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Effective Tools Can Transform Field Service

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Mike Marsters's picture
Assistant Vice President, Systems Operations Washington Gas

Mike Marsters is an Assistant Vice President in Systems Operations at Washington Gas, where he helps the regulated utility ensure safety, reliability and efficiency when serving its more than 1.1...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-05 - Customer Care, click here for more

Washington Gas is proud of its 170-year history as the hometown provider of natural gas based in Washington D.C.  We are committed to maintaining a safe system for our more than 1.1 million customers across DC, Maryland and Virginia as our number one priority.  Now more than ever, cultivating an effective field workforce with proper tools is crucial to achieving that goal and consistently meet the high expectations of our customers across our territory.

Consider the scope of our system.  We operate approximately 13,000 miles of distribution main and roughly 12,500 miles of service lines throughout our footprint. That’s a lot of infrastructure to build, manage and repair. We’re dedicated to arming our field team with all the advantages to do the job right every day. We are focused on continuing to establish as dynamic field service operation to help us succeed in new challenges. This is all a big part of how we maintain our track record of over 99% service reliability which our customers expect and deserve.

As a natural gas utility, we perform many tasks – from service connections or disconnect orders, to equipment installations, to surveying and other.  In order to transform field services and meet challenges, the following are imperative: deploying technologies that help integrate systems, streamline processes, save time, ensure accuracy and properly mix technology and human resources for positive results out in the field.  

Here’s a look at what we’ve found drives productivity when enabling our field operations workforce:

Remote Monitoring of Washington Gas Facilities – Because we are a regulated utility with a vast natural gas infrastructure, we routinely face a complex set of compliance tasks to monitor and report on regarding the performance of our distribution system.  We continue to add monitoring systems that allow us to remotely collect that detailed information. This way, we can reallocate our resources and apply saved time for other tasks such as meeting changing customer expectations. For example, one compliance tasks include preventing the corrosion of steel pipe.  We have installed monitoring stations to determine if AC current from power lines is influencing our corrosion prevention systems.  We monitor those levels remotely, without having to take the time to drive out to a site location to manually collect data, which can be time consuming and puts a strain on resources.

Field-Ready Rugged Mobile Tablet Computers Improve Workflows – Our hundreds of trained field technicians are assigned a variety of tasks on any given shift. This includes gas pipeline inspections and leak repairs to scheduled maintenance orders. Being equipped with a trusted mobile device is a tremendous asset.  We have deployed a customer information system companywide and deployed rugged tablets to support various applications as we push our enterprise work management systems into the field.

There is no doubt that the traditional, time-honored skillsets of the utility worker will always be in demand. However, we are at a crossroad with technology, and the workforce is embracing the opportunity to add new skills which allows technicians to perform their jobs even better. This includes the use of tablet computers for accessing GIS information, retrieving work history, performing onsite troubleshooting, pinpointing asset location, accessing customer records, or documenting work tasks. These mobile devices eliminate the need to request or chase down this information from various repositories; instead, they can access -- in near real time -- information from multiple sources across several platforms with the mere press of a button or touch of the screen.  

Work Assignments are Optimized in Real Time – Washington Gas launched Project Vision into production in January 2017.  The large and transformational project touched all customer care and billing functions, including the scheduling and dispatch of work performed at the premises of customers.  The scheduling system we deployed features real time optimization of work assignments.  The solution also integrates real-time updates coming from the field to perform intelligent schedule optimization. The speed with which the optimization works enables the instant reshuffling of a schedule to maintain customer commitments when tasks take longer than normal or provide for additional production when work is closed out more quickly.  This enables Washington Gas to gain back these minutes, which aggregate into hours of gained productivity from the same workforce each day.

Automated Natural Gas Meter Reading – The act of conducting routine meter readings is fundamental to how Washington Gas serves our customers.  With automated meter reading, we can more efficiently collect information and avoid the extra step of physically accessing every individual meter.

Above all, the role of our system operations teams and the critical functions they perform each day will continue to be essential to the productivity, reliability and safety of our daily operations as we deliver quality natural gas service. Our commitment to excellence across D.C. is a result of a lot of hard work and determination, including the strength of our highly valued field operations organization. To ensure they perform with optimal impact, we give them sensible tool and techniques to work confidently and deliver exceptional results. Time and again, Washington Gas does all we can to support safety as core to our daily operations and improve the customer experience, so they can enjoy the many benefits of natural gas service.

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Thank Mike for the Post!
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