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Vertical Applications
- Public Sector -

Utilities

  • Mobile field data collection and inventory of field assets
  • Automatic Meter Recording (AMR) through meters equipped with wireless modems
  • E-mail and instant messaging for field technicians and project staff
  • CAD applications used to dispatch service representatives
  • Sending real-time information through wireless networks on customerís orders, repair requests and existing maintenance contracts to field staff 
  • Wireless network monitoring of procedures
  • Water and Waste Water Management

Details...
Utility companies are using mobile computing for collecting and updating inventory information about field assets such as transmission towers, transformers, etc., which is then uploaded to head office computers. Previously, this information was brought back from field trips in paper form and only then entered into computers. On-the-spot data entry updates information in databases more quickly, reduces errors and improves productivity. There is a strong business case for this application.

Gas companies are now able to send real-time service requests to field technicians.

As well, field technicians and project staff are now able to stay in touch with head offices through e-mail and messaging applications, while CAD applications are used to dispatch service representatives to repair sites.

Several companies have implemented automated meter recording through wireless networks.

AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) Application Status - as of mid 2001
According to a press report attributed to Howard Scott of Cognyst Consulting LLC (a utilities consulting company) as published in the InternetWeek magazine of June 25, 2001, the number of AMR devices in US homes increased substantially with one third of 31.3 million homes in US having been fitted with such devices. Nicor Inc., an Illinois-based utility will start an AMR project with 10,000 households in August 2001. If pilot is successful, it will roll it out to two million households.

Nicor will use device technology from NexusData.  Pricing model for NexusData AMR implementation is based on one-time cost of around $50.00 for each transmitter (as an add-on to existing meters) plus $1.05 to $1.40 per meter per month service charge. Other AMR device vendors are American Meter, Itron, Schlumberger, DCSI, Hexagram, Hunt Technologies, and Innovatac. NexusData devices are 3x5 inch boxes containing an RF device that is integrated with existing meters that connect dials in existing meters with corresponding dials in the NexusData device. As such, new device can read data from old meters.  In the case of Nicor project, data will be sent by CDPD wireless network to a data center run by NexusData as an outsourced service.  NexusData can send data collected from these meters to utilities' in-house information systems through FTP, EDI or other data transfer mechanisms.

In a new environment of increasing energy costs and deregulation, utilities want to analyze customer energy usage data  through data-mining techniques. AMR is the first step in this process.

Wireless CRM and Sales Force Automation in Utilities Industry
A more recent variation of sales force automation is also called wireless front-end to CRM application. We call it wireless CRM. CRM applications have certain characteristics that are common across all industries - hence are classified under horizontal applications.   On the other hand, there are certain vertical industry specific features that are unique to business processes of that industry.  As an example, Intersect Technology of Massachusetts, USA has developed a modern version of Sales Force Automation application for Utilities Industry.

Customer Case Studies: A good example of a utility company exploiting mobile computing is the New Jersey utility, PSE&G. They have saved millions of dollars by equipping 750 field-service workers with pen-based computers that send and receive information via a wireless network. The network allows field workers to receive real-time information on customer’s orders, repair requests and existing maintenance contracts. Once a job is completed, details are entered into a pen-based computer and fed in real-time to the main computer. The dispatch system is based on a client/server paradigm.

Other utilities (e.g. Graininge Energy in Sweden) have implemented transmission component monitoring procedures through wireless networks. From high powered RISC workstations, operators can view distribution systems at many different levels, from an overall view showing all high voltage lines to detailed views of individual transformer stations.

Boston Edition’s sales force has implemented e-mail from anywhere in the metropolitan area, thereby improving efficiency and timeliness of communication.

California Water Service (CalWater) is installing 100 Itron handheld computers equipped with radios and necessary gadgetry to collect meter readings as you pass the unit against the meter (4Qtr 2002).

Vendors 

  • Itron, Sony (Clie) and Palm for handhelds

  • Panasonic Toughbooks

  • Toshiba Pocket PC

  • Pendragon Software - Utilsuite Palm-based software collects test and repair data for hydrants and valves - 700 test data can be entered into older Palm V (2MB RAM) - new versions of Palm (Tungsten) units could handle much more. 


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