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Ergon Energy / Geomatic Technology

"After evaluating several solutions, we found Afaria provided us with the out of -the-box functionality and flexibility to extend the GT FMC solution beyond its current use."

Adrian Lewis
Geomatic Technologies

Ergon Energy provides electricity to regional and remote Queensland, as well as New South Wales and Victoria in Australia. Geomatic Technologies is a leader in the provision of spatially based business solutions, information products and services. Ergon Energy needed a solution to manage its field-force asset inspection team. Previously, this field collection was completed in different regions using either paper - or knowledge-based systems.

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Creating a Field-Based Business Process
Ergon Energy's 800,000 plus power poles are located throughout regional and remote Queensland, Australia, providing 580,000 residential and business customers with a quality, reliable electricity supply.

When high-level work orders and maintenance plans for the poles are released to the various contractors and internal staffing bodies, planners then take the available work and distribute it out to the field inspectors. In addition to performing routine maintenance, the inspectors are then required to update a number of details about the pole, including the number of attached assets (lights, switches), defects and any minor maintenance conducted, for ongoing asset management purposes. It takes approximately three years for all power poles in Ergon's power distribution infrastructure to be inspected.

Previously, this field data capture was undertaken using a disaggregated approach in which varying levels and types of information were collected and recorded by the contractors and staffing bodies in the different regions using either paper or knowledge-based systems.

Needing a centralized asset management and maintenance strategy to coordinate inspections, accurately map power assets and collect information, Ergon redesigned its asset inspection process, aligning it with a broader internal strategy to improve the effectiveness of other field-based business processes. The organization acquired Geomatic Technologies' Field Mobile Computing (GT FMC) solution which includes Afaria as part of a bundled SAP implementation template.

Geomatic and Sybase Provide Flexible Device Management
Geomatic Technologies' GT FMC solution comprises a number of utility industry-specific functions designed to reduce operating costs and enhance customer service by improving the efficiency of the utility's mobile workforce.

Utility workers can access the system and view both text and geographical asset information in the field on mobile devices through an easy-to-use browser-based interface.

GT FMC utilizes Afaria to ensure secure data transfers between a variety of devices, including PDAs and tablet computers, and Ergon's corporate enterprise systems for asset management (consisting of SAP, Mincom Ellipse and GE Smallworld). This enables planners to create work orders, complete with instructions and GPS coordinates on a mapping interface, and distribute them to remotely located field inspectors. In addition to logging data, inspectors can also upload photographs of defects from their devices to the centralized asset management system.

Geomatic Fast-tracks Efficiencies and Cost Savings
In addition to device management and guaranteeing data transfers, Geomatic Technologies built the GT FMC solution using Afaria to take advantage of several advanced features, including integrated document management and software deployment capabilities. The latter enables software, data, and content updates to be sent to devices when they re-connect and synchronize with the central system, ensuring all devices are kept up to date.

"After evaluating several solutions, we found Afaria provided us with the out of-the-box functionality and flexibility to extend the GT FMC solution beyond its current use, offering utility companies like Ergon Energy more advanced capabilities such as document management, software deployment, and the graphical presentation of information for reporting purposes. This played to our strengths in being able to further customize the GT FMC solution to fit with Ergon Energy's business requirements, fast-tracking efficiencies and return-on-investment," said Adrian Lewis, director of Geomatic Technologies.

Simplifying the Work Order Process for Inspectors
When inspectors receive a work order for an asset, such as a power pole, they click on the database record via the on-screen map, which shows GPS coordinates for the asset location in the field. It also opens a maintenance "wizard", consisting of a set of electronic forms that inspectors can work through to ensure the required fault and asset maintenance information is collected for audit purposes. By eliminating manual data entry across the process, the GT FMC solution enables Ergon to streamline delivery and improve availability of information from the field to head office, and vice versa.

By providing field inspectors with all the information they need to start, update and close work orders, any inspector can now be deployed to maintain an asset in the region; whereas previously a single inspector was charged with maintaining all the assets in a defined territory. Work planners and field crew dispatchers can also view the status of a particular work order, and track equipment details and vehicle locations on map displays using the built in GPS-based automatic vehicle location system.

Rebuilding after Cyclone Larry
The GT FMC solution proved invaluable in the wake of Cyclone Larry, which hit North Queensland in March 2006. With detailed information and digital mapping of all of the power poles captured in the system, Ergon's team of 400 field inspectors were able to accurately crosscheck assets on the ground with details in the centralized asset management system database.

Inspectors not only had GPS location information for each asset at their fingertips but also were able to access a full maintenance history for each pole. They could then attach photographic evidence of damage to the pole and synchronize it back to head office, where a decision could be reached on whether the asset should be condemned or repaired.

Having the GT FMC solution in place enabled Ergon Energy to rapidly restore power to more than 130,000 customers, while ensuring record-keeping standards were maintained.

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