TU Consolidates Information Systems with an Integrated Solution
By John McCoy, TU
Faced with the nearly impossible task of maintaining and operating three separate information systems in the wake of a multiple utility merger, Texas Utilities Inc. (TU) of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, is deploying a single enterprise system that integrates AM/FM with work management and interfaces with numerous existing applications. Known as the distribution information system (DIS), this integrated solution is a family of automated systems that brings together TU`s work management functions, corporate and facilities databases and legacy applications under a common Windows NT environment. More importantly, TU employees throughout the enormous service area will have direct access to the system. Integration of the AM/FM and work management system (WMS) in a client-server environment makes it possible to network nearly 800 workstations at 130 remote sites to graphic and database servers. Deployment of the TU DIS is significant because it represents a growing trend in utility automation. In the past, an AM/FM system was most often purchased to perform a specific set of automated functions within a single department. Recently, however, the AM/FM system is being increasingly used as the key component in multiple system integration, feeding data to and from various systems and serving as the hub around which legacy applications are built.
TU is developing the DIS with the facilities rulebased application model management environment (FRAMME) AM/FM software from Intergraph Corp. and the work management information system (WMIS) product from Synercom, a division of Logica, of Houston, Texas. By integrating these two systems, TU will be able to generate information such as distribution circuit maps, property records, electrical connectivity, phasing and customer-to-protective device relationships as by-products of the design process. Moreover, the enterprise system will create a corporate-wide consistency in project initiation, load estimating, transformer sizing, cost estimating, crew scheduling and project closing. “The unified system allows us (at corporate headquarters) to look at the entire company on a consistent basis,” said Judd Putnam, TU`s distribution engineering manager. “It gives us a handle on what is going on across the system down to a level of detail in each of our 42 service centers.” Although DIS deployment was driven primarily by the need to consolidate after the merger, it will pay TU significant dividends in other ways as well. TU expects the DIS to provide a tremendous competitive advantage in the development of new electrical products and services in the dawning era of deregulation.
Many Systems, no Compatibility
TU provides electric service to more than 2 million customers in a 65,000 square mile area covering one-third of the state including the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Electric facilities include 13,000 miles of transmission circuits and 72,000 miles of distribution circuits. TU Electric, the principal subsidiary of TU, was formed in 1984 with the merger of Dallas Power & Light (DP&L), Texas Power & Light (TP&L) and Texas Electric Service Co. At that time, each company had completed some degree of automation, each focusing on different applications and technologies. DP&L had a PC-based cost-estimation system and a mainframe WMS which were not interfaced. TP&L`s WMS ran on a mainframe and performed cost estimating, project tracking and property accounting. Texas Electric was the most advanced, with a mainframe WMS loosely integrated with its AM/FM system for project design.
None of these systems was compatible with the others, and the digital land base data files were likewise stored in incompatible formats. The array of work management systems, databases and platforms was further complicated by an abundance of automated applications, which totaled 110 among the three companies. The problems arising from three active, incompatible systems were numerous and costly. Some field offices utilized one, two or all three systems, which meant crews had to be trained in each system or duplicate personnel had to be kept onsite as backup. And because similar, yet different, application programs ran on separate systems, information output and distribution analysis results were inconsistent across the service area.
“By replacing these systems, TU`s information technology (IT) department can reduce software maintenance costs, eliminate several obsolescent system software packages and reduce the number of non-compliant systems in our application portfolio,” said H.B. Keating, TU`s vice president of IT. The utility began consolidating corporate systems related to customer and employee databases in the late 1980s. After a downsizing in 1992 severely depleted the workforce familiar with the older AM/FM systems, TU developed its plan to implement an integrated information solution for its distribution system.
Developing the DIS
The major benefit of building a DIS with an AM/FM system at its core is that FRAMME provides a graphical operating model of the entire electrical distribution system. The operating model displays every element of the electric system in the field and shows how each is functioning. The addition of a digital land base gives the operating model an extra dimension. “The AM/FM enables us to layer the electric model onto the land base, which puts the entire distribution system into a geographic perspective,” explained Ken White, TU`s application development services manager.
