Mobile Devices & Location Intelligence Are Making Utilities More Efficient

Aug. 12, 2022
As mobile devices and internet connectivity grow, utility field crews are finding efficiencies in getting quality work done.

Mobile technologies now play a role in every aspect of the work that field crews do in the utilities industry, including electronic work orders, digital maps of infrastructure, field data collection, cross-department collaboration, post-project reporting and more. While mobile devices and the applications that run on them have transformed workflows for crews installing, maintaining and repairing infrastructure, there is one significant remaining inefficiency that prevents field crews from working even more effectively: these mobile devices typically do not have real-time access to geographic information systems (GIS) that are the central repository of location-based visual information about utility infrastructure.  

GIS systems provide indispensable information about the exact location and specifications of digital infrastructure both above and below ground. It integrates multiple types of data and digital maps to provide the “blueprint” for the work site and for the work that needs to be done. The emergence of GIS technology revolutionized how utilities manage their infrastructure by replacing an ocean of paper maps and schematics that were difficult to keep organized, challenging to work with, and nearly impossible to keep updated. 

Dreckman described the increase in efficiency for infrastructure projects in the field: “Just being able to go from your work order to the map to see the data and then back to the order using one solution is huge. We’ve taken a lot of components and made them available to field crews. Previously, it was in a static database or a tabular form. It wasn’t a point on a map. Now all of the information is at their fingertips.” 

This solution is now deployed across M.U.D.’s entire field team organization who use it throughout their workdays both online and offline to conduct field services of water and gas infrastructure, perform construction projects, conduct meter services, oversee safety and security, and support plant and design engineering. For emergency water main breaks, M.U.D. uses this mobile solution to drop a point so the utility can use locational analysis to plan for infrastructure replacement needs. It allows staff to view information to understand if there have been other leaks nearby and if additional infrastructure work is needed. In non-emergency situations, the work crews use the mobile solution to view location data and work order details for maintenance orders to route and understand the day’s workload. This includes water and gas distribution inspections. In addition, crews use the system to manage the more than 30,000 hydrants operating in the Omaha area, an extensive network that feeds five separate counties. 

This organization-wide implementation in Omaha serves as a blueprint for the way next-generation mobile devices and location intelligence technology can make field work far more efficient for utilities. Location intelligence makes it possible for every step in a work crew assignment to move forward faster, with fewer delays, and less opportunity for confusion or mistakes.

About the Author

Jaime Crawford | Senior Vice President of Strategic Industries for Locana

Jaime Crawford is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Industries at Locana (formerly Critigen), a location and mapping technology company whose software products and services solve the world’s most pressing infrastructure, sustainability, business, and social challenges. In this role, Crawford focuses on the delivery of innovative solutions to industries such as utilities where location intelligence is poised to have a dramatic impact across every aspect of the market. She has more than 20 years of experience in location intelligence, including her time in this leadership role at Locana/Critigen and at PwC where she led its GIS practice for power and utility clients. She has also worked closely with strategic clients in prior roles at CH2M Hill and at Esri. She also taught GIS at the University of Washington for nearly a decade, training the next generation of geospatial professionals. Crawford is based in Seattle and holds a Bachelor of Science from Western Washington University and a Masters in Environmental Science (GIS emphasis) from the University of Charleston. 

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