Line Up Alphabetically by Height

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
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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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  • Jan 25, 2022

When I worked for the power company, we were constantly looking for ways to automate work processes. One of our earliest automation efforts was a work management system. It organized new designs, scheduled jobs, and assigned materials. It was a huge improvement over the error-prone manual processes that preceded it.

Except it couldn’t deal with location.

The work order number determined the sequence of jobs. It reminded me of the famous baseball manager Yogi Berra. Yogi would often come up with quips that made either didn’t make sense or were blatantly obvious. For example, he once told his players to “Line up alphabetically by height.” Yogi could have said to our crews, “Do your jobs numerically by work order number.”


The problem was that the system didn’t order the jobs by location. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to cluster work by location? Even better, rather than deal with each crew separately, how about thinking of the entire set of crews and organize the work to minimize total travel time.

Looking at the Big Picture

Esri worked with a large utility, who wanted to do this exact thing. So they did a pilot study with their meter testing group. First, the utility tracked each employee’s route, the number of jobs they performed, and the time of each of the tasks. Then using ArcGIS Network Analyst Extension, the utility recalculated the task assignments as a group. Findings? They could reduce travel time by a whopping 60%.

Creating drive time areas, finding the nearest facility, and planning routes are some of the logistics capabilities available in ArcGIS Online.

Saving Fuel, the Environment and Money

Think about this. Suppose you have 20 crews: meter repair, surveying, meter testing, field staking, maintenance, you name it. Each crew travels 20,000 miles per year. Vehicles average 15 miles per gallon. Fuel is three dollars per gallon. Fuel alone costs are $80,000 per year. With a 60% reduction in travel time, the fuel cost drops to $32,000. And your team just reduced emissions by 60%.

But wait. There’s more.

You could save a ton of labor costs. Suppose each vehicle averages 20 miles per hour. The total annual travel time for the 20 crews is 20,000 hours. Assume labor cost is $50 per hour. Total travel time labor cost is a cool 1 million dollars. Now cut travel time by 60%, and the utility has just saved an extra $600,000.

See the Smartest Logistics Others Can’t

What else can we do with GIS for location intelligence? Your utility can narrow the window customers, and contractors expect your crews to arrive. With ArcGIS Velocity and ArcGIS Dashboards, dispatchers can get real-time tracking of vehicles, task completions and share that information with all their stakeholders. Utilities can optimize routes based on customer location, time windows, material transfers, and other factors. They can also manage risk by planning for natural disasters and other events.

Think of the positive hit to the utility’s reputation.

Logistics is Expensive

The movement of people and materials is one of the most expensive processes of any field-orientated organization. Ask the military. They know. Utilities have been using GIS for decades for engineering, design, asset management, and vegetation management. Yet, most have not taken advantage of the benefit of location technology for logistics. Today, they could:

  • Better utilize service centers and warehouse resources
  • Employ just in time kitting for construction
  • Optimize delivery of materials between differing parts of the service territory
  • Move critical spare parts close to where they are needed most
  • Integrate into existing asset management systems and inventory tracking systems
  • Put live tracking data in the context of road or utility networks, hazards, weather, and demographics.

You Can Observe by Just Watching

Perhaps the best aspect of using location technology is the ability to see situations as they unfold. With real-time tracking and analytics, utilities can see patterns of use, relationships of crews, predictions of what material may be needed and where. For example, utilities using geofencing can set a boundary outside a warehouse or service center that alerts the stock room how far away a crew is from arriving. When the crew comes, no waiting.

Logistics is about the movement of people and material to accomplish the utility’s mission. It’s all about location. So let’s all line up alphabetically by height and stand in line to use it to save time, the environment, and money.

Learn more about how location technology empowers utilities here.

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Bill Meehan's picture
Thank Bill for the Post!
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