CitiPower and Powercor owns and manages the poles, wires and equipment that deliver power to more than one million customers in Melbourne, its inner suburbs and through central and western Victoria. Specially trained field crews equipped with ruggedized hand-held devices support the current Smart Meter roll out, Asset Inspection and the Faults Management process in Victoria. To remotely manage and support their growing fleet of more than 350 mobile devices, CitiPower and Powercor chose Sybase Afaria.
Victorian Utilities Leverage Afaria Functionality across Multiple Business Processes
CitiPower and Powercor are two of Victoria's five privately owned electricity distribution businesses. The two separate electricity distribution networks are managed through a single corporate structure.
CitiPower and Powercor owns and manages the poles, wires and equipment that deliver power to more than one million customers in Melbourne, its inner suburbs and through central and western Victoria. It is responsible for the quality and reliability of the power it delivers to customers and for the safety of the infrastructure that delivers it.
Managing the network across extremely diverse geographies, ranging from high-density blocks in urban Melbourne to sparsely populated areas crossed by deserts and mountains, is one of the utility’s challenges.
CitiPower and Powercor contracts in excess of 45 Asset Inspection Crews. These crews inspect over 20 per cent of network assets per annum, where defects need to be resolved as quickly as possible.
This system had a number of problems associated with it - there was a four week turnaround for work order completion, it had limited functionality, and there was poor data quality resulting from freeform text entry. Furthermore, the system was not scalable. A better workforce management solution needed to be found.
To improve efficiency in this real-time driven environment, CitiPower and Powercor engaged Sybase partner Geomatic Technologies (GT) to implement its Field Mobile Computing (FMC) solution, which integrates Sybase’s market-leading device management and security solution, Afaria. GT is a recognized leader in advanced mobile and spatial technologies and is among Australia's leading providers of IT integrated solutions and services.
CitiPower and Powercor equipped its Asset Inspection crews with ruggedized devices loaded with the workforce management solution FMC, which initially addressed the requirements for the utility's pole inspections, including pole top and cross arms, defect management, and data capture. It was later extended to include other asset types and inspection requirements such as overhead lines and underground assets.
According to Alan King, Manager, Field Mobile Applications at CitiPower and Powercor, GT’s FMC solution allows the scheduling of maintenance jobs, capture of photos, record work order status and report asset maintenance defects, all from mobile devices. The mobile asset management solution enables more effective coordination of field crews spread over remote areas of the network. Works planning, work order packaging, and work order allocation are streamlined to drive more effective resource allocation.
“While our growing mobile fleet of hand-held devices brought significant productivity and efficiency gains, it also raised the issues of management, maintenance and security of these devices in our organization,” King said.
CitiPower and Powercor required a robust mobile device management platform to manage device assets across its dispersed field force, remotely update software and ensure data security.
Afaria Ticks all the Boxes
Following a competitive evaluation process, during which CitiPower and Powercor compared mobile device management solutions from a number of vendors, the IT department chose Sybase Afaria to address its enterprise mobility needs.
“After an extensive evaluation, we established that Afaria was indeed best suited for our requirements, and more flexible than the other products in the market,” said David Menzies, Mobility Analyst, CitiPower and Powercor.
Sybase Afaria allows businesses to manage the complexities of an on-the-go workforce by ensuring that all data stored and transmitted by mobile devices is secure. Of particular interest to CitiPower and Powercor was Afaria’s ability to add, update or remove applications, data and content without the users’ involvement.
Menzies said: “With Afaria, we can ensure our mobile workers have access to the correct software and data for their needs whilst out in the field. The platform allows us to remotely push software updates, add new processes and new connections to devices in even the most remote areas, even with patchy 3G coverage, thanks to its bandwidth optimisation feature.”
Afaria also allows CitiPower and Powercor to extract information from devices, and trouble-shoot remotely. With scheduling, software upgrades, and support all handled remotely, CitiPower and Powercor’s field crews rarely return devices to base, only when hardware needs to be replaced.
“Afaria gives us consistency and ensures we have a truly mobile workforce. The Field Mobile Applications Team are confident that all devices are up-to-date and reliable,” King said.
Today, CitiPower and Powercor’s 350 Motorola MC 75 devices are equipped with GT’s FMC solution, Ventyx Service Suite and Interdev’s Xmotion applications, depending on business function. Further mobile deployments will take place this year. All three applications have been deployed and managed using Sybase Afaria.
Mobile Device Management in a Breeze
While Afaria alleviates the burden of manual configuration, asset management and scheduled software upgrades, the platform itself requires only minimal maintenance and is very user friendly.
“The good thing about Afaria is that once it’s set up, it has a low admin overhead,” King said.
Although five staff in CitiPower and Powercor’s IT department have Afaria skills, King estimates it only takes 0.5 of a Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) to manage and support more than 350 mobile devices.
Menzies added: “The training provided by Sybase was extremely good. Today, we only log into Afaria once in the morning and again before close of business to schedule software updates and assess our mobile inventory.”
Mobilise Smart Meter Roll Out
CitiPower and Powercor have also equipped its smart metering crews with mobile devices. Victoria is among the first places in the world to begin a roll out of smart meters to all electricity consumers. CitiPower and Powercor alone will install approximately 1.2 million smart meters in the next three years.
The smart meter technicians assist with the roll out of the new metering devices even in the remotest parts of the state. The specially trained field technicians scan the installation bar code at the meter and transmit the results back to the utilities’ backend system.
“We currently deploy more than 170 devices to assist with the Smart Meter roll out,” Menzies said.
Working with a large number of contractors, it is of particular importance to keep an eye on inventory, device use and hardware damage. In the case of loss or theft, Afaria allows the Field Mobile Applications Team to track mobile assets by identifying where the mobile device was last connected and even remotely disable the SIM.
“While this thankfully doesn’t happen very often, it gives us peace of mind. We know our mobile data is secure and we can render the devices useless if need be,” King said.
Build New Devices in Under 10 Minutes
CitiPower and Powercor plan to significantly boost the number of mobile devices supporting its field force, to over 600, by the end of the year, thanks to the ease and flexibility of mobile deployments when supported by Afaria.
The configuration of new mobile devices can be easily handled with Afaria’s centralized device management capabilities.
“Sybase Afaria allows us to build a new device in under 10 minutes - we install the Afaria client, and push the required configuration along with software to the device, all in a matter of a few clicks,” Menzies said.