As a major U.S. electric and natural gas company located in Minnesota, Xcel Energy Services covers eight states in the western and mid-western sections of the country, serving 3.4 million electricity customers and 1.9 million natural gas customers.
Xcel Energy runs generating facilities that use an assortment of fuel sources including coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel, water (hydro), oil and refuse. The company also operates facilities that use wind and solar power to generate electricity.
Maintaining Regulatory Compliance
By law, Xcel Energy reports all gas leak data to regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Public Utility Commissions for Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan and Wisconsin – five of the eight states covered by Xcel Energy.
When it comes to a suspected gas leak, there are several ways in which Xcel Energy is notified: a phone call from a customer; when damage has occurred due to a third party dig or accident; and when technicians conduct a gas leak survey to determine the potential presence of a leak.
In the first two scenarios, technicians arrive at the scene to assess and troubleshoot when necessary. Work is currently dispatched to mobile data terminals (MDTs) and technicians provide status and completion information on these devices.
In the last case, information is filed separately using a manual process: filling out a paper form and handing it off to back-office personnel to enter into Xcel Energy’s work management system.
Improving Quality and Completeness of System Data
Since gas leak information gathered from field technicians provides the necessary data for regulatory reporting and risk analysis, Xcel Energy recognized the need for improving data integrity. Technicians have a number of sites to visit during the day and could be rushed to fill in the data or have handwriting that was difficult to decipher.
Back-office personnel would next receive the handwritten forms, which would sometimes need corrections, manually entering the corrected information into Xcel Energy’s work management system, PassPort. In addition, the use of the forms needed better standardization between the state jurisdictions. On top of that, auditing enforced the need for reported data to match the PassPort data, adding to the necessity of having a smooth and reliable system in place.
The company had several goals it needed to meet when considering a new solution:
- Making sure the new method enabled validation (data integrity) of the gas business rules at the site of the leak
- Minimizing hand-offs between the technicians and back-office personnel for data entry
- Initiating a work order from PassPort
- Eliminating storage of paper documents
- Enabling easier document retrieval for regulatory audits
With requirements agreed upon, Xcel Energy selected technology from Rover INK to refine their operations in Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The mobile solution – which is based on Anoto digital pen and paper technology – looks like an ordinary pen, but is actually equipped with a miniature digital camera that captures up to 70 images per second. The technology is Bluetooth-enabled and translates into computer-readable code instantly.
With this solution, workers are now able to gather the data and fill out their four-page form called a “LEAKS Tracking and Repair Report” to gather and fill in the information – all while writing with the digital pen. After collecting the data, workers dock the pen and the information is immediately downloaded into their MDT.
Instead of having to travel back an Xcel Energy office, the technician goes through the verification process right on site. This is a major advantage, considering there are 150 business rules associated with each verification and that the responsibility for leak data integrity belongs to the technician doing the work.
The data is submitted via the MDT to the PassPort System and a work order is created. An email notification is quickly sent to supervisors, who in turn can review the leak in RoverInk Enterprise.
Since deploying the technology, Xcel Energy has found a number of benefits:
“Using digital pen and paper technology has created an opportunity for standardization and long-term business rules, which are paramount for Xcel Energy,” says Lori Pearson, senior solutions consultant, Xcel Energy. “We have been exceptionally pleased with the technology and look forward to our continued use going forward.”
- Increased efficiency – Technicians are more productive, since the process is now streamlined and workers are able to fill out the information and send it on-site, no longer having to bring it back to Xcel Energy’s offices.
- Reduction in errors – The data integrity is preserved, as the information the technicians send to office personnel is no longer merely handwritten, making the data more accurate. In turn, office personnel aren’t forced to repeatedly correct the information when it comes in.
- Ease of “LEAKS” document viewing and retrieval – The use of RoverInk Enterprise enables quick and efficient retrieval of completed leaks forms for back-office personnel, management and auditing. Users are able to see both the verified information and the original handwritten information as provided by the field technicians.
- Standardization of processes – By adopting digital pen and paper technology, there’s been a standardization of processes throughout the multiple jurisdictions (for Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin), as well as the creation of long-term business rules.
- Cost effective – Instead of Xcel Energy choosing other technology solutions that can be costly and disruptive to the company’s system previously in place, digital pen and paper is a simple, more reasonably priced product.
- Minimum training required – The solution is easy to use, since it feels just like writing with ordinary pen and paper; it just happens to be digital.
- No operational impact – Technicians can continue going about their normal work schedule without the solution interrupting or disturbing the process. Instead, it merely improves it.
- Secure – The technology is encrypted and 100% secure, enabling both XCEL Energy and its customers to know that the data provided is safe.
- Durable – The digital pen is incredibly durable and can be dropped and used in various environments without a problem.