The Tools and Technology that Boost Field Service Performance
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The Tools and Technology that Boost Field Service Performance

By Mike Marsters, Assistant Vice President, Systems Operations, Washington Gas

Mike Marsters, Assistant Vice President, Systems Operations, Washington Gas

Washington Gas has been the hometown provider of natural gas service in Washington, D.C. for more than 171-years, and is proud of our ongoing commitment to serve our customers reliably and safely each and every day. We are passionate about maintaining a safe systemfor our more than 1.1 million customers that span DC, Maryland and Virginia, and we hold that dedication as our number one priority. Equipping our top-notch field workforce with the right tools to get the job done effectively and efficiently is important to consistently meeting the high expectation for quality natural gas service throughout our footprint.

"Our commitment to excellence and high-quality gas service throughout D.C. is a result of determination, hard work, and the resolve of our talented field operations organization"

The scope of our system is vast. We operate roughly 13,000 miles of distribution main and approximately 12,500 miles of service lines across our territory. That’s a tremendous amount of infrastructure to build, manage and repair, and we’re dedicated to arming our field team with the proper tools that allow them to perform optimally and maintain our infrastructure dependably. Our focus on continuing to establish a robust field service operation helps us overcome new challenges and plays a critical role in how we consistently maintain a track record of over 99% service reliability.

A regulated natural gas utility, Washington Gas routinely performs several tasks such as surveying, service connections, completing disconnect orders, and equipment installations, among other actions. To ensure that our field services team is in the best position to tackle each assignment and reinforce safety every step of the way, we make sure that they are: streamlining processes, deploying technologies that help integrate systems, ensuring accuracy, saving time, and properly mixing technology and human resources for positive results while working out in the field.  

Here are examples of how tools – such as use of mobile tablets and remote monitoring, and more – are driving productivity within our field operations workforce:

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.

Without question, the traditional, time-honored skill sets of the utility worker will always be in demand. But, 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.

 

Remote Monitoring of Washington Gas Facilities – Because we area regulated utility with a robust 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 the time saved toward 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 the 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.

Automated Natural Gas Meter Reading – 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.

Work Assignments are Optimized in Real Time – Washington Gas launched Project Vision into production in January 2017. The 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 includes other benefits, such as integrating real-time updates that come 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 can aggregate into hours of gained productivity from the same workforce each day.

The role of our system operations teams and the critical functions they perform each day will always be essential to the reliability, productivity and safety of our daily operations. Our commitment to excellence and high-quality gas service throughout D.C. is a result of determination, hard work, and the resolve of our talented field operations organization. To ensure they perform their jobs time after time with optimal impact, we give them the tech tools and techniques to instill even more confidence in how they work and succeed out in the field. That’s one of the critical ways that Washington Gas supports safety in our daily operations, improves the customer experience and delivers the benefits of natural gas.

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