In his latest article for Energy Central, Joe Kostelnick, ARCOS National Account Manager for Water, discusses how to combat an aging infrastructure by automating inspections and regular maintenance flows.
It’s an eye-opener for any utility looking to optimize field assessments and work assigned.
When a major storm impacts a region, the demand on that region’s water utility skyrockets. Pumps need monitoring, chemical doses need measuring, and urgent issues need swift resolution. Often, operations superintendents must document each action as well, meaning plenty of paperwork in an already stressful time.
An effective way to lessen the pressure on workers is to simply automate these workflows with a system like ARCOS’ Mobile Inspection. For water companies, having a system in place to deal with slower manual processes can help to mediate emergency situations, allowing employees to take care of other pressing matters, rather than fill out paperwork.
For the water industry, the benefits of automating workflows can be seen in routine maintenance work, like a hydrant inspection. The inspection itself is managed by a form that has to be completed, with each element verified to be done. After the inspection is complete, the team then has to check in with their manager and fill out an inspection form. By automating this system, workers can complete a hydrant check form virtually, and the team no longer has to check in with a manager in between jobs. This saves man hours and makes compiling GIS data much easier. A further benefit is that the ARCOS program stores data, such as hydrant inspection notes, for future reference. For instance, once a worker in the field completes a maintenance inspection and the ARCOS system collects the data, a utility manager at headquarters, or elsewhere, can tap into the ARCOS software to produce a pre-configured report such as a monthly operating report, or MOR. Managers can produce reports to assess the condition of field assets, identify system trends or fire off data to governing bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition to saving hours, automated workflows can also be applied to assess worker progress and productivity. ARCOS’ Mobile Inspection program uses location services to update GIS information in real time. This, in turn, provides the company with data about how long the employee is at the job site, what work they did there, and many other KPIs.
This data can be used to create a system of goalposts. When a worker reaches a particular goal, they can move on to another, which provides the feeling of progress. It just goes to show that automating workflows doesn’t just help the company, but the employees as well.
The challenges facing a water utility everyday are numerous, but dealing with unplanned incidents is often one of the most difficult. Assembling a crew, even on short notice, can be labor-intensive and take hours when done manually with paper lists.
In emergency situations, a fully automated callout system is a way to circumvent these challenges. Already used by more than 100 electric and gas utilities across North America, ARCOS Callout is an automated system that sends an after-hours call to every available worker simultaneously — mirroring workplace agreements — and allowing response teams to assemble in minutes. When dealing with electricity and water, speedy response times are of critical importance, especially to customers.
While an electric company may make an automated callout up to four times a day, a water company may only need it four times a week. Unplanned work isn’t as common in the water industry, but managers can also apply the ARCOS Callout and Scheduling Suite to planned labor as well.
Often, a water company will plan maintenance work or equipment upgrades in advance. Sign-up sheets are frequently used to allow workers to volunteer, but that requires a worker to come to the office, or be in constant email communications with management.
With ARCOS Callout, however, sign-up sheets for projects can be sent digitally, the same way a request would be sent for an emergency.
Employees receive an alert on their phones asking if they’d like to work a certain project. The ARCOS solution automatically tracks responses, which eliminates workers missing a call or being skipped over to work additional hours. Whether a water utility faces planned or unplanned work, ARCOS makes help automatic.