With a 4% annual growth rate based on new meters installed and serviced, construction at Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) has been booming. The north-central Texas co-op is adding approximately 4,000 new members per year.
“Commercial growth moved into the area, which led to residential growth,” TCEC CTO Nichole Eshbaugh said.
The Challenge: Explosive Growth, but Paper Oriented
Expanding rapidly, TCEC wanted to improve construction visibility for new members by consolidating to an enterprise GIS with real-time field staking.
In order to improve its competitive edge, TCEC revisited its already excellent customer service. One of the areas that could be improved was a time-consuming field-staking workflow, which made it difficult to provide new members with updates about construction. The legacy workflow relied on hand-drawn stakeout maps and standalone GPS points, which were manually integrated into a legacy asset management system.
Posting as-builts to the GIS used to take 10 months.
“It was a bulky, manual analog process to integrate the GPS shots into the mapping system along with paper drawings, and then send it to the mapping department,” Enterprise Manager Glenn Williams said.
Answering customer inquiries was also difficult. “It was very hard to tell the member where we were with that job,” Eshbaugh said. “You just hoped the right person was around.”
The Solution: Futura Enterprise GIS with FieldPro, Eos Arrow Gold GNSS Receivers
“We did our due diligence in researching the Eos Arrow GNSS receivers. What it came down to was their ease of use with Futura’s FieldPro mobile app and their dedicated customer support.”
— Nichole Eshbaugh, CTO, Tri-County Electric Cooperative
First and foremost, TCEC wanted to replace its siloed legacy workflow, including the paper data collection, standalone GPS shots, and disjointed systems for asset management, customer information (CIS), outage management (OMS) and billing.
“We didn’t want to have siloed information anymore, and we didn’t want to have to chase vendors about integrations,” TCEC Field Services Director Kevin Mooney said. “More than anything, we leaned toward being an enterprise shop.”
They selected Futura Systems’ enterprise GIS for several reasons. First, Futura provided user-friendly asset and outage management interfaces for their underlying Esri ArcGIS geodatabase. It also integrated out-of-the-box with their existing billing system (ATS) and call center system (Centurion IBM). Finally, the FieldPro iOS® app supported high-accuracy, real-time staking updates.
TCEC explored multiple external GPS receivers to pair with FieldPro and to eliminate the manual entry of GPS coordinates. Location accuracy was especially important for capturing underground as-builts.
“Overhead assets are easy to see, but for underground you need higher accuracy,” Mooney said. “In some of our heavily populated areas, up to 75% of our assets can be underground.”
After researching FieldPro-supported high-accuracy GPS receivers and consulting internal staff familiar with the GPS technology, TCEC chose the Eos Arrow Gold RTK GNSS receiver.
“It really came down to the positive customer support we received from Eos,” Mooney said.
The Results: Seamless, Real-Time Locates in Congested Facilities
“We do about 25% to 35% fewer truck rollouts for our locates now. At $10 a ticket and 13,000 tickets per month, that’s a lot of savings.”
— Glenn Williams, Enterprise Manager, TCEC
After just three months, the migration to Futura was complete. TCEC also deployed FieldPro and Arrow receivers to 11 trucks with iPad®s. Today, nearly all of TCEC’s 172 employees access asset information in real-time from the enterprise system.
“We started with a little reluctance, not sure what the future would bring, but everything being combined has been a huge success,” Williams said. “Our stakers, operations groups – everyone is using the Futura system.”
The time needed to post as-builts from the field to the GIS went from 10 months to less than four hours, in most cases.
“Now we can instantaneously retrieve projects and answer customer questions,” Williams said. “The convenience is huge.”
Outage management and underground-locate workflows have also benefited from the implementation of the new system. The co-op estimates it is saving about $32,500 per month, thanks to fewer physical digs and truck rollouts required for underground locates for 811. This year, TCEC’s locate bill dropped “big time”, and so did liabilities.
“We do about 25% to 35% fewer truck rollouts,” Williams said. “At $10 a ticket and 13,000 tickets per month, that’s a lot of savings.”
Now, TCEC will pass on those savings to members, who have also benefited from faster power-outage response and communication.
Customers can report outages using TCEC’s website and mobile app, or they can call in and talk to technicians who update internal web maps on Futura Catalyst. In addition, dispatchers and line workers can also access live outage data in the field at any time of day, even at 2 a.m. while fixing lines, via the Futura interface.
In early 2019, TCEC put the enterprise OMS to the test when a powerful wind storm left a large swath of customers out of power.
“We got it under control, and the staff rolled through with no problems,” Eshbaugh said. “Our outages are managed with a lot fewer people and a lot less chaos.”
Last year, the average interruption index for members involved in an outage was 66.5 minutes. TCEC expects this number to improve. They also plan on tracking, communicating, and passing on any additional savings and service improvements to customers.
“In the end, knowing where our assets are improves the service we provide to our members,” Williams said. “We keep the lights on better.”
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