Computers & Software: Tablet Personal Computers Help Company Realize up to 75 Percent in Time Savings

Norris Public Power District provides wholesale and retail electric service to 44 communities in five counties across southeast Nebraska. Dedicated to providing its 18,000 customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy service, the non-profit, publicly-owned company strives to keep rates low while providing the highest quality service, which enables customers to achieve their business and personal goals.

In Motion

Norris Public Power District provides wholesale and retail electric service to 44 communities in five counties across southeast Nebraska. Dedicated to providing its 18,000 customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy service, the non-profit, publicly-owned company strives to keep rates low while providing the highest quality service, which enables customers to achieve their business and personal goals.

Challenge: A Paper-based Process in Need of Updating

The majority of Norris Public Power District's 77 employees are linemen who spend the entire day in the field completing their assigned work, which includes constructing new facilities; addressing necessary upgrades and repairs; performing maintenance work; reading, repairing and exchanging meters; as well as performing meter cutoffs and disabling service. The linemen were previously equipped with paper-based service orders, which contained all pertinent job information. Each morning, the linemen gathered the service orders for the day and, with stacks of papers in hand, spent the day performing their assigned tasks and filling in paperwork by hand. The linemen would return the service orders the next day to one of the company's five offices, where customer service representatives (CSRs) would manually upload the information into the database.

"With any paper-based process-especially with the amount of paper we had moving in and out of the offices-comes an increase in the potential for something to go wrong, such as forms being misplaced or lost and the possibility of not being able to read a lineman's handwriting," said Ryan Krupicka, manager of Consumer and Business Information Systems, Norris Public Power District. "We also had to deal with storing an ever-increasing amount of paperwork, which took up valuable space."

In Motion

On more than one occasion, Norris Public Power District had to send a lineman out twice for the same job because the paperwork was illegible or misplaced in the office or by the lineman. The company also faced communication issues between its CSRs and linemen when disabling service for customer disconnections.

"In a few instances, customers were unnecessarily disconnected because the CSRs weren't able to update the linemen in time when customer payments were made during the day, meaning some service orders became outdated after the linemen were already out in the field for the day," Krupicka said.

Solution: The Motion J3500 Tablet Personal Computer

With its entire meter service depending on the paper-based process, Norris Public Power District knew it needed an upgrade to provide the highest quality service possible. The company began looking at rugged laptops, but found the design to be too heavy and cumbersome for field use. After expanding the search to include tablets, Norris Public Power District came across the Motion J3500 Tablet personal computer (PC) and found what it was looking for-a Windows-based tablet that was compatible and powerful enough to run its software, while still lightweight enough to carry and use while mobile.

"The linemen are outside in all types of weather and needed a device that could stand up to rain, snow, dust, wind as well as being dropped and banged, and we haven't had one maintenance issue yet," Krupicka said. "The display is the best we've ever seen, helping the linemen read the tablet clearly, even in direct sunlight."

When not in use, the tablets are docked and charged in RAM Mounts' J-Series Locking Mobile Docks, mounted in the trucks.

Results: A New, Automated Workflow Helps Create up to 75 Percent Time Savings

Now, instead of carrying around stacks of service orders, a portion of the linemen rely on the J3500 Tablet PCs to provide them with real-time access to their schedules, service orders and business-critical information-as well as the ability to process meter readings and update the database from the field. In addition, if a new service order comes in during the day, a CSR can assign it in real time based on a lineman's location, which is pulled from the software's integrated global positioning system (GPS) functionality. In the future, the company intends to purchase additional tablets so most of the linemen can reap the same benefit of real-time access to information.

"Once the linemen leave the office in the morning, they are typically in the field for the entire day and previously could only work on the service orders in their hands," Krupicka said. "With the paper-based process, the linemen would not come back to the office to get more service orders to work on, and any new ones had to be processed the next day. Now, the CSRs can assign service orders as they come in, updating the linemen with the tablet while they are in the field."

With the real-time access, a service order that previously took three or four days can now be completed in a single day. In addition, the company no longer worries about unnecessarily disabling a customer's power because the CSRs can update or delete a service order in real time, which automatically notifies the linemen with the tablet.

"That time savings means we can increase the number of customers we service on a daily basis and provide more efficient, accurate service in general, which means enhanced customer service," Krupicka said.

Not only is Norris Public Power District saving costs on the reduction of paper and printing, but increased efficiency means the company is saving the employee hours it takes to shuffle papers between the CSRs and linemen, complete a service order or rectify a mistake.

"With the Motion Tablet PCs, the linemen don't have to worry about entering incorrect data since the system won't let them, paperwork isn't lost or misplaced by office personnel or the linemen, and, since all the information entered on the tablet is converted to legible text, we no longer have any issues reading handwriting," Krupicka said. "This means we don't have to send a lineman back into the field to fix an error or double check information, which means we're saving fuel costs for the trucks and the cost of additional employee hours."

Instead of simply completing their assigned tasks, the linemen are now equipped with the tools to diagnose a potential problem and are able to make any necessary changes on the spot. This alleviates additional trips to the same location for work that could have been done on the first trip. If a problem with a tablet does arise in the field, it can be remotely accessed and questions answered in real time.

Conclusion: Incorporating Integrated Features for Increased Use Cases

Looking to the future, Norris Public Power District plans to use the J3500 Tablet PC's integrated camera for enhanced documentation when addressing meter tampering issues. The company also plans to incorporate its outage management system with the tablets. During a storm, for example, Norris Public Power District will be able to alert the linemen in real time with the tablets when customers experience power outages, where the outages are occurring and when power has been restored. The company will be able to more efficiently manage the linemen and restore power to its customers sooner.

"What it comes down to for us is being able to enhance our customer service and increase our efficiency, and the J3500 Tablet PCs help us do just that," Krupicka said. "The tablets streamline our entire workflow, from the office to the field and back again, reducing errors, increasing productivity and saving time and costs."

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