Operating since 1935 as a municipally-owned utility in the greater Chattanooga region (as well as parts of surrounding counties and areas of North Georgia), EPB has been no stranger to developments in the utility sector.
So, when the time came to aggregate its services and give itself a new level of visibility on workloads, Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga knew it needed to revolutionise its digital capabilities.
Finding a system that enabled them to do this, however, required some thought and planning.
They knew that whatever system it chose needed to fulfil a set of key goals. It needed to:
- Deliver smart, connected, automated and data-driven distribution management to improve grid reliability and reduce operational expenditure.
- Be a single operational system for work management, including scheduling and dispatch.
- Improve timeliness and quality of information, both operationally and for the customer.
- Empower both mobile workers and control room operators, assisting with their day-to-day responsibilities and productivity.
- Be able to collect and analyse data from a variety of sources and manage activities.
- Provide operational visibility and operational control for all workers.
To achieve these goals, EPB knew it needed a flexible system.
As part of an Engerati Webinar, ‘Mobile workforce management: Increasing productivity and managing cost’, Don Nanney, Senior Manager of Systems Analysis & Control at EPB provides insight to the utility’s needs.
“We had to be able to customise the system and adapt it without having to run back to the vendor every time we wanted to change it so that we could react quickly when necessary.”
Digital transformation and implementation
After consideration, EPB elected to use CGI’s mobile workforce solution, PragmaCAD, to support their digital transformation.
Peter Barnes, Director of IP Governance for Pragma Business Solutions at CGI, detailed the flexibility and scalability of the platform. “We wanted to enable the customer to do as much configuration as possible, so that we don’t have to maintain 50 different code bases.”
He continues, “we’ve built in a high degree of application programmer interface (API) access that allows external systems to connect to the PragmaCAD and PragmaSMART solutions.”
To implement such a solution, more than just technical adjustment was necessary. EPB also had to consider the practical needs and demands of their workforce.
Nanney explains their methodology; “though our people thought they could route better, the system actually was far more efficient. We also put mobile computers in all of our trucks prior to us getting the system in place, which got workers used to having computers in the truck.”
In acclimatising their staff to the new technology and the implications of increased visibility, EPB was able to fully integrate it to their processes.
Scalable solutions for continued development
Initially, EPB brought in PragmaCAD exclusively for short-cycle work. David Thomas, Executive Corporate Technical Consultant at EPB, tells us how the solution’s efficiency provoked further change at EPB.
He says, “In the first week we wiped out a historical backlog of work. After a couple of weeks, we wiped out overtime. The savings you see happened rapidly.”
The savings for EPB extended beyond overtime reduction. According to the utility, PragmaCAD (in conjunction with PragmaLINE, CGI’s outage and network management) played a crucial role in the 52% improvement in annual customer outage minutes and 65% improvement in avoiding customer interruptions.
The results were $2m savings for meter readings, $2.5m for demand charges and $700,000 for field services - of which $1m can be directly attributed to the mobile workforce management system.
Upon seeing the uptake in efficiency, they branched out to new potential uses for the system. Thomas continues, “we expanded it for our long cycle with our construction crews, vegetation crews, our fibre optics system. In effect, every crew with EPB is on a mobile computer. Everything is an incident that we assign to them, so that we can track and we can control who’s on each job - we don’t want people on top of other people.”
So, when put to the test, how did PragmaCAD cope with a unique, real-time demand?
When faced with huge storms in 2011 with 10 tornadoes hitting the service areas in one day, Nanney explained how the system helped restore service. He says, “At the time we had 160,000 customers, with 130,000 out of power. The system helped us to bring in four times as many crews and were able to manage them more efficiently.”
And what comes next for EPB and the Pragma suite? Nanney says; “as we innovate to move forwards, we’re trying to implement more capabilities with the PragmaFIELD module of PragmaCAD, so there’s a bring-your-own-device system. It’s a web-based platform that is easier to make changes to it.”
Innovative utilities and changing mindsets
As part of their continued digital journey, EPB positioned itself as a forward-thinking utility. Part of their transformation and utilisation of the mobile workforce management solution, involved ensuring its workforce mindset was a priority.
Thomas explains this mindset shift had to come from the top.
To remain competitive in an increasingly challenging market, EPB decided to add a new offering to its service area - fibre optic broadband.
Thomas says, “our CEO starting shifting our culture 10-12 years before we ever got into fibre optics, knowing that we’d someday be going into something new. On the electric side of things, we essentially hold the monopoly, but for fibre optics, we’re a competitive business, and had to start thinking like one.”
A major part of this was changing its customer service as a priority, and radically change how EPB delivered its services. Thomas explains, “we were known for being slow beforehand - our CEO knew our productivity had to change if we were going to enter the competitive environment. We had to learn to make quick decisions.”
Mobile workforce management - webinar
To find out the key learnings from EPB and CGI, tune in to our on-demand webinar 'Mobile workforce management: Increasing productivity and managing cost'.