At the 16th Annual GITA Pacific Northwest Conference, John Himmel, Manager GIS, at FortisBC Energy gave an overview of a remarkable geospatial solution that FortisBC will be deploying this summer. It is a new online application service that will be available to those of the public who wish to apply for gas services. Customers will have access to a GIS map showing the location of FortisBC underground gas lines, which will enable them to know if gas is available at their location. If it is, they will be able to see the estimated costs and arrange for a FortisBC construction crew to come and connect their home or business. Since FortisBC receives about 50,000 calls for new service annually of which it is estimated that 2/3 can be responded to and new services scheduled by the online system, this represents a potentially large savings for FortisBC.
FortisBC's new service is remarkable for two reasons. First of all, displaying the location of utility underground infrastructure publicly is not common. I blogged about a water utility in North Shore City in New Zealand one of the few utilities that I am aware of that has made maps of its underground infrastructure publicly available.
Secondly, it requires high quality data about the location of FortisBC's gas infrastructure. Many utilities would be unable to deploy an online service application like this one, because they would not have sufficient confidence in the reliability of the information about the location of their underground infrastructure in their GIS to present is publicly.
FortisBC has been able to maintain high quality information about their underground infrastructure which has enabled them to be confident about deploying an online service application. As further evidence of the quality of FortisBC's information about its underground infrastructure, they average about 900 pipe locate tickets every day. These originate primarily from BC One Call and come from people who intend to excavate somewhere in FortisBC's service territory. Because FortisBC's data about the location of its underground infrastructure is so good, 95% of these requests are handled within 12 minutes and do not require a truck roll. Avoiding truck rolls for pipe locates represents another major source of savings arising from the quality of their GIS data.
There are many other benefits that are expected with the new online service application. It represents a new way to interact with customers. Like many utilities, FortisBC is forging a new relationship with its customers and is going beyond just sending a bill every month. The online system also ensures crew availability before scheduling a new hookup with the customer. The online system also provides a automatic sales lead for FortisBC sales folks to follow up on if gas is not available at the customer location or if providing the requested service is not simple. In addition for a significant number of new gas service installations, the customer is not prepared when the crew shows up. The gas hookup has to be rescheduled and this wastes the crew's valuable time. The new online system will send email reminders to the customer in advance, which will reduce the number of hookups that have to rescheduled because of customer unpreparedness. Finally, the online system creates internal efficiencies and productivity savings by simplifying and automating processes that are currently largely manual.