"Using the new, mobile vegetation management system has increased the accuracy of the information captured on-site and reduced the amount of data entry for WEL's vegetation crews. Our crews are better briefed before going out on-site."
New Zealand Electric Utility Manages a Vegetation Program during COVID 19 Pandemic
WEL Networks is the provider of electricity infrastructure for the distribution of energy to 93,000 residential properties, small businesses, and 840 commercial/industrial sites throughout the Waikato region of New Zealand. When New Zealand entered alert level 4 lockdown in March 2020 due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, WEL Networks' vegetation management team was well positioned, having already gone digital in January. Being paperless enabled WEL's administrator to work from home during lockdown and to digitally schedule and assign work. The new mobile system allowed crews to remain productive without risking personal contact.
WEL Networks' existing vegetation management application was in-house custom desktop software that had reached the end of its usefulness and could not be improved or fixed. The old system was not mobile, and it did not effectively manage vegetation to meet tree regulation guidelines, which specify the minimum safe distances for trees growing near network power lines. There was also too much reliance on paper and manual processes and needless duplication of data entry that increased the risk of potential errors. What the business needed was a new, fit-for-purpose, mobile vegetation management tool that would deliver a more efficient user experience and enable accurate data capture in the field. The new system also needed to be able to provide feedback that could be used to predict tree growth rates and assist WEL with planning future work.
WEL Networks commissioned US-based Clearion, an industry leader in vegetation management system applications, to provide a suite of Esri technology-based apps for managing, planning, and crew dispatching. The apps, modified to suit New Zealand business requirements, utilized the smart mapping capabilities of Esri's ArcGIS. Clearion leveraged ArcGIS to develop the Clearion VM solution specifically for vegetation management. Its mapping and spatial analysis capabilities enable WEL to manage its workflow effectively, visualize vegetation, and analyze potential network vulnerability via Esri dashboards.
The new mobile system leveraged the recent deployment of ArcGIS Enterprise at WEL, aimed at advancing the utility's digital transformation. It could also be loaded with some historical data from the old system. The new mobile app was installed on Panasonic tablets, which are rugged Android devices, to be used by WEL Networks' 10 vegetation crews and arborists out in the field. The system became operational in January 2020, and crews began using it effectively on their tablets from day one. "We were conscious of our teams working on or near private property because of the requirements of social distancing," says Mark Keller, WEL Networks' field delivery manager. "Being mobile and paperless made it easier to comply with social distancing guidelines."
Clearion delivered a vegetation management solution that best fit the needs of WEL Networks. Clearion supported WEL in regard to design, configuration, integration, and rollout of the solution to the end users.