Parting Shots

Question:

What have been the most significant advancements in utility technology or philosophy over the course of the last decade?

Answer:


John D. McDonald, senior principal consultant and director, asset automation and systems, KEMA Inc.
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The advent of intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), with their internal processing capability and two-way communications, creates many potential benefits that are not being realized by the majority of utilities. Though all utilities are implementing IEDs, very few are extracting and conducting expert analysis of the operational and non-operational IED data. Even when utilities have extracted some data from IEDs, very few have “connected” their user groups throughout the enterprise with the many sources of operational and non-operational data (e.g., SCADA, substation and feeder IEDs, etc.) using data warehouse technology on their corporate network. Utilities are heavily investing in IEDs but not realizing the tremendous benefits they can provide. The advent of the IED is the most significant advancement in utility technology over the last decade.

Answer:


Koustuv Ghoshal, energy & utilities strategy executive, IBM Global Services
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Probably the visceral acceptance by the industry of the philosophy of access to real-time asset data anytime, anywhere, and by anyone! There appear to be two principal catalysts toward this advancement: One, the increasing deployment of sensory technologies in critical asset monitoring-fueled to a large extent by the standardization of communication protocols such as TCP/IP, and the widespread adoption of emerging wireless technologies. Second, the pervasive applicability of enterprise software (middleware technologies to be specific) in the integration of utility operations workflow process-helped by the software vendors’ recognition of the unique needs of this industry and their continued investment.

Answer:


Hahn Tram, executive consultant, Enspiria Solutions
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The decade’s events have led to better use of technology: documentation for Sarbanes-Oxley; cost efficiencies due to mergers, acquisitions and re-regulation; energy and reliability management after the California shortages and northeast blackout; security after 9/11; customer services with digital-economy expectations; and back-to-basics business after the dotcom bubble. Mobile technology impacts all these areas. Applications have extended from telephony, paging, and PDA to e-mail, Internet, GPS navigation, asset locating and mapping. Wireless bandwidth has increased to 2 Mbps (W-CDMA). With wide-area broadband coming, costs dropping, and utilities integrating and transforming their business processes to leverage the mobile applications, benefits will be realized well into this decade.

Answer:


Michael Wiebe, president, MW Consulting
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The transition from “ratepayers” to “customers” is the most significant philosophical change of the last decade and it is driving this decade’s technological innovations. This change is driving a customer-centric business model that is increasingly adopting fixed network automatic meter reading (FN-AMR). We consistently see a pattern of continuous process improvement and innovation beginning when utilities adopt FN-AMR. A “Golden Age” of FN-AMR began with DistribuTECH’s 2004 AMR Project of the Year award to PPL Electric Utilities for the industry’s largest two-way, hourly reading system. We see our current clients and others activating over 10 million new AMR meters by 2008.

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Parting Shots

Question:

“What impact have mobile computing and mobile workforce management technologies had on electric utility companies?”

Answer:


Warren Cree, vice president, marketing and business development, MDSI Mobile Data Solutions Inc.
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Improving operational efficiency always has been, and still is today, the key benefit of mobile workforce management systems. Field crews are more productive and efficient, and customers are getting better service. Service windows have decreased from days to a few hours, and jobs per technician have increased by 10 percent to 30 percent in an average day. These are just a few of the metrics impacting the utility’s bottom line. In today’s world, increased processing power, storage capabilities and wireless bandwidth enable field technicians to access even more critical data, further decreasing the demand on dispatchers and allowing technicians to do more in the field.

Answer:


Ron Bispo, manager, field automation system & electronic meter reading operations, Pacific Gas & Electric
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Taking a field workforce mobile has opened the way for vast improvements in the management and dispatching of service work as well as improved emergency response. With the ability to “see” the field workforce and receive updates from the field in real time, better decisions can be made to get the right person, to the right place, at the right time. The implementation of mobile technologies in the field has also allowed utilities to gather more data that can be used to support process improvement initiatives and make better business decisions. Ultimately, customers receive better response to their needs, and the utility can better manage costs.

Answer:


B. Thell Gillis, market development manager, Panasonic Computer Solutions Co.
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In the past 15 years, with the advent of technology in mobile workforce management applications and fully rugged mobile computing devices, there is no question electric utilities have seen a marked improvement in operational efficiency. Those benefits achieved in some of our largest investor-owned utilities directly result in over 90 percent return on investment. Cost savings on a per-vehicle basis for an average size fleet of 120 trucks can realize annual savings of over $1.2 million or $10,000 per truck.

Through automatic vehicle location, GPS, and geospatial data, a reliable platform is provided to easily access important utility line location maps, while scheduling, routing and dispatch allow for increased customer satisfaction through improved turnaround time on work orders. Time spent in the field is dramatically enhanced by having the right skill set, the right tools and right equipment for the right job.