Rugged Mobile Devices Enhance OPPD Operations

Many power companies have turned to digital technology to streamline operations and improve worker efficiency. One example is Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), the 12th-largest public power utility in the U.S. OPPD recently decided to deploy hundreds of semi-rugged TOUGHBOOK 55 devices across multiple units, including meter technicians, troubleshooters, line crews, and system protection and automation personnel. To better understand the thought process behind the implementation, POWER posed some questions to Brent Saltzman, manager of Endpoint Engineering at OPPD.

POWER: What challenges does OPPD face as one of the largest public power utility providers in the U.S.?

Saltzman: As one of the largest public power utility companies in the nation, OPPD serves more than 400,000 customers across 5,000 square miles in eastern Nebraska. Electricity demand in the territory is growing at an unprecedented rate. The company’s field personnel work tirelessly to address customer needs, and they need technology that can work as hard as they do.

To accommodate this demand and continue to address customer needs effectively, OPPD knew it needed to adapt and transform to become a digital utility company. The goal was to enhance the company’s efficiency and improve customer communications through the deployment of connected technology solutions. This included integrating data management systems and robust communications networks into workflows to better collect, store, and analyze electricity data in real-time.

POWER: What solutions supported OPPD’s journey toward becoming a digital utility company?

Saltzman: To help with the transition and the company’s evolution, OPPD was looking for a reliable mobile computing solution to replace outdated consumer-grade devices, which were prone to connectivity delays, bottlenecks, and compatibility issues. We needed a device that could withstand the challenging conditions of utility work, support legacy hardware, and grow with the company. As a part of this move, OPPD also wanted to transition paper-based systems to digital platforms to ensure accurate data capture, more efficient reporting, and more reliable data accessibility in the field.

OPPD chose to deploy 200 Panasonic Connect TOUGHBOOK 55 devices. These semi-rugged devices bring both durability and functionality, exceeding OPPD’s performance and reliability needs in a range of environments to support meter technicians, line crews, troubleshooters, and system protection and automation personnel throughout their daily work.

POWER: What are some of the benefits that technology brings to OPPD’s field personnel?

Saltzman: The rugged mobile devices are especially helpful for troubleshooters. Many times, these teams work on 12-hour rotations and need constant access to their device throughout the day. For example, if a customer loses power, a troubleshooter receives the location details of the outage through OPPD’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software. They need to access critical information about the situation before they arrive onsite so they can work quickly once on location to mitigate the outage and support customers. This is made possible with long battery life and hot-swappable batteries of TOUGHBOOK devices, which also give workers access to the information they need through a variety of connectivity options. And, with these connectivity options, OPPD’s workers can now access real-time geographic information system (GIS) data to facilitate remote asset inspections and expedite response times.

The TOUGHBOOK 55 devices also support field personnel work in challenging environmental conditions, like rain, snow, and bright sunlight. Many times, utility outages can be due to extreme weather, and consumer-grade devices aren’t always designed to hold up through environmental rigor. However, rugged devices have a large screen with brightness settings that allow OPPD workers to view essential information in extreme bright or dark conditions and a touchpad that can be used while wearing gloves. This reduces time spent finding a spot to work away from the sun glare or getting back in a van to take off gloves in the cold to complete reports.

Along with reliability in the field, the semi-rugged devices can easily integrate into the company’s operations and workflows, minimizing the burden on OPPD’s IT [information technology] team. Working with Panasonic Connect allowed the OPPD team to set up and deploy the devices for field use on day one.

POWER: How is OPPD empowering its communities to thrive now and into the future? 

Saltzman: OPPD’s shift to a digital utility company is not just about modernization. It’s a commitment to addressing our customers’ needs today, while preparing for challenges that are likely to come around the corner. By integrating rugged mobile technology with a focus on customer-centric solutions, OPPD can meet field worker needs for productivity, efficiency, and flexibility to ensure our communities have the power they need to thrive.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor.

SHARE this article