How a mobile initiative transformed a 103-year-old energy company into the number one electric utility in the country.
By Michelle Maisto
Public Service Enterprise Group, or PSEG, is a $25 billion energy and energy services company composed of three solid subsidiaries all headquartered in New Jersey: PSEG Energy Holdings, a parent company to international power operations and an energy-related financial group; PSEG Power, a power producer with three branches of its own, Fossil, Nuclear, and Energy Resources & Trade; and PSE&G, a residential, industrial and commercial gas and electric company that changes the acronym to Public Service Electric & Gas.
The latter is New Jersey’s largest provider of gas and electric services, seeing to the needs of 1.7 million gas customers and 2.1 million electric. This is a job it has learned to do exceedingly well, judging by its receipt, last year, of the ReliabilityOne National Achievement Award for most reliable electric utility in the country—the top honor from industry benchmarking group PA Consulting. So how does a 103-year-old utility cover 2,600 miles of territory, manage 1,300 mobile employees and do it better than any other electric utility in the country? A five-year investment plan, a well-executed mobile strategy and unwavering support from senior leadership.
Paul Caffery, PSE&G’s manager of asset information and system policy, is in his 30th year with the company, most of which he spent in the field on the gas delivery side of the business. Today he’s responsible for a five-year business plan that aligns the company’s business needs with the right technology to get the job done. “Our senior leadership at PSE&G is very responsive and very receptive to technology,” says Caffery. “We’ve got vice presidents in both electric and gas delivery who are willing to base their goals on the successful implementation of technology. This creates buy-in and makes the rollout a lot easier.”
VP of Electric Delivery Ralph LaRossa, who will become president of PSE&G upon the close of a pending merger with Exelon, says that in the company’s big picture for success, mobility “has enabled our crews to be more responsive and productive on a daily basis. This ability to get real-time data about field conditions and customer issues has allowed us to become a leader in the utility industry.”
Putting Strategy to Work
There are three major business components under the PSE&G umbrella, Caffery explains: There’s a group that oversees electric reliability, made up of dispatchers and troubleshooters that rely on the outage management system (OMS); a group of construction crews that use a work management system for gas and electric projects; and an appliance service business with hundreds of electric crews who use a gas service information system to respond to gas odors and install and repair appliances.
In 1993, Caffery was asked to develop and implement the company’s first mobile work management solution, and in 1996 PSE&G went live with its first mobile devices. By 2002 that solution had just about served out its usefulness and Caffery began looking for new technology. Then that Labor Day, a massive nor’easter knocked out power across the state, increasing the urgency of the company’s search for a new solution that could support electric outage restoration.
“We wanted one solution that could meet all the needs of both OMS and construction,” says Caffery, adding that the appliance services group already had a solution. “We went through the bidding process and sent our functional requirements out to the major vendors, and based on the core functionality and flexibility of their system, we chose CGI as our dispatch and mobile platform.”
The next piece added to the solution was Panasonic Toughbooks. “The screen on the Toughbook seemed to have the most clarity,” says Caffery. “The screens were larger than our existing ones, and they held up to truck vibrations much better than the ones we were using. Since the mobiles are mounted in the trucks, there’s significant vibration when they’re on the move. We did all of the standard ruggedized testing, and the price point met our requirements. So CGI’s application was a win-win solution for both our outage management and our construction businesses.” The newest Toughbooks being deployed today have built-in high-speed WWAN modules, but earlier models were paired with Sierra Wireless PC Cards. The truck mounts are from both Gamber-Johnson and First Mobile Technologies (formerly L&E).
The last critical piece of the solution was the voice and data network. PSE&G had been using Verizon Wireless’s CDPD network, but the carrier decided to discontinue it. To choose a new network, Caffery’s team ran a two-week analysis. “We took a van and outfitted it with six mobiles—two for Cingular [AT&T Wireless at the time], two for Verizon and two for Sprint, with all of our applications on them, and we drove up and down the state … With our software tied in through the mobiles, we recorded signal strength as we drove around our whole service area and determined where our signal strength was good, where it was lacking and what the impact of that would be on our deployment,” says Caffery. In the end, AT&T Wireless came out on top, and today PSE&G is on Cingular’s GPRS network.
The rollout began with OMS, since it was determined that this was where the company would see the most substantial benefits. “Our response to our customers during storms was the first thing that we wanted to improve,” says Caffery. “So OMS went live first with 150 trouble-shooters throughout the state, which was a big bang.” Next came a phased rollout of 1,200 Toughbooks to construction’s four electric divisions and 12 gas districts. Caffery explains: “The way we rolled it out is, we did a pilot in one of our electric divisions for four weeks. Our whole team was there, plus our support desk. We installed the mobiles in the trucks the weekend before, and then on that Monday we went live. We stayed there for four weeks, supporting that division, then we moved on to the next one. We did that for three weeks, three weeks, three weeks, and then went back and did the gas districts. So it was a phased implementation, and beginning to end it took nine months.”
The biggest challenges? “I think there are two different challenges,” says Caffery. The first, he explains, comes with the company’s age. “We have a lot of paper. On top of that, we have construction crews led by crew leaders who were hired to put wires on poles and gas pipes in the ground—not for their computer savvy. … We had to teach people how to turn computers on.” Training them on the applications came next.
Challenge number two follows right behind: making the technology come together and work for you. “This was helped by the flexibility of CGI’s application, which allowed them to design screens that looked a lot like the paper work orders and timesheets our workers were accustomed to,” Caffery says. “I’d say the challenge is to make sure you have the right network, the right connectivity and the right support from the vendors that you choose, whether it’s your application or your carrier.”
