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Big advantage, not big brother

IN AN INDUSTRY IN WHICH TECHNOLOGY IS RAPIDLY evolving, sometimes there are positive messages to be found in the success stories of technology's first iterations. In a May Intelligent Utility Realities webcast, "Going Mobile: Lessons in Workforce Management," Vic Hatridge, Nashville Electric Utility's vice president and CIO, talked about his utility's first implementation of automated vehicle location (AVL) nearly 13 years ago.

"We joined with our municipal fire and police organization to build a new digital radio system that was deployed in late 1999. One of the features that we bought on that system was some digital data channels. The application that we identified that would give us the most value from that was an AVL solution.

"We weren't able to use it for data because the bandwidth was so low, but we immediately found that knowing where our vehicles were improved the efficiency of our operations. Our service dispatchers could locate vehicles that were physically close to an outage where they needed to send them. We also quickly learned, and our employees quickly learned, that we were tracking their progress and their location. We had anticipated a lot of union push back, but we actually had some very positive experiences as we used that system to assist our employees.

"One night we had a service crew out looking for a set of fuses that had gone out. We have a lot of trees in Nashville, and it was dark. Unable to find the fuses, they radioed in, and the dispatcher told them to just drive along the street, and he would tell them when they arrived at the right spot. A few moments later, he said `Stop. Look up.' Sure enough, they were at the correct location.

"We also have `How's my driving?' stickers on all our vehicles. We got a call once on one of our crews. Someone said they were out in this area on this street driving too fast. We were able to go back through our AVL solution and determine that none of our vehicles were in that area anywhere near there at the time the customer had supposedly seen this incident.

"So, word quickly spread with our employees that this was not just Big Brother watching them, but there was truly business value, not only to the company in our operations, but to the employees and their interests in protecting them and helping them if they became disabled or had a 911 emergency. Not only did we know they had an emergency, but we knew exactly where they were located."


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