Guarding the grid: How utilities harness data to boost safety and productivity

Guest author Don Lytle, Senior Analyst in utilities, explains how he has helped companies deliver instant access to asset data with OpenText Extended ECM

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Don Lytle

June 19, 20244 minute read

Throughout my career in the utilities industry, I’ve helped organizations to embrace change. I specialize in geographic information systems (GIS), which is software that helps utilities manage location data and other asset information on a digital map.

In the field, we rely on a team of people to answer the call and fix what’s broken. Technology can help those teams respond even faster, especially during critical situations. In my roles, I’ve helped utilities to deliver digital solutions to the frontline teams who perform maintenance and repairs on vital infrastructure—and foster their trust in the technology.

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Don Lytle, Senior Analyst in utilities, explains how he has helped companies deliver instant access to asset data with OpenText Extended ECM

Solving paper problems

Let me share an example. In the utilities industry, field technicians create diagrams that show where gas, water or electricity services go into a building. At one utility I worked at, all this service information was recorded on paper index cards, which were physically filed in an office.

As you can imagine, keeping service cards on paper presented all kinds of problems. If someone needed to switch off a service, they’d call a dispatcher at the office, who would retrieve the card and read off the information—a labor-intensive process. In an emergency, getting asset information is time sensitive. You’d have to hope and pray that the service card hadn’t been lost or misfiled because delays could be a matter of life and death.

To solve these challenges, the organization contracted a third party to scan and digitize all their service cards and store the data in OpenText™ Extended ECM. As the system owner for the GIS solution, I was responsible for connecting the data in OpenText with our asset location data in the GIS.

Digitizing asset data

That project was my first introduction to OpenText. I saw firsthand how fast and easy it is to import digital documents into Extended ECM. But in my opinion, the greatest value of the solution is how well it handles metadata.

In the GIS world, every asset has specific attributes, such as location, construction materials, shape, and more. With Extended ECM, all that metadata suddenly became searchable. For the first time, field technicians could call up the exact specifications for the assets they were working on at the touch of a button.

What sets Extended ECM apart from anything else I’ve used is the fact that when you search for something, the top result is exactly what you’re looking for. Whether it’s a service card, an engineering drawing, or any other document that relates to a map, teams in the field have instant access.

Initially, our field teams would download the digital service cards to their laptops from the office first thing in the morning, and then travel out to their job sites. Later, we deployed a new dispatching solution that replaced those laptops with tablets. Technicians could now receive new jobs in real time, enabling greater productivity and cutting engineer appointment windows in half. In an emergency, being able to get service information instantly might be a lifesaver—and with OpenText, we reduced our emergency response appointment window from four hours to just two hours, a 50% reduction in time saved.

Managing the change

Throughout the transition from paper to digital, we let technicians choose to access asset data on digital service cards or from the GIS solution. Eventually, those field teams will be so at home with the new way of working that they won’t need the service cards at all. They’ll simply open the GIS app on their tablets and tap on the assets they’re looking for on the map.

I think it’s important that we can all trust people who are trying to do what’s best for us—whether it’s the police, the fire department, or a utility company. In IT, trust is also important for driving change. Our field teams need to know that we’re going to provide them a solution that’s not going to break when they need it most. And with OpenText, I can do just that.

One of the best things about my job is that I get to give something back to the community I live in. I want my family to be safe, and I want the technicians who are working on my house to be safe. In that way, OpenText is playing a part in building a better society—and that’s something we can all celebrate.

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Don Lytle

Don Lytle is a business and IT analyst with over 15 years of experience in high tech and utilities.

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