Proof of Delivery
For PSE&G, ROI is in the details. The company has seen improvements in productivity, efficiency, response to customer calls and use of man hours. “Since the implementation of both our mobile solutions and outage management system in 2000, our CAIDI index has consistently improved. The technology has allowed our crews to work more productively and efficiently, earning us accolades for being the most reliable electric utility in the nation,” says LaRossa. CAIDI (customer average interruption duration index) is a formula utilities use for figuring out, in minutes or hours, the time it takes to restore an outage. It’s arrived at by dividing the SAIDI (the sum of all interruptions) by the SAIFI (the total number of interruptions).
And indeed, the ReliabilityOne award is a perfect exemplifier of ROI, as it’s based on a thorough look at the reliability of a company’s systems and its processes and procedures; in PSE&G’s case, PA Consulting specifically commended its ability to communicate with customers and local officials about the nature and duration of a problem during an outage.
Additionally, PSE&G is now better able to track billable work. Caffery explains: “If we do work for the state—if they’re taking down a bridge and we have to relocate our facilities—we need to keep track of our time and material costs so that we get reimbursed. Since rolling out our mobile solution, all that work is captured. All of our time, all of our materials, all the dollars associated with that. … The amount of billable work that we have now started to collect because we have the data right from the mobile system is dramatic, to say the least.”
Accolades in hand, PSE&G is hardly resting on its laurels. Looking forward, says LaRossa, “we are dedicated to providing safe, reliable, affordable electric and gas. Technology is critical to our success, and wise investments will play an important role in allowing us to achieve it.”
The next big steps in Caffery’s plan are to find a replacement application for the appliance services business and, by the fall of this year, to have each Toughbook equipped with GPS, to enable better scheduling and, for safety reasons, to know where its workers are—especially service workers, who often work alone. “Nothing is status quo,” says Caffery. “Our eyes are always on the future. We’re constantly investing in new technology, and the bottom line is to continue to be recognized as a leader in the industry, as both reliable and innovative.”
Staying on Track
On the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, approximately 35 miles southwest of Philadelphia, the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear generating stations sit on 750 protected wetland acres. Both are operated by PSEG Nuclear, and together they produce nearly 50 percent of the electricity consumed by the Garden State.
Similar plants exist all around the country, and recently, at one of them, someone noticed that the top of a reactor was susceptible to corrosion. So Salem, like other plants, scheduled an operations outage, and in the spring of 2005 began the process of replacing its reactor heads. Which are, in every respect, a very big deal. Made of machined steel, each head is 17 feet wide and weighs 145 tons. “Obviously, when you move something this big, it’s a relatively complicated operation,” says Scott Michigan, a business applications architect at PSEG Nuclear.
A major aspect of the replacement is leading the reactor head into something called an equipment hatch, which, for reasons one assumes go beyond merely drama, is barely wider than the reactor head. “There’s literally about three inches of clearance on either side of this huge [head],” explains Michigan. To move the head to the hatch, rigging, similar to custom railroad tracks, is created, and the head is then loaded onto a sort of railroad car. And of course, the old reactor must be removed before the new one can go in.
To communicate during outages PSEG had long been using an old walkie-talkie system. Before the spring head replacement, however, the walkies were replaced with a Wireless Telephone System (WTS) from SpectraLink, which is essentially comprised of lightweight wireless phones; small wall-mounted base stations; and a master control unit that makes the PBX think it’s talking to wired desk phones. Users can carry the phones around, cell phone style, but the system works like a PBX so there’s no individual phone plans or fees.
“If you’re using a wireless telephone, you can set up a conference bridge and have a bunch of people on at the same time,” says Ben Guderian, VP of market strategies and industry relations at SpectraLink. “It’s much more effective when you have the ability to talk and listen at the same time than when you’re constrained to walkie-talkies—where you may not be able to get through because someone else is holding down his button, getting ready to talk.”
On the day of the replacement, watchers were deployed along the track with WTS handsets, which they could use to communicate with the Outage Control Center (OCC), a room in the plant where the outage is monitored around the clock. As the car moved along, however, its back wheels caught on something and an enormous bang bellowed out as all movement came to a heavy halt. The first call to the OCC was from a WTS handset. Michigan later described the phones as a “lynch pin” to getting the operation literally back on track and avoiding further delays to the schedule.
In the world of power plants, outage schedules rank up with reactors when it comes to big deals. Plants contain limited amounts of fuel and so must schedule outages, or downtime, to refuel, as well as to perform maintenance. Michigan says that for each outage approximately 1,000 additional workers are brought in, and the outages tend to last about 30 days—though the shorter the better, as the company approximates the cost of an outage at
$1 million per day.
“We found that the SpectraLink phones were one of our keys to increasing our outage performance,” says Outage Manager Rick Halter. “Having that direct link from the field to the plant, we saw much better overall team work.” The real benefits of the WTS, though, says Halter, are “the little things, the day to day uses.” Before the WTS, he explains, “You’d have to go figure out where the nearest phone was, or the PA system. We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments about what a benefit it is to be at some location in the plant and be able to get a question answered.”
In the end, the Salem team not only avoided a major setback during the head replacement, but it completed the job five days ahead of schedule. Later that fall, it scored still another coup, completing a refueling outage with a reactor head replacement in 25 days, 6 hours and 3 minutes: the new world record. —M.M.