COVID, GIS and Utility Logistics – Don’t Look Back

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: ID 100163714 © Ragsac19 |
Bill Meehan's picture
Director, Utility Solutions, Esri

William (Bill) Meehan is the Director of Utility Solutions for Esri. He is responsible for business development and marketing Esri’s geospatial technology to global electric and gas utilities.A...

  • Member since 2002
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  • Dec 21, 2020

COVID-19 has disrupted nearly everything we have become so used to. How many of us dream of the day when everything goes back to normal? Yet…

I had to refill my prescription. But there were no more refills left. The doctor needed to see me before she would write a new prescription.

In the old days, pre COVID-19 days, the logistics process went like this:

I would make an appointment. Say 2:30PM on Thursday. The doctor’s office was eight miles away. Parking was always an issue and traffic can be unpredictable, so I leave at 1:45PM just to be sure. I arrive at 2:15PM. Wait in line to check in. When it is my turn, I hand the receptionist my credit card. He runs it through the bank machine. Gives me two copies of the printout. I must sign the merchant copy. At 2:45PM, another reception person calls me into the clinic area and escorts into an examining room. She places my paper chart into a little holder next to the room. At 3:00PM, the doctor arrives. We chat for a few minutes. Everything is fine. She submits the refill to my pharmacy. I make an appointment for 6 months. I arrive back to the office at 3:30PM.

COVID era goes like this. Video appointment with the doctor at 2:30PM. I pay my co-pay online. Doctor gets on the video call at 2:45PM. We chat for a few minutes. Everything is fine. She submits the refill electronically to my pharmacy. I create an on-line appointment for 6 months.

So, what happened? In the old days, the elapsed time was 1 hour and 45 minutes. During COVID, the time was 10 minutes. I didn’t have to sit in the waiting room with a bunch of sick people. I didn’t have to sign my credit card receipt with a pen that everyone else had been touching. I didn’t have to drive 16 miles and emit carbon. Didn’t uses gas. No paper forms. Simple need, simple process. Safe. The entire logistics process was streamlined.

I never want to go back to the old way. Granted there are times when you really must see the doctor. But many times, the video call is more than adequate.

With COVID-19, we invented new and better ways of doing things while we eliminated legacy processes. Another nuance is that not every situation requires the same process. A simple refill can be handled simply. A complicated examination can be handled with much more rigor and time.

What’s this got to do with utilities and GIS? Like the medical field, utilities have well-worn processes. When I worked for the power company, I did a stint running the Logistics organization. Logistics involved buildings care, buying, storage, disposal and storage of every imaginable piece of material used by the power company and fleet management. Material needed to be ordered, delivered to warehouses, trucked to service centers and ultimately used by crews, garage mechanics, buildings maintenance people, IT departments and who knows who else. Like the doctor’s office, there were forms to be filled out, appointments to be made and shifting people and things from one place to another. Most of the processes involved interacting with employees.

With COVID, interactions had to change.

The heart of GIS is about location. GIS uses spatial analysis to understand location, determine how places are related and finding the best locations and paths. GIS identifies where material is, where it needs to go, who is contacting who, when it is picked up and when it is delivered. Doing this with GIS saves needless steps, quickening the work and saving money.

For example, optimizing delivery routes saves time, fuel and wear and tear on vehicles. Driving fewer miles statistically reduces the probability of vehicle accidents. It also reduces emissions. Optimizing the storage of use of material reduces inventory demands. This means saving the size and numbers of storage locations.

Prior to COVID, there was no compelling need to look deeply into the legacy processes of logistics. With COVID, utilities must be aware of movement of people and material. Utilities need to account for interactions, who was driving what vehicle and of course, who tested positive and who they met. They can employ video and rethink unneeded site visits.

When COVID wanes, utilities can extend their learnings about logistics. They can positively impact their key performance indicators– lowering inventory turns, shortening travel times, reducing vehicle emissions, lowering fuel consumption, reducing travel time, optimizing warehouse and service center locations. Logistics processes underpin nearly all aspects of utility operations. They are intimately linked to location. GIS can create significant value during and after COVID.

Sure, the doctors’ office logistics were minor. But with COVID, the time was reduced by over 85%, emissions to zero and lack of aggravation was priceless.

So, when we dream of the day when everything goes back to normal, let’s create a new normal, using GIS to fine tune our utility logistics processes.

For details on how GIS can improve electric utility work flows, visit our website.

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