Turning GPS into Location Intelligence

By Tim Taylor, Telogis

The utility industry quickly adopted location intelligence technologies, including global positioning system-based (GPS-based) fleet management, routing/navigation and work order management software applications. Some utilities are only scratching the surface of these systems’ capabilities, however. If a utility is only dispatching mobile workers, tracking truck location or monitoring maintenance miles/hours, it is not realizing the full functionality.

Utilities can create and track jobs, route and dispatch mobile resources, generate customer service notifications, report on route compliance and job completion, offer real-time traffic and weather conditions, and interface with other systems.

Utilities must think beyond points on a map and look at advanced location intelligence: coordinated storm/event response, asset utilization, work order management, safety and reporting. Often, these added capabilities are achieved using the same transmission devices already vehicle-mounted for work order and/or GPS-based fleet management systems. The added capabilities require minimal information technology (IT) infrastructure upgrades.

Storm/Event Response

A location intelligence solution can create a common view of an emergency event. Sometimes the local utility, third-party contractors and partner utilities are in communication with each other via radio and phone. They do not know actions and movements, or the type of assets and equipment at their disposal, however. That visibility is critical when coordinating storm responses, and it helps ensure the right assets and resources are dispatched to the right location.

By being proactive and enabling these technologies, utilities will be better prepared for the next storm and more equipped to execute a coordinated response.

As Hurricane Irene crept up the east coast, utilities mobilized their fleets in strategic locations while third-party contractors moved thousands of vehicles into the region from all across the U.S. With a shared view of all mobile assets, contractors could provide utility customers with a view of contractors’ trucks and crews in relation to a utility’s.

Intelligent Vehicle, Better Service

Utilities load each truck with everything the field crew might need: tools, equipment, accessories, etc. This creates unnecessary investments in overcapacity. Advanced location intelligence systems give a utility awareness about each vehicle’s capabilities, tools and materials inventory, and work performed. Communication about vehicle attributes allows utilities to better allocate resources in the field, save money on inventory (by not ordering redundant materials) and have a more responsive organization.

Utilities can document vehicle operations to protect themselves against damage and reckless driving claims.

While utility work order management solutions are seen in outage management systems, integration with other systems—including fleet management and routing/navigation—creates new opportunities for improved productivity and customer service. Through advanced software as a service (SaaS) work order management applications, utilities can create and track jobs, route and dispatch mobile resources, generate customer service notifications, report on route compliance and job completion, offer real-time traffic and weather conditions, and interface with other systems.

These applications give utilities productivity and performance insights on field assets by measuring equipment utilization through metrics. The metrics are then reported via dashboards, including the ability to look at jobs and measure performance based on planned versus actual. Such visibility is an excellent customer service tool; the utility can monitor each crew’s performance and create accurate project estimates. Instead of telling customers that service will arrive within a five-hour window, utilities can pinpoint a crew’s arrival within a much shorter timeframe.

Driver Behavior Metrics

Safety is a high corporate commitment in the utility industry, including driving behavior and fleet practices. A utility’s name is on each truck’s side, and any driver’s unacceptable action reflects poorly on the company. Additionally, such action endangers the public, a utility’s employees and the company’s assets. Incidents such as hard braking, hard acceleration, hard turns, speeding, out-of-route driving and excessive idling are documented on a driver scorecard. That documentation brings awareness and encourages compliance changes.

Utilities and contractors may share information to help coordinate response to emergency events such as storm outages.

Utilities also can document vehicle operation to protect against damage and reckless driving claims. Matching vehicle location to a complaint’s time and location provides concrete evidence either supporting or refuting the claim.

Utility fleets also often work in remote locations that may be off-road or in rural areas with few people and poor cell phone coverage. The ability to know the real-time location and activity of that vehicle—and to determine whether an employee may be in distress—is a critical safety benefit of any location intelligence system.

In these cases, location intelligence systems will use both cellular and satellite connectivity for real-time data transfer.

Minimizing Unauthorized Use

Another key benefit of location intelligence systems is ensuring proper use of utility-owned trucks and equipment during downtime. Utilities can compare vehicle mileage and location to work schedules and pinpoint the exact amount of mileage/expense that is job attributable.

Fuel Reconciliation Report: Utilities have greater resource use visibility, such as fuel card reconciliation to prevent unauthorized use

Similarly, systems are available that leverage fuel card data and GPS location to better manage fuel purchases. In addition to recording fuel card transactions, the system compares the transactions to GPS-provided vehicle locations to verify authorized use. If a card is used without an approved vehicle within a specified range, that information is called out to the fleet manager.

Asset Security

There is a large cost in both capital and lost production when a truck or piece of equipment is stolen. Mobile assets are vulnerable during emergency response scenarios, when working in rural areas far away from headquarters or at a temporary depot. Asset security is a major benefit of any location intelligence system that incorporates geofencing. With geofencing, alerts are sent to operations managers when an asset moves outside of a virtual boundary. This feature deters unauthorized use of assets, helps recover assets when they are stolen and helps reduce both equipment replacement costs and insurance rates.

Advanced Reporting

An advanced location intelligence solution gives visibility in daily operations. It also helps track complex usage details for fleets or employee groups with advanced reporting and compliance functions. Advanced data feeds help companies that have vehicles traveling through multiple states manage compliance based on GPS data. Advanced off-road mileage reporting is also available for those who work in states that have different tax rates/rules for on-road or off-road use. This reporting differentiates and calculates the use, potentially earning tax credits/rebates.

Advanced location intelligence systems are flexible and scalable to work force and fleet. They offer custom configuration options, such as GIS layering, to personalize the mapping and data to best suit an organization’s infrastructure. Advanced location intelligence is also one of the easiest ways to help a fleet go green. With intelligent allocation of resources, smart routing, reduced engine idling and integration with electric vehicle and hybrid-electric (PHEV) systems being implemented by some utilities, these systems can help utilities lower carbon footprints. Mobile intelligence solutions also provide performance metrics on newer vehicles to assess duty-cycle-related technology applications.

SaaS technologies can help revolutionize how utilities manage, communicate with and allocate their mobile assets. Employing fleet management is an excellent first step. Then, utilities can optimize and integrate fleet management with other applications and back-office systems to provide greater field visibility.

Tim Taylor is Telogis Inc.’s client success officer.

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