Utility Improves Safety, Efficiency with Real-Time Tracking

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative uses GPS to better manage service fleet

For utility companies, efficiency and safety are key concerns when it comes to dispatching field service technicians. When the power goes out, customers want service restored as quickly as possible, so dispatchers need to rapidly locate the technician nearest to the outage. At the same time, keeping tabs on service techs, who often work alone in remote locations, is important for ensuring the safety of personnel and equipment.

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative provides electric services to 24,000 members across 6 counties in Southeast Alabama, and manages 4,000 miles of line. Technicians are responsible for keeping the electricity flowing across the region, each one assigned to cover a specific area or zone. Unfortunately, in order to keep track of where the technicians were during the course of the day, the dispatch team had to constantly communicate with them via two-way radio.

“I had to converse with them to see where they were starting at, and then check with them during the day to see where they were at and what progress they were making on completing their work,” says Wiregrass service manager Larry Galloway. “If there was an outage, I would have to call them and find out where they were to see who was closest.”

The company needed a real-time view of where their service trucks were located, and began searching for a GPS-based fleet management solution.

Wiregrass spent several months evaluating possible fleet tracking systems. “We looked at quite a few vendors,” says network administrator Adam Meuli. “We eliminated almost half of them just by looking at their web sites, because there’s a lot of low-budget stuff out there. For the rest, we looked at their live demos.”

The company ultimately selected Telogis Fleet, a hosted solution that Meuli says had an easy-to-use interface that provided all of the mapping functionality the company was looking for.

Immediate Benefits

Wiregrass has installed Telogis GPS units on 16 vehicles, include its six small bucket trucks, large construction bucket trucks, and the trucks used by the company’s four construction crew leaders. With a real-time view of each technician’s location, Galloway has been able to greatly improve dispatching efficiency.

“If we have an outage, I can immediately look and see who is the closest to the problem, and dispatch them accordingly,” Galloway says.

Galloway particularly likes the new mapping functionality, enabled by the Telogis map view, which allows him to pass a cursor over a cluster of trucks on the map and see all of the information about the trucks and drivers. The dispatcher, meanwhile, uses an older version of the mapping system that provides a slightly different view of the trucks.

“Not many companies out there that would allow us to utilize a previous version of those features, while at the same time using the newer version of the software,” Meuli says. Wiregrass has improved equipment utilization and reduced the amount of time it takes the dispatcher to locate a technician to respond to an outage. “I can look instantly and see where all the trucks are located,” Galloway says. “If there’s an outage in one zone, and I can see that a technician who doesn’t usually work there is closer to the problem, I can dispatch him and have him on site much faster. In those cases, I can get the technicians there twice as fast.”

When Wiregrass first deployed Telogis, Galloway showed employees a demo of how it worked, and what type of information was availabile to them. “I think it opened some eyes, so they knew we had that capability to see what’s happening in the field,” Galloway says.

The ability to track driver behavior and truck location can also work in the drivers’ favor. “We really like being able to see the history of where the truck has been that day,” Galloway says. “We’ve had a few instances where a consumer complained about one of our trucks being somewhere, but it turns out we could prove we weren’t there. It wasn’t our truck. I can also go back and see how long it took to get power restored during an outage. That has been tremendously helpful.”

More importantly, the system has improved employee safety, a significant concern given that Wiregrass technicians work remotely, and often under dangerous conditions. “All of our personnel work by themselves,” Galloway says. “Being able to know where they are in case of an equipment malfunction is important. We had an incident where a technician was up in the bucket truck, which has a reach of 47 feet, and he was not able to get down. He was stuck 40 feet in the air. By knowing where he was at, I dispatched maintenance personnel to him and got the bucket down in the cradle in a minimum amount of time.”

The fact that Telogis is a hosted solution has also helped reduce the cost of the system and the amount of resources needed to support it. “Any time we need an application in the utility industry, you basically have to get a new server and a new support team,” Meuli says. “We appreciate the Telogis system because it’s hosted, and they are proactive in terms of adding new features and upgrading the solution.”

According to Galloway, Wiregrass is currently considering installing additional GPS units on other vehicles and equipment. Eventually, the company would like to more closely monitor vehicle performance indicators such as idle times and braking.

“The Telogis system has really helped improve our dispatching and our response times, and our technicians are confident that we can reach them quickly in an emergency,” Galloway says. “We hope to improve operations even further as we leverage more of the Telogis functionality on additional equipment.”