Chester County Natural Gas Authority: Small S.C. Utility Company Makes Big Updates in Efficiency and Workflow
If you are a small city utility company, your main goal is to serve your customers (the residents and businesses) within your township. As an employee, whether you’re in the field, a construction manager, an IT manager or a customer service administrator, you likely often wear multiple hats. While your focus is providing multiple forms of natural gas to clients, many of you may currently be struggling with old processes or out-of-date technology and envisioning ways to improve those so that you can be more efficient and maintain more accurate data for you and your customers.
That was the case for Chester Gas Authority of Chester, SC. With a new vision, they recently began upgrading their GIS system and processes. Using a system provided by Duncan-Parnell for their GIS data capture, workflow streamlining, and organization of assets, they quickly reaped the benefits of their efforts.
Chester County Natural Gas Authority is a natural gas utility, serving over seven thousand customers in Chester County, SC since 1957. They provide natural gas to largely industrial customers, but also residential households alike.
Like many small utilities across the country, Chester Gas has 25 employees, and most can often work across job titles and roles to get the job done. Such is the case with Roy Brunson, the IT Manager, who has also made significant contributions in the GIS/mapping program.
Over the years, Chester had transitioned from paper to a CAD drawing system and then eventually to a Geodatabase (from Esri – ArcGIS and Trimble software). However, they were just scratching the surface of what they had and were still experiencing some challenges that they thought could be improved.
Challenges and the Search for Improvement
“Field to office workflows and record keeping, …everything was done on paper, so very manual.
There were also performance issues with office-side maps (opening the maps and gathering all the data on their map was extremely time-consuming).” Roy said.
“We could do reports, but reports were often very limited in terms of querying for inspections and other needs, and field devices would be outdated because of the lack of live data available. Also, inspections (valve and leak) were all on paper and not linked to GIS assets. “
In 2018, they began considering a new GIS system. Like any good process improvement or technological enhancement, they put together a tight list of requirements that would guide their search.
“We value local support very much and wanted local support for hardware and for our GIS environment. Our preference was to obtain a dedicated representative that we could use for managing and starting projects, and Peter (Thompson) and Duncan-Parnell is that.” Roy stated.
“We wanted our maps readily available. We needed to improve methods and streamline maps, and reduce endless paper trails, as well as create electronically recorded data.” Roy went on, “We wanted field users to share the same experience across the board and have identical data. Being hindered by outdated information has became a thing of the past.”
To make all of this happen, Peter at Duncan-Parnell received copies of all of Chester Gas’s data. He began organizing a plan and began simplifying things and readying to publish to a new solution. Included in a 30-day implementation time was a phased approach in getting all data organized and working in phases in the new system. Also included was a thorough training process where everyone involved in GIS at Chester County Natural Gas Authority received training, including screen-sharing sessions weekly during the initial phases.
Vision Comes to Realization
As Roy described the new solution, “Starting in Fall of 2019, we began utilizing Esri’s total cloud solution online, with ArcGIS Online. That is an all web-based system with all data stored in 1 place online,…we’re publishing everything to the cloud. For advanced editing we’re using ArcGIS Pro. Anywhere and any device that has an internet connection can access our GIS (which is huge). “In emergency situations, we are at ease with offline capability to view the maps using a cached version of our GIS even when cell coverage is weak.” Roy said.
• Having the information readily available with a cloud system, which allows much more efficiency
• Safety for field staff – data is live and updated instantly
• Changes in the office are now in real-time
• The existing hardware (Toughbooks being used before) are still working fine with the new solution (previous investments didn’t change going to a new solution)
• All of the paper inspections are now paperless
• Now, Customer Service is able to view maps easily, so when a customer calls in, they can quickly inform the customer
• Searches can be performed on a lot of assets (meters, valves, etc) and get information compiled in an easy way
• About a week’s worth of work has been cut off on Chester’s leak inspections, which is significant
“Just being here a few years, I can say it gets smoother and faster than it’s ever been. It’s been very seamless and enjoyable,” Roy said.
“Our guys are thrilled that they no longer have to carry around a notebook and write down everything. They can check some boxes, attach some pictures and they’re moving on to the next location.”