Power Company Realizes Increased Benefits With A Refreshed Solution
By Teresa von Fuchs
Based in Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light distributes power to approximately 800,000 customers across the state. As part of its effort to keep the lights on, KCP&L's Mobile Operations department responds to service requests and emergency situations across the utilities customer base.
As a savvy early adopter, KCP&L has benefited from a wireless solution for more than a decade. Before many companies were entertaining the possibility of a paperless solution, KCP&L was using Tablet PCs and mobile applications for everything from work orders to dispatch.
While KCP&L realized many of the goals of its initial deployment, aspects of the original solution were becoming obsolete. "Our computers needed replacing, we were still running Windows 95 in the beginning of 2007," explains Tim Taylor, Business Analyst for KCP&L. "Our software wouldn't operate on anything beyond Windows 95, so we realized it was time to take the next step."
KCP&L also saw the need for an upgrade as an opportunity to add some refreshed technology to its solution. "We'd always had our wish lists of what we wanted to do next," says Taylor. "Things like integrated GPS and faster communications. We wanted to be able to give our techs access to tons more information while in the field."
After some initial research into its hardware options, KCP&L narrowed the field to Panasonic Toughbook CF29s and General Dynamics Itronix GoBook IIIs. Taylor put together a focus group of people throughout the organization, including service technicians and I.T. folks, to examine the pros and cons and each device.
After careful analysis and field-testing, KCP&L went with General Dynamics' GoBook IIIs and XR-1 notebooks. Reliability and price were key factors in the decision, though Taylor said that the company has a good relationship still with Panasonic.
KCP&L began a pilot project in fall 2007 and by the beginning of 2008, 325 service techs were outfitted with fully rugged notebooks, running updated mobile applications. Highlights of the new solution include:
- EV-DO connectivity for fast, reliable access to e-mail and the Internet
- Microsoft Streets & Trips navigation software with integrated GPS
- Complete, paperless facility maps for access to the complex system of pipes and wires service techs might encounter
- Real-time access to the back-end Customer Information System
- Remote I.T. access to notebooks for troubleshooting, security patches and updates
"Our previous tablets had wireless access over analog dial-up, so technicians could send and receive work orders, but the connection was slow," says Taylor. "With the new notebooks, we use air cards on an EV-DO network for fast Internet access and GPS. Not only can technicians locate and complete jobs more effectively, but the dispatchers are also more efficient because they can dispatch the closest service technician for each work order."
Faster, more reliable Internet access isn't the only connection the solution has upgraded. With techs out in the field most of the time, improved wireless services help the company stay better connected to each other. "I can't begin to tell you how much better our communications are with this new system," says Taylor. "We're connected real time all the time, so field techs and supervisors and dispatchers can stay in much better touch. Email is a lifesaver for dispatchers and supervisors."
Techs also use the new system to communicate easily with each other, calling on other drivers with questions or finding the closest truck to borrow spare parts or tools, instead of heading back to headquarters.
KCP&L has been very satisfied with the ruggedness of the GoBooks. The hazards of hard field work, bouncing around in trucks, dust, dirt and all sorts of other irritants are no problem for the GoBook. General Dynamics Itronix notebooks are sealed to prevent damage from outside contaminants and are certified to stand up to rugged terrain, extreme temperatures, vibration, water and dust, pressure changes and even drops.
"The reliability of these units is incredible," says Taylor. "We had a small pilot early on and it went so well if it wasn't for a few of us involved in it, people would have forgot we had the units out there."
Some of the most surprising benefits of the updated solution aren't simply new gains in efficiency; with 10 years under their belts of using a mobile solution, the speed and agility with which the Mobile Operations unit and the whole company has embraced the upgrade have really marked the success of the deployment for Taylor.
"The plan for this upgrade was based purely on the fact that our legacy system was out of date and would soon not be functioning," says Taylor. "But with the new solution in place we are seeing unexpected gains as we all get smarter about how to really use this technology. It took us awhile to really see what we could do."
And with that KCP&L has moved from being an early adopter to a true industry innovator.