Improving operational efficiency with mobile GIS
Field-based surveyors at West Coast Group now use a mobile GIS solution from Esri to help them survey trees and bushes growing in close proximity to electricity cables. The automated process has improved the organisation’s efficiency by 20%, helping it to deliver a better service for its customers.
The West Coast Group of Companies is a specialist provider of energy services based in Wales. It provides services to UK electricity network operators through an experienced team of planners, surveyors, engineers and environmental managers.
Use of ArcGIS Mobile enables field-based surveyors to spend up to one day less per week in the office and therefore complete more tree surveys
ArcGIS automatically sends completed survey reports to planners at the end of each day, so there is no longer a delay of three weeks to get reports
The organisation can now alert its customers far more quickly to issues that might impact on public safety or cause a power outage
Electricity network providers in the UK have a statutory duty to ensure that trees and other vegetation do not come into contact with overhead power lines. As a statutory requirement the network providers take their responsibilities extremely seriously because trees can damage electricity cables, causing power cuts and risks to public safety.
West Coast Group carries out vegetation management services on behalf of a number of UK electricity network providers. It conducts on-site surveys of over 3500 km of electricity circuits per year.
Historically planners at West Coast Group would photocopy paper maps and mark sections of power line using a highlighter pen. The company’s surveyors would then take these paper maps into the field, take photographs and manually fill in forms to indicate any vegetation that required cutting or felling. These forms were returned to the office where they were collated and keyed into the back office system to create jobs.
West Coast Group had been using geographic information system (GIS) technology elsewhere in its business for a number of years and realised that it could use GIS to simplify, automate and accelerate this process. Using Esri’s ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS for Mobile solutions, it designed and developed a sophisticated new application that has transformed the way in which it delivers vegetation management services for its clients.
“ We estimate that we have improved the overall efficiency of our vegetation management process by around 20% ”
Nathan Caley – IT Manager, West Coast Group
Planners in West Coast Group’s offices now upload the locations of its clients’ electricity network into ArcGIS, where they are displayed on digital Ordnance Survey maps. The planners then use an electronic highlighter to mark those sections of electricity circuit that are due to be surveyed. The map sections are subsequently sent electronically to the company’s surveyors, enabling these mobile employees to no longer have to go into the office to collect their jobs lists and paper maps.
In the field, West Coast Group’s surveyors view the highlighted circuits on toughened, portable tablet computers. A workflow within a mobile GIS application then guides the surveyors through each required stage in the surveying process. They enter details on the location of trees within the vicinity of overhead power lines, calculating distances, and requirements for road closures, circuit outages, etc. Surveyors also take pictures using the tablet computers and these images are entered directly into the GIS-based reports, attached to specific locations.
At the end of each day, the surveyors synchronise their tablets with the central system, passing their GIS-based survey reports direct to the planners. Icons within the GIS solution clearly show the planners which poles and lines have been surveyed, the locations of trees requiring work, circuit outages, network resilience issues and more. Armed with this information, planners can efficiently group maintenance tasks, allocate jobs and resources to works teams.
“ In the past, there were often considerable differences between the reports produced by our surveyors, because different people had different styles and approaches. GIS has given us greater consistency in data captured and the criteria applied ”
Nathan Caley – IT Manager, West Coast Group
The development of this innovative GIS solution has enabled West Coast Group to save money, work more productively and deliver a far more efficient service to its clients.
Surveyors spend up to a day a week less time in the office, as they no longer have to go in to collect maps and drop off reports. The company’s administrators also save considerable amounts of time, as they no longer have to enter survey reports into the back office systems. In the past, a lot of time used to be absorbed in the office trying to match up photographs with locations, whereas now photographs are automatically assigned to the correct jobs. Nathan Caley, IT manager at West Coast Group says: “We estimate that we have improved the overall efficiency of our vegetation management process by around 20%.”
Previously planners within West Coast Group had to wait for around three weeks to receive survey reports, but they now receive them the very next day. Consequently, if trees have grown too close to the overhead power lines, they can alert the client more quickly and dispatch works teams directly to the sites. This faster response helps West Coast Group’s clients to provide a safer and more reliable service for their customers.
Use of GIS has also led to improvements in the accuracy and consistency of West Coast Group’s surveys. “In the past, there were often considerable differences between the reports produced by our surveyors, because different people had different styles and approaches,” explains Caley. “GIS has given us greater consistency in data captured and the criteria applied.”
West Coast Group believes that its use of GIS is enabling it to deliver a very high quality service to existing and new clients. “Our vegetation management solution gives us a unique selling point that other utility service providers just don’t have,” Caley says.
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