Mobile GIS System Streamlines Utility Operations

Baton Rouge Water Company (BRWC) has implemented a Geographic Information Management (GIS) mapping and field work management solution to give field workers access to more accurate data in the field. Today, BRWC is using that same solution to streamline everything from daily field inspections, to valve isolation in case of emergency, to bi-annual well tests.

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Baton Rouge Water Company (BRWC) has implemented a Geographic Information Management (GIS) mapping and field work management solution to give field workers access to more accurate data in the field. Today, BRWC is using that same solution to streamline everything from daily field inspections, to valve isolation in case of emergency, to bi-annual well tests.

Baton Rouge Water Company (BRWC), including its subsidiaries Parish Water Company and Ascension Water Company, operates 53 pump station locations with 94 wells and provides drinking water service to approximately 157,000 customers in and around Baton Rouge, LA. As a testament to BRWC's service reliability, its customers had uninterrupted water service even when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav pummeled the region causing widespread disaster and power outages throughout much of the area.

Although it is known for its reliability, BRWC is continually looking for ways to increase operational efficiency and improve field worker productivity. Too help achieve that goal, in 2008 the water utility implemented a Geographic Information Management (GIS) mapping and field work management solution to give field workers access to more accurate data in the field. Today, BRWC is using that same solution to streamline everything from daily field inspections, to valve isolation in case of emergency, to bi-annual well tests.

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Field workers use Panasonic Toughbooks to access computerized mapping data of the entire water infrastructure.

Print to Digital

Like many water utilities, BRWC field workers used to rely on paper maps or printed versions of electronic maps in the field. This manual, paper-based system called for multiple trips between the field and the office, it required having someone update the company's paper maps manually, which was both time-consuming and error prone, and in some cases, maps were outdated or simply incorrect.

"We knew we could save both time and money by implementing a more efficient asset management and field services solution," said Ryan Scardina, technical services supervisor, engineering, at BRWC. "The goal was to convert our existing maps and property data into an ESRI GIS and to make that information available to workers in the field with dynamic data access."

As a first step, BRWC hired a consultant to provide recommendations on hardware solutions, and GIS management personnel to deliver the information in the master GIS to mobile workers.

The company was also looking for a solution that fit well with its efforts to convert existing mapping data into their ESRI ArcSDE data management solution. ArcSDE is a core component of ESRI ArcGIS software and manages spatial data stored in a SQL database, which makes it easy to manage multiple revisions made by multiple users.

BRWC considered several options, and in 2008 selected Trimble's Fieldport® software for its mobile GIS tools, seamless integration with ESRI technology and ability to grow to meet the water utility's future needs.

"Fieldport was the perfect solution to complement our efforts to broaden the use and exposure of GIS," said Scardina. "We could also tell that it would meet our immediate needs well and would also expand easily to meet our long-term business goals, which is exactly what has happened."

In the Field

Trimble Fieldport software is a utility industry GIS mapping and field work management solution for the mobile workforce. Its core functionality is to manage and synchronize GIS data updates and make the information available to dispersed teams of mobile workers. The software allows field workers to view, query and access the GIS based on the user's current location, or to search the database using an address or intersection.

"Prior to implementing Fieldport, we relied on engineering drawings and paper maps that showed our entire water system," said Scardina. "Field workers would have as many as 30 maps in their trucks, some of which were torn, inaccurate, or completely out of date."

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The new system provides users with GIS redlining capability for correcting maps.

For the past three years, field workers have been equipped with Panasonic Toughbook computers loaded with the software, which puts the entire GIS at their fingertips. Field crews have immediate access to computerized mapping data of the entire water infrastructure, including more than 30 distribution maps, 48,000 valve drawings and detailed field notes using a mobile GIS interface.

Users can search, pan and view up-to-date utility data for a particular area, as well as click on a specific asset to see attribute information such as pipe size, material, condition, and more.

"Putting our entire database of valve drawings, field notes, maps and asset information at our field workers' fingertips has increased our productivity and customer service immensely," said Scardina. "It's the difference between spending half the day guessing where a pipe is located and knowing exactly where to find it, then moving on to the next job."

The new system also provides users with GIS redlining capability for map corrections. Redlining makes it easy to suggest corrections in sketches on the mobile device, for example when an asset has been moved or replaced, or when a field worker identifies a discrepancy on a map. The correction can then be routed to GIS personnel or simply shared by other Fieldport users in the field.

"The redlining capabilities are crucial in order to continually maintain an accurate depiction of the company's assets," said Dina Knight, GIS coordinator at Baton Rouge Water Company. "Now, a field worker initiates a redlining session and submits it electronically. I update the data layer in the GIS, and the field worker will see the changes the next time Fieldport synchronizes to the enterprise database."

Faster Repairs

The system also saves BRWC a significant amount of time and money when it comes to repairing water main breaks. With the entire water infrastructure viewable in the GIS, workers can quickly see which valves shut down a particular segment of pipe. The software's valve isolation tracing functionality automatically shows which valves need to be shut off to isolate a specific segment of pipe so repairs can be made.

Mobile workers can also access a customized inspection form using their laptops in the field. Once the form is complete, the field worker can check it into Fieldport to be stored in the GIS, thereby creating a history of asset inspection data.

New Uses for New Technology

As anticipated, soon after implementing the initial mapping and GIS system BRWC managers began looking for ways to increase their use of the technology to streamline additional tasks.

"We definitely optimized our processes for locating assets, updating maps and drawings, sharing information and handling repairs using mobile GIS," said Scardina. "Having access to the GIS has become an integral part of our field workers' jobs right away, and we were eager to find even more ways to use the technology throughout the organization."

Now, BRWC is in the process of integrating the software for work order management and asset management integration, which will allow field workers to complete electronic engineering reports based on regularly scheduled well tests.

"We're still conducting our weekly and bi-annual well inspections manually, and now it's more obvious to us than ever before how time consuming and error prone those hand-written notes can be," said Roger Simmons, CFO of BRWC.

Once the new functionality is fully integrated, BRWC field workers will be able to access electronic forms that replicate the paper forms they've used for years. In-depth, bi-annual inspections will be completed using the Fieldport software on the laptops in the field, and the faster weekly inspections will be done using the new Trimble Field Inspector software on rugged Trimble handheld computers.

The new functionality will also include enhanced capabilities for work order management, with the long-term goal of managing all repair, installation and service work orders through the system.

"We fully anticipate that moving to an electronic system of data collection on our well inspections will allow us to make better decisions on capital improvements and be more proactive at assessing our system of wells," said Simmons. "This technology is without a doubt saving us time, money, and enabling us to work more efficiently. To us, that means providing better customer service, which is really what we're all about."

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