Texas-sized Data

Leading-edge technology helps the LCRA manage a wide range of resources and assets.

One public utility agency is using small display screens to cut its coverage area down to a manageable size. Spanning the heart of Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority’s coverage area stretches 29,809 square miles–an area larger than Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii or several other states.

Created by Texas state legislators in 1934, the LCRA conservation and reclamation district employs 2,350 people who work to provide a myriad of utility-related services in 53 central Texas counties. The LCRA relies on mobile technology to complete its broad-based responsibilities, including bringing electricity to more than one million residents, managing the lower portion of the Colorado River in Texas and operating six dams.

The software supports a variety of functions such as work order management, equipment monitoring and inventory management. With handheld computers and their software, workers can send and receive data from wherever they are located. Being able to send and receive critical information to workers at job sites enables the LCRA’s mobile staff and its managers to manage scores of complex operations throughout the agency’s vast region.

The information bottleneck

Despite being the key agency behind a number of public works-related projects in Texas, the LCRA is a non-profit entity that receives no tax dollars. Unique in structure and mission, the LCRA sells wholesale electricity to more than 40 retail utilities, including cities and electric cooperatives. The agency operates 3,300 miles of transmission lines and manages the water supply for cities, farmers and industries along a 600-mile stretch of its namesake river between the city of San Saba and the Gulf Coast. The LCRA also owns 16,000 acres of recreational land, comprising more than 40 parks, natural science centers and nature preserves.

Before they had mobile technology, LCRA field technicians were unable to efficiently transmit hard, actionable data easily. Forms were completed in the field and returned to the central office for data entry by support staff, then managers had to wait for information to be processed. The information that managers and field technicians needed on field meter readings, substation equipment conditions and maintenance work orders was locked on paper forms that had to be moved by hand from central dispatch. It was an information bottleneck.

The LCRA uses mobile technology to manage its many assets. Photo, courtesy LCRA. Click here to enlarge image

Realizing this information bottleneck existed, in 2002 the LCRA’s transmission and substation group joined with its generation group to mull over the options, which included reviewing the products of a number of mobile technology vendors.

With wide-ranging resources including hydroelectric dams, a coal-fired power plant, gas-fired power plants, and even electrical power transmission services scattered across a large expanse, the LCRA shed its reliance on paper documents as demands for its services grew and information had to be processed at a much faster rate.

The benefits of modern-day effectiveness

Now, with mobile technology, field technicians can complete more preventative maintenance on the agency’s far-flung assets. Mobile technology also allows an organization to end its reliance on paper-based systems for a host of other functions. For instance, the information the LCRA receives from its enterprise asset management (EAM) system can be sent immediately to field workers and is no longer trapped on static paper forms. The LCRA now has the ability to electronically send and receive information on work orders for repairing or replacing equipment, inventory management details and measurements for equipment monitoring.

The software the LCRA uses to stay current on its operations and supplies comes from Syclo, a Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based mobile software provider that also developed a mobile platform that supports the mobile tools the agency uses and extends the functionality of its EAM system to its field workers. To complete its connection with leading edge technology, the LCRA tapped the MC9000 Series mobile computers from Motorola-subsidiary Symbol. The MC9000 is designed to operate in the kinds of harsh environments where many of the LCRA’s facilities and assets are located.

Other benefits?

With the paperwork completion requirement eliminated by mobile technology, LCRA field technicians had more time to devote to following-up on work order requests and equipment monitoring.

Since deploying mobile technology, the LCRA has experienced an increase in the work completed per shift for its field workforce.

The amount of preventative maintenance versus reactive maintenance completed has dramatically increased. Assets can be repaired or replaced before they start seriously malfunctioning, threatening customer service.

Mobile technology has also facilitated better monitoring of the LCRA’s assets. For example, with the new technology, the agency can effectively inventory and maintain data on 314 nuclear measurement devices at its coal-fired power plant. This monitoring includes validation of the devices’ physical location, collecting information on equipment condition and leak test results monitoring.

With the increased efficiency mobile technology enables, the LCRA continuously meets its service level agreements in all areas. And since the data is collected, transmitted and stored electronically, a verifiable electronic record is compiled for state and federal compliance reporting. Plus, those reports are now generated in minutes.

The LCRA also saves on its labor expenses. In the old paper days, tracking all the activities, readings and repairs manually was labor-intensive, costly and time-consuming. Today, those functions are automated. Since mobile technology was implemented by the LCRA, the agency has experienced a 20 percent increase in the quality of work completed.

Soon, the LCRA will add automated scheduling software to its list of mobile technology tools so it can more effectively schedule workers to be at sites for repairs, monitoring and other operations. To locate workers such as inspectors, the LCRA will acquire global positioning system (GPS) technology. All of the technology the LCRA employs helps it effectively serve its customers while protecting the environment and constructively using the area’s resources.

(Visit www.elp.com for more articles about mobile technology.)


Clayton Cook has been with the Lower Colorado River Authority for 27 years. He has been the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) manager for more than 10 years. Cook serves as the system owner and functional manager of the enterprise asset management system (EAM) at the LCRA. Cook also leads the LCRA EAM subject matter expert team. Contact him at clay.cook@lcra.org.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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