement a scalable platform that could grow with us and be extended to different types of work in the future;

“- Implement a solution that allowed self-service capabilities, such as screen customizations, with minimal vendor services required;

“- Reduce potential maintenance costs, troubleshooting costs and other risks associated with an aging, unsupported platform;

“- Increase portability and reduce costs of mobile devices in the field;

“- Improve our outage management and response capability;

“- Improve our scheduling and time reporting capability;

“- Improve our mapping capability to include map-based dispatching;

“- Improve our system performance and load capacity to handle a higher volume of orders; and

“- Improve the maps interface for mobile devices for enhanced usability.

In essence, we were looking for a solution that supported our corporate strategic objectives for operational excellence, cost reduction, safety and customer satisfaction. Our goal was to find a single mobile platform for managing work across the enterprise-regardless of where the work originates, who does the work and what type of work is being performed in the field. For the long term, we wanted one platform for dispatching work.

Innovative Approaches to Vendor Evaluation

To avoid confusing request for proposal responses and scheduling challenges that might make fair and efficient vendor evaluations difficult, we decided to try a new approach. In November 2002, the Duke Power selection team gathered at an off-site facility and invited all vendor finalists to a two-day workshop. All vendors were assigned a separate demo room and were asked to run through a set of 12 pre-defined scenarios over the two-day period. Each scenario was written to reflect Duke Power’s varied business requirements. One demo, for example, involved creating and dispatching an outage event from the Duke outage management system, routing the same event through the vendor’s WFM, and returning status updates and completion information. The selection team watched a 15-minute demo by each vendor for every scenario and compared the performance of each application against the others. After a lengthy consultation and review process, Duke Power signed a contract with MDSI Mobile Data Solutions Inc. in July 2003 to implement Advantex r7.5. The main deciding factors were MDSI’s experience, established client base and the functionality of its new product, which aligned well with our company’s business requirements.

System Architecture and Integration

Duke Power’s workforce management uses a distributed or client and server based architecture. With our new MWMS implementation, all the work orders associated with routine residential metering services, complex commercial metering services and lighting services are passed through the Advantex application. Work orders are processed from several separate hosts including: Duke Power’s customer billing and information system, an SPL outage management system, and a Worksuite STORMS construction work management system. To utilize our existing meter reading technology, our interface is built to accept readings captured through an Itron mobile meter-reading device. We use the MQ Series messaging architecture to facilitate our various host system interfaces. We also utilize an interface on the mobile application to MapFrame’s mobile mapping application. Duke Power’s private Motorola RDLAP radio system provides data transfer from the Advantex server and the mobile devices in the field. Business Objects software and the MDSI Advantex Decision Support modules provide various reporting capabilities (see Figure 1).

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We use three order types-meter, service and construction-and approximately 100 job codes to manage our work. As of August 2005, approximately 650 of our technicians in outage restoration, routine metering, complex metering and lighting services business units were equipped with RF-connected ruggedized laptops and PDAs in the field for improved operational efficiency and customer responsiveness.

System Implementation

The overall implementation of our new system proceeded smoothly. Everything from contract signing to solution integration testing was accomplished in 52 weeks. The solution design phase, which involved creating our screens and finalizing plans to build our interface, was completed in December 2003, and the host interfaces were implemented by our IT department in spring 2004. There was a one-month pilot in August 2004 and staged rollouts, including deployment of new ruggedized laptops, began in September 2004. Thanks to the hard work of all involved, our upgraded system went live in December 2004 to rave reviews.

But as with any enterprise system implementation, we encountered some challenges along the way. Given the project’s complexity, the number of vendors involved, and the number of employees impacted, we anticipated some issues, which included:

“- Personnel and staffing challenges related to getting the right people in the right role. The way we succeeded was to have the best people available assigned to the project.

“- Technological challenges related to tightly integrating the software from a multitude of vendors to design, test and implement a system conforming to our business requirements.

“- Project management and scheduling challenges related to an aggressive deployment schedule from September 2004 to December 2004 and the need not to disrupt vital outage management during the traditional Carolina storm season when we deal with the aftermath of hurricanes or ice storms. To make matters worse, 2004 was the most active hurricane season we had seen in quite some time, and we were challenged in training and deployment, as so many field personnel were busy in outage restorations.

“- Timing and coordination challenges related to a staged deployment by zones, where we replaced all the ruggedized laptops, put in new hardware, and performed a conversion of existing orders from the old software to the new software-all during the course of a weekend. Field technicians came in on a Monday to all new hardware and software, and there was very little impact to productivity. We were upgrading two to three operations centers a week to minimize disruption and to keep our tight deployment schedule with the firm December 2004 deadline.

“- Training challenges related to building and delivering an in-house “just-in-time” training package the week before deployment in each zone. The project team training and configuration workshops that MDSI provided were excellent. Accurate documentation and training materials provided by the vendor also minimized the need for customizations within the Duke Power training department.

Quick Results Prove Business Value

Our decision to invest in a mobile workforce management solution has definitely increased our operational efficiency since 1998. For our newest implementation, however, given the seasonal nature of our business and the fact that our new system has been in service for just over eight months, it is far too early to identify further quantitative improvements. As for qualitative improvements, we are well-positioned to deliver against our WFM project objectives in upcoming months. Since deployment in December 2004, we have been able to significantly increase the number of users and the throughput of our dispatch system. In the future, we will continue to add field technicians to our system, we are piloting the use of GPS technology, and plan to add another interface to our WFM solution for asset management work in 2006.

Positioned for the Future

Empowered by the latest technology, Duke Power will continue to deliver a high level of customer service and operational efficiency as we power our own growth and improve quality of life for our customers and communities in the Carolinas.࢝®à¢®

Steven D. Cauble is project manager for mobile work management systems for Duke Power Company, a subsidiary of Duke Energy. He most recently managed the selection and successful deployment of MDSI’s Advantex r7.5 in 2004. Cauble has 18 years of experience with Duke Power and has held a range of positions from scheduling manager, process and technical specialist, training and development specialist, and distribution line technician. He holds a degree in Electrical Engineering.

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