Doing more with less? Here’s why you need more efficient routes

An Interview with Larry Levy, RouteSmart

At the macro level, worker shortages, supply chain constraints, inflation and other global issues are forcing companies to reassess the way they do business and look for ways to save money performing the work they do every day.

For utilities, like every other business, this means that finding efficiencies in everyday work is like discovering gold. What if you could optimize your day so you can do more in the same amount of time and save money on fuel and vehicle costs along the way? You’d certainly check it out.

POWERGRID International talked with Larry Levy, COO of RouteSmart, about how utilities can save money and improve their day-to-day workflows. Read on to learn how one utility found more than 10 times the return by investing in route optimization.

POWERGRID: What overarching problem in the utilities industry is RouteSmart solving?
Levy: In a nutshell, we are solving inefficient workflows.

We are seeing that utilities have an increasing need to optimize their daily work. Constrained resources, including personnel and equipment, budgets being scrutinized and slashed, as well as increased fuel and labor costs are forcing leaders to figure out how to get the job done more efficiently.

There is still inefficiency in the daily assignment and execution of a wide variety of utility field services work, and that is where we can help. We have been around for decades helping to streamline traditional meter reading operations – building balanced cycle days and creating daily routes and sequences that meter readers can follow.

More recently, we have been helping utilities as they transition to Automated Meter Reading (AMR) technology. When you think about it, how inefficient would it be to continue reading meters based on a 20-day cycle and a reader completing a few hundred reads each day? With optimized AMR route plans, you can decrease time and mileage dramatically – sometimes reduce to 1/10 the pre-AMR route plans.

The third area we help with is in field service workforce route planning. Assigning crews to perform surveys, inspections, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) audits and maintenance is a time-consuming task that can be streamlined using our solutions.

POWERGRID: How are you addressing industry problems?
Levy: We use sophisticated research algorithms to enable clients to generate highly efficient, high-density utility service routes that balance daily field work. Route plans are optimized by geography, targeted work time and stop-order sequencing. We’ve been working with leading utilities for more than 35 years, refining our systems to provide better route plans, faster, with less manual intervention.

POWERGRID: How do utility companies benefit from route optimization? Do you have an example you can share?
Levy: Our solutions enable field service crews to maximize the time spent on tasks within a given shift through the efficient assignment of work. Work is assigned based on geographic balancing of service locations and travel path algorithms.

PSEG, the largest electric and gas utility in New Jersey, implemented RouteSmart and optimized manual meter reading as well as AMR routes for three million gas and electric meters across the state and discovered multiple ways to leverage our solutions to create greater efficiencies. PSE&G increased the number of meters read per route and decreased the number of routes from 330 to 295. The organization claims an 11:1 cost-benefit ratio with RouteSmart.

POWERGRID: Within an electric utility, who is most interested in the service you offer and why?
Levy: It’s a question we ask all the time: Who do we need to talk to when we are showing the value of RouteSmart solutions? The meter operations teams visit us at conferences and tradeshows. They are always looking for ways to improve daily work planning to get the job done.

We provide value for both meter reading and meter servicing departments within utilities. Whether the reading method is handheld, or via mobile AMR or AMI network, we can optimize whichever visitations are required for the meter. In meter servicing, our on-premise and cloud-based web services can assist in optimizing the assignment of dynamic daily work orders for meter service routes.

We have a lot of interest from the managers and directors who are looking at the financial side as well. Maximizing investments in AMR and AMI can’t happen without restructuring of AMR meter reading and AMI inspections and repairs. A strategic restructuring of AMR meter reading and AMI inspections and repair can help squeeze the last dollar from those technology investments.

Maintenance worker reading meter of solar generation unit in Los Angeles; California

POWERGRID: Does the software solution require buy-in from other stakeholders? If so, how do you achieve that?
Levy: Typically, yes, especially when optimization includes the potential reassignment of meters by cycle date or billing date. Since this may result in short term (usually one month) billing changes to some customers, we request the billing and customer service departments are included from the very beginning of discussions. Since meter operations does not operate in a vacuum, our tools can identify the extent of which any proposed meter-cycle-day changes, which accounts may be changing, by how much they may be changing, so the impact of short/long bill impacts for customers is understood and signed off by all departments.

POWERGRID: How quickly can a utility begin using the solution after they sign a contract?
Levy: There are three types of engagements that our clients typically use: web services for daily operations, training of the operations team, or professional services led by RouteSmart.

Route planning that changes dynamically (on a daily basis), like meter servicing or work orders, can be addressed each day using our web services to provide optimized daily route plans. This takes a huge load off the shoulders of dispatchers. Route planning goes from hours to minutes with our web services.

If our engagement is limited to providing software, training and implementation services, training module schedules are agreed to with the utility and can usually be completed over a six-to-eight-week timeframe.

If we are performing a rerouting project, known as RouteSourcing, our team of senior-level industry consultants perform this work in coordination with the utility’s meter operations staff. The time it takes to complete these projects can vary depending on the number of meters at the utility and the type of routes we are creating. Smaller projects can be completed in 60-90 days, while some larger projects have stretched to six months or more.

POWERGRID: What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Levy: Providing solutions to our customers that empower them to proactively run a particular aspect of their business the best way they can.

POWERGRID: How do you expect your company to evolve over the next 10 years?
Levy: For the utility industry, we will continue our current path of expanding our web services to solve a broader range of problems that companies face every day and engage with key utility partners to make parallel technologies even more beneficial.

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