December 8, 2020

Adams Electric Cooperative — A Small Utility Enjoying Big GIS Value

Adams Electric Cooperative, based in Camp Point, Illinois, has a staff of 31 total employees and serves a community of 7,400 members.

Adams EC has Futura for GIS, OMS, Staking, as well as Futura’s Flex application and Indigo Inspections and Indigo Assets, along with the Catalyst solution. They use Futura’s OMS to keep customers up to date on outages—capabilities augmented by the addition of SEDC’s Mobile App and AutoCue, which automatically keep customers informed, and allow reporting of service interruptions via their cell phones or PCs.

Source: Adams Electric Cooperative website

When asked how they manage the high-efficiency level required for 31 employees to ensure reliability in a very spread-out rural territory, Mike Ohnemus, GIS Mapping Technician in the co-op’s Information Technology department, says, ”The real key to our success has been that our field personnel embrace the technology and enjoy getting to do more and more with it.”

Adams Electric Cooperative—Higher Accuracy Makes For Higher Efficiency

There are direct benefits from their use of Futura’s Staking solution, in terms of its ease of use enabling jobs to be done more efficiently by one person that used to require two people, and also, as Ohnemus points out, “because all the work orders are drawn more accurately now. As a result, it is easier now when we are pulling the materials needed for a job, and we base all the supplies for all our staking work on more accurate information. We are avoiding the types of re-work and extra truck rolls that used to happen, and because the crews and other staff are saving a lot of time, they can spend more time with members and supervise or now perform other duties better.”

This yields other big value-added areas of new benefits—workers are now “able to pay more attention to other new, and even some bigger value-added duties that they can now do,” Ohnemus states, adding “with the linemen having their iPads with them in the field, if they finish a repair early in the street, it is natural and easy for them to spend the extra time updating the electronic version of the paperwork, and they can also now take care of ad-hoc work by assigning themselves the related service order and get it taken care of immediately.”

In comparing practices in the past to the current improvements, the contrast is big—when work was less automated, you could end up with large backlogs, or end up with the field personnel having to drive back to the warehouse or regional office to finish out their workday, losing a lot of productive time. Even if only a small percentage of truck rolls is reduced, there is a very big savings associated with it!

Small Utilities Manage Big Territories Better With GIS

Efficiency is important for utilities whether they’re large or small, but GIS-based systems have a special set of benefits for smaller utilities, including ones who need to manage a relatively spread-out and sparsely populated service territory.

Special time-management-related benefits are associated with GIS-based field work when you have a big territory and a relatively small number of trucks and field crew personnel.

So while tight deadlines are part and parcel of the job for crew members at any utility, properly-implemented GIS-based solutions ensure staff at small utilities have the greater flexibility that they need in order to get jobs done better, with efficient allocation of tasks and time, not just in well-planned situations, but also in the face of unexpected events.

Expecting The Unexpected Helps Utilities Respond

There is no greater stress reliever than having the right easy-to-use apps your utility needs, with the right solutions linked through good workflows and integrations.

The key to best practices in leveraging GIS and related solutions is to ensure tools and training are in place to enable field and office staff make the most of their time and efforts. In this regard, small utilities benefit all the more due to the many ways in which these tools enable staff to respond nimbly, whether the top priorities, which will vary based on each utilities’ nearest needs, are for Outage Management System (OMS) functions or Staking or Inspections or Asset Management or linkages between GIS and advanced analytics.

Best-In-Class GIS Modules Do A Lot

Here are some ways in which your utility can use best-in-class GIS solutions to get the most out of day-to-day work, given how in spite of our best work plans, a lot of things that are out of our control can happen.

The right outage module should interface directly with the network model in your OMS so you can easily do the following:

  • View, dispatch and manage outages from an iOS tablet.
  • Better analyze outage data in order to accurately dispatch and assign crews.
  • Work, update, and close outages from the field with direct integration back to OMS.
  • Increase productivity and improve time management for CSRs, Dispatchers and Emergency staff.

Using the right inspection module, in your mobile work now you can:

  • Simplify data collection, inspection and verification in the field
  • Synch damage assessment, system inspections, vegetation management and joint use audits directly with GIS.
  • Safeguard consistent data entry through field validation.
  • Quickly assess storm damage, import inspection photos, and track and manage right-of-way clearance.

Using best-in-class analytical tools integrated with your GIS and OMS, you can:

  • Overlay outages with lightning strikes to show better outage detection points and locations for lightning arrestors.
  • Display blinks along the electric grid to find possible faulty locations before outages can occur.
  • Enable better customer service by making data-driven plans for the best place to locate remote payment kiosks (by displaying prepaid metering members on the map).
  • Search, view and identify, turn-by-turn GPS directions, and even network tracing, with a flexible solution that is compatible with iOS devices.
  • Bring together operational and business systems data from across the enterprise, displaying it spatially on maps showing locations within the electric system.
  • Display analytics in a dashboard form, where it can be saved by the user and shared as needed from the browser without having to access software installed at particular locations or machines.

Small Utilities Empathize More & Specialize Less

These things are valuable for any utility, whether large or small. But for small utilities, personnel are usually less specialized, and with a smaller number of crews in the field there are greater time-saving and cost-saving benefits when you increase the ability for each worker to pivot from one task to another without them having to go back to the warehouse or office or depot to get a new work assignment when they complete another one ahead of time. Ease of updates from the field upon job close-out are another major point of great time and cost savings, one which also greatly improves quality of work and of asset and service-related databases.

Bottom Line

As a result of all the capabilities available to small utilities now, it is a good time to start thinking about what comes next for your part of your utility.