The rulebased nature of the FRAMME software played a key role in the development of the DIS. It enabled Intergraph technicians, working closely with TU engineers, to write a set of rules that governs creation of electrical distribution maps and land bases in the AM/FM system. These rules define exactly how each element in the network behaves and should connect with other equipment. “Going into a project like this, it`s critical to form a committee to develop standards and ensure that everyone is using the same materials and equipment,” added Putnam. In creating the rulebase for the electrical distribution maps, for example, TU engineers decided how electrical equipment should be displayed on the map and also put into writing the rules that commonly govern electrical network design and operating procedures. The rulebase, therefore, prevents designers from making mistakes such as connecting an underground cable to an overhead transformer. Every engineering operation designed and conducted through the AM/FM database is carried out according to these established TU procedures. The same went for the land base rulebase. TU engineers agreed upon a set of standards for how new subdivisions would be entered and how lot lines and streets would be represented in the AM/FM system. The rulebase ensures these features are always drawn consistently on all TU land base graphics.
Although once the rulebase is written, generation of distribution and land base maps is an automated process, the electric and land base data still had to be input into the system. Data conversion and preparation are always among the most time-consuming processes in any automation project. One advantage for TU was that most of the electric system data and land base maps were already in digital form, albeit in three separate formats. The AM/FM software, however, was able to support migration of data from multiple formats. The land base files were also in three different formats, relics of the older AM/FM systems used by the three merged companies. Cartotech of San Antonio, Texas, was subcontracted to perform the translation of these files. Maps of the Dallas area were the only ones not in digital form. TU digitized these paper maps directly into the AM/FM system using in-house resources.
DIS: Tapping Multiple Systems
The ultimate goal of the TU DIS has been to create a single graphical interface that enables hundreds of users to access virtually all of the utility`s major information systems and applications without even realizing multiple systems are in use. That means that project initiation, design, estimating, closing and administration functions are carried out seamlessly in the automated environment. In addition, the DIS interfaces directly with TU`s major systems: customer information system (CIS), procurement and materials management, distribution analysis and planning, computer assisted trouble, construction and property accounting and employee information.
Integration of the AM/FM systems and WMS forms the foundation for the DIS. In building a DIS, there are several ways to integrate these systems. In the TU system, AM/FM functions as a seamless part of the WMS during the design and as-built phases of the workflow process. In a typical project, a request for service comes through the CIS and WMS initiates a new work order which is then transmitted to the TU design technicians. Working in a single graphical user interface, the technicians access the AM/FM system and design the job, placing appropriate poles, conductors and other equipment on the AM basemap. The AM/FM database then collects the compatible units that accompany these items and feeds the information back to the WMS for cost estimation.
“We have reduced our cost estimation time from 24 hours to 12 minutes with the DIS,” said Putnam. The WMS routes the design through the various layers of approval and ultimately assigns it to the appropriate work crew. It receives the completed design map digitally via the client-server network at its field office. At appropriate times, other systems such as procurement and materials management and construction and property accounting are activated to issue construction materials and track equipment, inventory, crews and schedules throughout the project.
Preparing for Deregulation
As of Dec. 31, 1996, TU had rolled the DIS out in geographic phases covering approximately 85 percent of its customers. By the end of 1997, implementation will be completed. DIS rollout includes installation of 300 Pentium-based, Windows NT technical workstations and about 700 business-class personal computers. Project designers and mappers who need computer speed and superior graphics capabilities will use the technical machines, while the business-class computers will be used by most other employees. The transfer of large volumes of data over a broad service area has required TU to upgrade its WAN. The utility has installed 256 kps dedicated land lines in a routed WAN utilizing TCP/IP protocol to handle the increased traffic. This configuration provides both PC-to-server and mainframe connectivity for all corporate connectivity.
Enthusiasm for the new DIS is already spreading beyond the employees who are seeing improved daily productivity. Management is equally excited with the prospect of being able to gather and analyze network, customer and financial information that was not possible before. This capability, second in importance only to enhanced customer service, may prove the most valuable benefit of the DIS. As TU begins the deregulation-era transition into providing non-traditional electrical products and services, the AM/FM database in the DIS will be an invaluable asset. “We have a tremendous amount of information on customers and their electrical usage characteristics,” said White. “This information will assist us in determining what types of utility-related products we should offer as well as how to market them.” The competition of deregulation and capabilities of the DIS are causing TU and other utilities to look at their AM/FM and related databases from an entirely new perspective. These systems are no longer cost centers. They are rapidly being viewed as potential sources of new revenue.
John McCoy is a DIS manager for TU, responsible for the development and implementation of the TU DIS. He joined Texas Electric Service Co. in 1970 and has held various positions in the areas of transmission construction and operations, system protection, bulk power planning, research and development and telecommunications.
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Utility IT departments across the nation face multiple system integration issues.