Asset Mapping, Utility Management & the Mobile Workforce

Asset Mapping

Staff from SL-serco perform regular maintenance and audits of automated meter infrastructure (AMI) and advanced meter reading (AMR) systems. Recently, a new ability to combine old and new data in their GIS data collection technology has introduced even greater job efficiency.

SL-serco optimizes systems for water, electric and gas utility providers through data analysis and process consultation for their automated meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems. The company?s services include process consulting, training, and data evaluation. The company employs 30 people throughout the United States, with nine of those based in the home office in St. Anthony, Minnesota. Reed Sutter is the manager for AMI/AMR systems support.

The AMI systems that SL-serco supports rely on accurate data, according to Sutter. ?Due to the critical nature of utility operations, utilities need rapid response to any issues that arise,? he says. SL-serco coordinates field activities for audits, repairs and data collection; then leverages the resulting data to help utilities optimize their advanced metering systems. All these activities are essential for ensuring that metering systems are healthy and efficient.

Asset MappingSutter and his teams have long relied on electronic data collection rather than pen and paper, but until recently their efforts to increase efficiency were hindered by an inability to combine old data with new data quickly. ?You have to marry new information to old records so that account data can stay consistent,? says Sutter. ?In the beginning we tried lots of different technology tools, but their collective inability to integrate data was always limiting.?

Greater Data Collection Efficiency from the Get-Go

In 2013 a project arose where SL-serco was contracted to record the assets of a water utility as part of a study for a proposed fixed-base metering system. To audit assets such as water towers and pump houses, SL-serco staff had to collect attributes such as GPS location, structure height, the presence of a power source, and altitude. Because they required accurate GPS coordinates, Sutter and his team for the first time adopted the Trimble TerraFlex data collection app. They ran TerraFlex on a variety of devices, including iPhones and iPads, and Windows Mobile and Android devices.

Collecting GPS coordinates immediately created opportunities for SL-serco to increase efficiency around data collection just by more accurately locating meters on a property. For example, if a water utility account holder owns a 100-acre property, the city may only provide one GPS location for the entire 100 acres, and that point may not necessarily match the meter?s location. Now SL-serco?s process can attribute the GPS coordinate to the meter, not just the general property point that the city has for the property.

However, the first immediate benefit Trimble TerraFlex provided was via its customizable form capability ? Sutter now quickly creates forms in TerraFlex with all the different kinds of fields he wants. If a form needs modifying mid-project, Sutter makes the changes from where he is located. The updated form is pushed out to staff the next time they sync up; this way data collection is always consistent.

?The forms are really easy to use. I get very few calls with questions once the utility?s guys are out in the field,? says Sutter. Armed with this customized tool that meets their needs exactly, the utility?s teams can collect meter data quickly and efficiently. The data is then automatically transferred via TerraFlex to the Cloud for access by their office colleagues.

Trimble TerraFlex allows Sutter to enter data while offline and then simply synchronize his device when cell coverage is again available. When he needs to geo-reference an asset but GPS data isn?t being logged, the process is again quite simple. Sutter manually places the dot onscreen when collecting the data, and later adds the GPS location via a Google satellite image.

Asset MappingOld and New Data Integrated At Last

?Things got even better last year when TerraFlex Advanced was introduced,? says Sutter. ?Finally we could combine our old and new data and put TerraFlex to work on a lot more jobs.?

For many auditing tasks, it?s very important for SL-serco to have tracking capability for certain events; e.g., for meter change-outs, where a new meter replaces an old one. ?Now by starting with an existing record we can import previous data and attach new installed meter data to it just by creating a new form,? says Sutter. ?When a utility field technician inputs data, they?re just adding information to an existing record.?

The integration of old and new data makes re-routing sequences with GPS coordinates faster too. SL-serco?s AMR customers typically hold a set of accounts sequenced in a particular order for maintenance. Often the historically assigned sequence is not the most efficient one possible, but by collecting accurate GPS coordinates for existing meters in TerraFlex, SL-serco can create a faster sequence, or route, to follow based on the location information. Better routes save time on maintenance projects.

SL-serco Gains Off-the-Meter Efficiency

By using an advanced-technology solution for collecting data and making the most of accurate GPS locations, SL-serco utility clients have transformed their work processes with ?off the meter? efficiency. ?Our clients are able to use TerraFlex Advanced for repair, rerouting sequences, data collection for prop studies, and more. It?s really simple to use and very reliable.?

Vivienne Wallace is a freelance writer specializing in high-tech positioning solutions, including conventional, GNSS and spatial imaging survey systems. She has written for the?geospatial and?construction industries for?more than?a decade.?

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