Field operations is the backbone for electric utility network operators. They work hard every day to ensure uninterrupted service and provide the highest possible customer satisfaction. However, events are conspiring against the operations team as networks grow in complexity, severe weather and emergencies increase in frequency and competitive market pressures grow. In the past it was possible to rely on the “tribal knowledge” of field teams to meet operational targets, but this is simply no longer practical if network operators want to keep pace. So, the big question is how to capture and share this knowledge for the benefit of the entire organization?
The utility network is dynamic by nature and field operations have historically had limited visibility of their service area. They have used a mixture of job information and the experience of field teams to complete work orders in a safe and efficient manner.
Field operations frequently communicate with back office GIS staff, experienced linemen and perform on-site inspections to gather the relevant information they need. This repetitious process leads to slower operations, unnecessary truck rolls and data gaps that waste workforce and customer time. Field users today are often using paper maps or makeshift field applications that are clunky, inaccurate, and siloed. The result is slow adoption of modern technology for everyday operations that compromise best practice and safety and rely heavily on tribal knowledge that is inconsistent and easily lost when experienced team members leave the company or retire.
What are the typical questions lineman encounter every day?
This year I have been fortunate to work with several of our customers to address this challenge as they roll out mobile field solutions using the IQGeo Platform and I’ve been really pleased to see the tremendous progress they have made in improving field productivity while also capturing and sharing tribal knowledge.
Linemen spend most of their time answering key questions that guide their problem solving approach and safety procedures. To be successful, they need to be aware of their situation, have access to the correct data and have a clear view of the tasks at hand. At the same time, they must be able to accurately capture as-built and tribal knowledge on the ground to constantly improve the quality of network data.
To see how this is working in some of our most recent deployments, I’ve identified five common questions that linemen are facing every day in order to explore how the IQGeo Platform is helping them to resolve these challenges.
Where is the nearest switchable device?
Can I have an outage map for a blown fuse?
Where can I get a bird’s eye phase-view of the network?
Who are the customers on this line?
How can I share my personal knowledge?
1. Where is the nearest switchable device?
Often a lineman needs to perform network isolation to cut off a section of the network from the grid. This helps to create a safer operating environment to perform modifications to the network. The information they need could be visually obtained from a map or by communicating with the back office on a mobile phone, distracting them from potential safety or operational issues.
With the network modeling capabilities of the IQGeo Platform, linemen can get all the switchable devices that require shut off directly from their current location, so they can stay focused on their immediate surroundings and situation at hand. The application automatically pans the map on their mobile device to the current location by gathering GPS signals. Lineman can select an asset and perform a trace that displays all the nearest switchable devices that need to be turned off. The results are presented on a simple list and highlighted on the maps displayed on their mobile device. A lineman could also mount their tablet or mobile phone in their vehicle and drive to all the switches while the map tracks their movements in real-time.
2. Can I have an outage map for a blown fuse?
Linemen deal with fuse cutouts on a regular basis. Every time they re-energize the line section or a transformer, they need to carry out an inspection around the outage. They either rely on their personal knowledge of the area or get a briefing from back office on the outage area. The IQGeo Platform can light up the entire section downstream of any device or fuse, providing an instant and complete picture of the outage. Linemen can drive around the highlighted network and ensure that their inspection is always complete and reliably communicated to the back office team.
3. Where can I get a bird’s eye phase-view of the network?
Most paper maps and old technologies either use color coded lines or labels to show network phases. This approach makes a map cluttered and difficult to read. The phase lines are always present, even when not needed, giving a very poor and error prone user experience. Imagine trying to visualize a bird’s eye view of a network on a particular phase. The IQGeo Platform was designed to provide an outstanding user experience regardless of network density. Lineman can either select an asset on the map to view the phase or use a powerful tracing tool to highlight sections of network in any phase (A,B,C or any combination of phases). The versatility of having a bird’s eye view of any section of the network on any phase is game-changing for lineman productivity and can be applied to many operational use cases.
4. Who are the customers on the line?
The ability to highlight customers that are served downstream or find an upstream device from a customer is critically important when a lineman is restoring an outage. It’s not unusual for a lineman who has restored services and left the site only to find out later that some customers are still affected by the outage. The IQGeo Platform can instantly display which customers are, or will be impacted by their work, ensuring that the work is complete before moving to the next job. They have end-to-end visibility of the distribution network - from customers to substation.
5. How can I share my personal knowledge?
As linemen become familiar with areas of their network, they develop insights that are extremely beneficial to others. This tribal knowledge could be about operating safely at a site, the behavior of certain assets, or access information to a location. A lineman might log information about the need to carry a specific tool for a given site, so that all future jobs have the right equipment. It is of paramount importance for network operators to regularly collect, review and publish such information to constantly improve collaboration and productivity. Capturing and sharing this information can also mitigate safety risks and reduces over reliance on individual employees.
The IQGeo Platform is powered with a range of easy-to-use data capture tools for field users. It can be as simple as leaving a field note, clicking a picture, or drawing on the map with a rich annotation pallet. Field teams can use the mobile interface while online or offline to submit site notes from within the IQGeo Platform, providing a seamless user experience. The real barrier towards achieving zero tribal knowledge is the antiquated process of notes submission that often gets lost in emails, paper logbooks, or complex mobile software that actually discourages users to spend time to capture useful information. The IQGeo Platform overcomes all these limitations with a design that scales depending upon field users’ skills.
Combining operational and tribal knowledge
Recent calamities such as the Covid-19 pandemic, wildfires, and severe storms are further straining an already challenging work environment and choosing the right technology will make a real difference in the years to come. Thankfully, the IQGeo Platform’s mobile-first architecture was designed from the ground-up with field operations in mind. Network operators can easily customize the system for their requirements. I have even seen companies change maps to accommodate color blindness or have different basemaps for day and night operations. The offline architecture works elegantly behind the scene, notifying users only if there are changes to be synched. The IQGeo Platform DNA provides an immersive experience to field operations that is simple, smart, and fast.
It has been fantastic for me to see how our customers are using the IQGeo Platform to optimize their field operations, while leveraging the tribal knowledge that has been so difficult to capture and share in the past. The result is a powerful mobile solution that helps utility and telecoms companies reimagine and transform their network operations.
To see how you can optimize your field operations, visit the video library to see the IQGeo Platform in action.