A Modern Approach to Asset Inspection
Asset inspection can make or break a utility. In recent years, we’ve seen some very devastating outcomes due to the increased burden on utilities to ensure safety and compliance with ever increasing demand and expectations.
Consider PG&E, where malfunctioning equipment and the contact of vegetation with transmission lines caused multiple wildfires. The result has been billions of dollars in fines and wildfire victim payments, including a guilty plea to 84 counts of manslaughter for those who perished in the Camp fire. Although the utility filed for bankruptcy in 2019, so far, it’s been able to avoid this outcome.
Then there is the case of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, where, in 2018, excessive pressure in natural gas lines caused a series of explosions and fires in Merrimack Valley. This disaster resulted in one fatality and the evacuation of 30,000 people from their homes. Class action lawsuits followed, costing the utility $143 million. Ultimately, the utility’s parent company agreed to sell its gas distribution operations in the state and pay a fine of $53 million.
The shortcomings in traditional asset inspection methodology—and modern options to offset these risks—are explored in a recent webinar with industry experts from FortisBC, Clevest, and GeoNexus.
Asset Inspections: A Retrospective
In fairness, keeping eyes on a range of equipment and site conditions across a vast area isn’t easy.
Until recently, it was impossible to apply an inclusive methodology—the technology didn’t exist. As a result, solutions were implemented piecemeal, resulting in a patchwork of different systems running in isolation.
The issue isn’t a shortage of data. In fact, with multiple business systems, including customer information systems (CIS), order management software (OMS), geographic information system mapping (GIS), enterprise asset management (EAM), and a variety of other platforms generating data, there is plenty of data to go around.
Unfortunately, each platform stores its data in a separate repository, resulting in multiple, disconnected siloes. When you couple this with a reliance on manual, paper-driven workflows, the data is rarely up to date. Instead, utilities must rely on stale or contradictory information, which—as we’ve seen, can result in terrible outcomes.
In response, forward-thinking utilities are focusing on integrating these platforms to build an inclusive view of the business. Historically, system integrations were challenging and expensive. Each integration was customized, requiring programming by skilled and expensive professionals.
Achieving this level of tight integration presented other challenges, especially in agility. For example, one utility had to rely on its IT team to manage 6,000 lines of code for a custom integration between its CIS and GIS systems. If the utility wanted to change workflows or add new fields, it had to submit a ticket to IT for a configuration change. Next, IT would have to allocate resources, adjust code, test changes, and propagate the new code to production. This process is time-consuming and expensive, taking weeks or even months.
With such a cumbersome approach, workers in the field had to do their jobs using stale data sourced from multiple interfaces. Even worse, there were no easy means to relay actions and outcomes from the field to the back office. Instead, workers used printed maps, marking them up by hand and sending them to administrators who in turn could enter the information into the appropriate system.
Modern Advancements: Merged at the Mobile
Today, with modern integration models and no code / configurable platforms, it’s possible to bring the real-time information that the business needs, directly to the field and back to the office
These models require no developers or custom code. Instead, a no code / configurable platform supports the integration of multiple systems into a single interface. Once integrated, configuration work can be done by business line workers, allowing the utility to install software, make connections, and roll out pilot projects quickly. This reduces the reliance on IT resources, and system upgrades can occur without impacting the overall infrastructure.
Workers in the field can assess field conditions via mobile devices and make decisions in the moment using a view of the operation based on real-time data.
More importantly, data synchronization is bi-directional, so actions carried out in the field immediately propagate back to the system: no paper maps, no hand-written records, no stale data.
FortisBC: Embracing the Modern
FortisBC has begun its technology evolution, replacing its legacy system for asset inspection with a proactive and modern approach using the Clevest Mobile Workforce Management (MWFM) platform.
So far, the utility has combined its gas and electric infrastructures, allowing it to consolidate toolsets, forms, and systems for a cleaner, simpler operation. Workflows are straightforward, and crews in the field can access a central view of the business using a single interface.
Today there is a range of advanced technologies to aid utilities in the inspection of assets and equipment. These include LiDAR, drones, satellites, and other imaging technology to help capture asset information in real-time. But no matter what type of technology you employ, integration with the larger infrastructure is paramount.
By maintaining a singular view of the operation, utilities can assess potential risks and take action in the moment before a disaster can occur.