August 5, 2011

Electric Utility GIS Software to Increase Productivity and Reduce Overhead

Deploying Electric Utility GIS Software to Increase Productivity and Reduce Overhead

User Perspective: Les Moreland, CFO, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative

In 2005, things began to change dramatically at Wiregrass Electric Cooperative. Realizing that we were seriously behind the curve in applying new technology throughout our operation, our Board of Directors and our new CEO Mike Waters put us on the fast track to bring the time- and cost-efficiency of digital systems to our 23,000-meter service delivery.

With a manual system, it was difficult to keep information up to date. Since we integrated Futura’s complete suite of applications into our engineering processes, our administrative costs have dropped significantly and we’re much more productive. In 2005, we had 295 consumers for every employee – by 2010, we had increased that to 392 per employee, which put us in the top 16% of all distribution co-ops nationally, based on employee productivity. With Futura, we’ve been able to reduce our overtime substantially and realize a permanent savings in labor cost. And because Futura applications have worked so well, our people embraced the new efficiency enthusiastically.

We’ve pretty much had the technology accelerator down for the past 6 years. Our territory spans 100 miles east to west. A few years ago, during large outages, we sometimes needed as many as three supervisors working in three different district offices on standby, manually logging outage calls on yellow pads and sending crews out from each district. Now, a single supervisor works the entire system: first, the IVR takes the calls and automatically sends them to the Futura OMS. Then OMS and Mapping applications group the calls and predict which devices are out. We dispatch our closest service man via cell phone or two way radio, and he can use his on-board laptop to pull up Futura OMS and Mapping and get details on the outage. If the serviceman needs directions, he can input either the Futura Mapping device number or the outage address into his Garmin, and then follow the voice routing directions from the Garmin directly to the outage location.

Futura helps us to respond quickly, even in widespread outage, with spot-on accurate information that stops “error accumulation” that had built up over the years, often from mistakes in manual entry. It enables us to do so much more, much faster, at significantly lower overhead. We save critical time managing our municipal privilege tax and school district property tax boundaries, because our digital maps are now so much easier to update. Polygons drawn in Futura Mapping automatically update all the appropriate municipal and school district codes in the member records, so our tax reports are more accurate than in the past, saving potential penalties and interest when we are audited. In addition: with a couple of keystrokes, we can now know exactly how many transformers, poles, meters, or miles of primary line, secondary line, and service lines we have, up to the minute. This facilitates Form 7 reporting and enables us to periodically true-up our Accounting Records with the actual Utility Plant in our Distribution System.

Because Futura is continuously upgrading the capabilities of their software system, we’re looking forward to even more convenience and time-saving functionality ahead.