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3 Ways to Reduce Response Time and Improve Operations in the Gas Industry

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It’s a reality that emergencies and unplanned events are inevitable in most organizations- but what might be overlooked is that your response is the most critical. Utilities nationwide are jumping through hoops to eliminate operational headaches that negatively impact their overall emergency response and bottom line. Separately managed business systems, lagging technology and seemingly impossible to meet safety standards are just a few of the hurdles that plagued a Midwest gas utility. If the thought of any of these gives you a headache- keep reading to learn three of the innovative ways that improved business processes and helped others fix their problem.

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Teamwork through the Storm: How to Bridge Operational Disconnect

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A utility stands on the shoulders of its operation team–the people who keep the lights on, provide service for new customers and maintain or add to existing infrastructure. These teams include a supporting cast of dispatchers, supervisors, store room employees, supply chain professionals and schedulers.

Technology–such as outage management systems (OMS), work management systems (WMS), resource management platforms and damage assessment software–can link the team together, but not always. When daily or blue-sky operations shift to dark-sky work, some industry vets have called the changeover organized chaos. Utilities always bring the lights back on. But there can be disconnects as a team transitions from daily operations to restoration mode.

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Two keys for cybersecurity: collaboration and focus

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This summer the U.S. government created the National Risk Management Center to coordinate the defense of U.S. infrastructure – including energy companies – from cyberattacks. The NRMC isn’t the only group focused on security. EEI’s Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) also partners with the government to protect the grid. And the American Public Power Association offers online tools to help its members with security concerns. Cybersecurity is a hot topic; the stakes are high.

It’s encouraging to see the government bring public and private players together. This reminds me of how lawmakers kick-started patient security via electronic health records more than a decade ago.

What makes someone secure are the practices they engage in around the clock and the type of platform they invest in. And, frankly, we’re better than most of our utility company partners in this regard only because generating power is a utility’s core competency; writing code and designing secure, cloud solutions is our expertise.

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Utility Emergency Response Plans and Changing Workforce Needs

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Utilities nationwide are investing in and deploying a new generation of network technology that promises to enhance the efficiency, reliability and resilience of energy distribution. This encompasses designing, implementing and managing new business models, organizational structures and mechanisms revolving around emergency response processes and systems that require significant shifts in workforce management.

Leading-edge digital technologies being tested and put to productive use in the field include;

  • Wireless sensors
  • Energy Internet of Things devices
  • Battery-based energy storage
  • Mobile-device apps
  • Drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs)
  • Enterprise power grid and distributed energy resources management platforms
  • Augmented and virtual reality systems

As the list continues to grow and expand, technological and organizational transformation at the speed, scope and scale utilities are undertaking today comes with correspondingly high challenges and risks.

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Calling all Drones and Chatbots

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What would the utility industry look like if we could call out drones to assess damage and chatbots to staff call centers? Picture service centers and substations with mini-hangars containing drones preprogrammed to assess circuits, feeders and other assets. A storm center manager could activate the drones and collect images and data via integrated damage-assessment software. The drones would only need to report something as broken because the damage assessment software would identify the asset and electronically deliver the details to an OMS or WMS to help generate a restoration plan.

At the same time, dispatchers could launch call-center chatbots as the OMS reported outages. As customers began contacting the utility for information about outages and ETRs, the chatbots would peel away time that humans would normally need to field customer queries.

Most utilities recognize drones can play a role in expediting inspection of infrastructure like transmission lines. And that familiarity is leading utilities to deploy drones after major events, too.

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ARCOS Software and Processes Certified by SOC 2 Type II Audit

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Columbus, Ohio – August 15, 2018

ARCOS® LLC successfully completed a Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 Type II audit for the period October 1, 2017, through March 31, 2018, to ensure the software maker is protecting its utility industry customers. Plante Moran, PLLC, a public accounting and consulting firm, conducted the independent SOC examination and evaluated and tested ARCOS’s internal operational controls and processes.

The six-month audit led to a certification, which ARCOS received in June 2018. The certification expires in June 2019. ARCOS has made its SOC 2 Type II reports available for clients and prospective customers since passing its first audit in 2014.

As hackers increasingly threaten power grids in the U.S. and abroad, software providers that serve utility companies must be vigilant about protecting their customers. According to a May 2016 article from The Hill, “There are more reported cyber incidents in the energy industry than in healthcare, finance, transportation, water and communications combined …” Read More

Why the utility industry needs to play ‘Moneyball’

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Utility-worker-in-truck

By Ted Schneider

In an earlier post on Energy Central, a writer proposed new ways utilities could apply proven technologies for tracking workers. Let’s add location services to that list. Many of us carry a smartphone, which, of course, features location services for day-to-day business or personal apps.

By writing an algorithm for the location services feature of a smartphone, tech guys can set the ping rate (or echo protocol) for anywhere from a few seconds to a half hour or more. Why bother doing that? Imagine you’re a damage assessor. As you drive a circuit and get closer to a target, your smartphone ping rate increases. Consequently, alerting the storm center where you are and how quickly you’re moving from asset to asset. Or let’s say you’re a mutual assistance crew headed to help a neighboring utility. As you close in on your destination, we speed up the ping rate to give the storm center a more accurate ETA for you and your crew. Read More

Contractors, tech and education will bridge workforce gap

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Like all skilled trades across the U.S., the electric industry is finding it hard to fill openings with qualified workers. The nature of the jobs for which utilities need workers is changing, too. While there’s clearly a need for O&M personnel and linemen, there’s also a need for newer roles such as data analysts and cybersecurity specialists. Utilities face a threefold challenge:

  • Recruiting for traditional roles, such as line workers, mechanics and pipefitters
  • Broadening the skill set of those traditional roles as evolving information and communication technology (ICT) affects the job site
  • Predicting the kind of workers needed as emerging and renewable technologies take hold

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ARCOS Heroes: A business change creates a bottleneck, then opportunity at PSEG Long Island

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PSEG Truck

By Bill Perry

Jeff Plackis is a staff engineer with PSEG Long Island’s Emergency Planning department in Hicksville, NY. According to its website, PSEG Long Island is a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (NYSE:PEG), a publicly traded diversified energy company with annual revenues of $9.1 billion. PSEG Long Island operates the Long Island Power Authority’s electric transmission and distribution system under a 12-year contract. Until last year, PSEG Long Island used the ARCOS Callout Suite as the way to call-out troubleshooters, overhead linemen, underground splicers and substation mechanics for after-hours emergencies. Plackis changed that.  

As PSEG Long Island worked to continually enhance its Emergency Restoration response,  retooling the process of activating employees for their storm roles fell to Plackis. He knew he couldn’t manage the job effectively with his current tools, but he also knew enough about ARCOS to see an opportunity for improvement. Read More

New technologies are a fulcrum for RMAG success

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During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, RMAGs sprang into action to help utility companies and customers. According to the Edison Electric Institute, “More than 10,000 workers were dedicated to the Harvey response and recovery effort, and mutual assistance crews from at least 21 states provided support in Texas and Louisiana.” The RMAG, or regional mutual assistance group, has been around for at least 60 years. The groups give utilities (faced with anything from a regional event to a National Response Event) a mission-critical way to identify, mobilize and manage resources. There are seven RMAGs recognized by EEI across the United States. Each has a leadership team, typically volunteer positions named on a regular cycle.

Without RMAGs, utilities would compete for the same resources, which would delay restoration for customers. Most utility professionals know the RMAGs exist. But the processes and technologies behind the scenes are less known.

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