TXU Electric & Gas: Pioneer on the Wireless Frontier

By Gary Thayer

TXU Electric & Gas, a subsidiary of Dallas-based global energy services company TXU Corp., serves 2.5 million electricity customers and 1.4 million natural gas customers via its U.S. operations.

In seeking to replace its paper and voice-dispatching system in 1997, TXU Electric & Gas project managers, IT personnel and executives assessed available workforce management systems. After careful evaluation, TXU Electric & Gas selected the Alliance Resource Management system (now known as Advantex RM) from Canada-based MDSI Mobile Data Solutions Inc. The selection was based partly on Advantex’s ability to interface with the utility company’s customer information system (CIS) to exchange order and status information, and its capability to support multiple RF connectivity.

To implement the Advantex system, TXU Electric & Gas assembled a team from IT and Gas Operations, assisted by Griffin Consulting Group Inc. The system was implemented among a limited number of users in 12 months, and was rolled out quickly to more users after its benefits became immediately clear. Today, about 30 dispatchers at TXU’s dispatching center oversee approximately 700 technicians who handle an average of 15,000 orders a day.

TXU’s gas division has defined 32 job codes (e.g., turn on, turn off, leaks, pressure, set meter, etc.) and the electric division has eight job codes. As the utility continues to expand its products and services, it also plans to increase the number of job codes in both of its divisions to handle more service orders for a growing customer base.

At TXU Electric & Gas, the Advantex software runs on an IBM server with the AIX operating system. Dispatchers access the software on standard Dell PCs, and field technicians carry Panasonic’s Toughbook wireless-ready mobile computers running the Windows operating system. Field workers access the software over a CDPD, Wireless Matrix network (Satellite), and the internal 896 system.

The field automation solution incorporates the company’s Operations Data Mart (ODM) functionality, which enables TXU Electric & Gas to create reports from archived historical data based on order completion activity, technician performance and travel time estimation. Such historical data can enable dispatchers to better allocate current work orders.

“We use information from archived data in our scheduling process,” said Kyle Lenamond, TXU Gas Operations dispatch manager. “If we know a specific job takes a certain amount of time to complete, we can easily incorporate that information into the scheduling process for better optimization of technicians’ time. It also supplies technicians with job performance information that encourages them to meet productivity standards.”

Recognizing the value of reports, TXU Electric & Gas has provided access to them through a Web-enabled environment. The ability to easily access operational data generated by the workforce via a Web browser provides TXU Electric & Gas with productivity statistics to improve operations and focus on increasing customer care.

With the implementation of its wireless field system, TXU Electric & Gas has been able to consolidate and re-engineer the workflow process in the field and behind the scenes in both metro and non-metro areas. Lenamond attributes the success of the system’s implementation to three key components: support from upper management; a centralized dispatch center with the mobile and dispatch operations under one management process; and a solid partnership between IT, Gas Operations and Griffin Consulting.

Although technicians’ work schedules are published weekly, unpredictable events such as emergency orders can disrupt daily operations. Now, dispatchers have the flexibility to accommodate these changes by redistributing the work and monitoring the work order progress in real time to ensure TXU Electric & Gas meets its customer expectations for superior service.

The most significant improvements can be seen in the non-metro areas with sparse or no radio coverage. There, technicians use Panasonic laptops via satellite network or the private in-house radio system for data connectivity. Should connectivity be broken, the Advantex system allows the technician to continue working off line. Transactions are updated and posted in real time once connectivity is re-established, allowing the technician to stay productive throughout the day. This has virtually eliminated paper and voice dispatching and provides for more accurate customer information, Lenamond said.

With the addition of satellite connectivity, a new automatic vehicle locator solution, and lat/long order routing, TXU Electric & Gas continues to develop strategies to improve its existing wireless workforce systems in an effort to distinguish itself as one of the top service providers in the business.

The benefits of being a pioneer? Increased customer satisfaction, decreased operating costs, streamlined and consolidated operations, stronger management decision-making tools and increased work productivity to name a few. It’s a path that many more are sure to follow.

Gary Thayer(gary@mobilevillage.com) of MobileVillage.com is the editor of MobileVillage Weekly, an online/e-mail newsletter covering new products, applications, trends and events in mobile and wireless technologies.

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