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Wireless wipes out waits.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) used to have delays in reaching technicians in trucks during storms, and the technicians had trouble reaching the dispatch center. Sometimes the waits exceeded half an hour.

FPL's territory has the highest incidence of lightning in the U.S., and averages 65 to 90 storm days per year, so smooth operations during a storm are very important.

The company was able to eliminate these wait times by extending use of its trouble call application to field technicians, using Telepartner International's remote and mobile communications software, MOBI/3270.

Over the past decade, the power company experimented with mobile data terminals (MDTs) so field technicians could communicate remotely with trouble call applications running on the company's mainframe. FPL did not want to use proprietary software or have to rewrite the existing trouble call application, Trouble Call Management System (TCMS).

To make service more reliable and shorten periods without power during storms, FPL extended the TCMS application to the company's wireless network. After an initial wireless pilot in 1991, FPL found that technicians who had mobile terminals were able to complete twice the number of trouble tickets during a storm than technicians without MDTs.

TCMS diagnoses the most likely cause of a reported trouble, screens additional calls relating to a known cause of trouble, prioritizes tickets to assist the dispatcher, and supports multiple trouble offices, service centers, and call centers.

Customers' calls go directly into the system, where they are analyzed and routed to the appropriate trouble technician in the field. The system interacts with the trouble office, the call center, service center, and company management.

FPL initially piloted wireless access to TCMS in 1991, using MDTs with 10 trucks in Dade County and later adding Broward County and parts of Palm Beach County. It was a success, but the company soon ran out of frequencies to dedicate to data. FPL did not want to wait for new frequencies to become available to implement mobile access to TCMS throughout the company. FPL then decided to use RAM's Mobile Data Network and Telepartner's remote access software.

Bandwidth was used more economically through Telepartner's DynaFlash! compression product, which compresses data up to 80% for high-performance communications over wireless connections.

FPL initially extended the wireless implementation using RAM Mobile Data in the northern part of the state and on the west coast of Florida. This year, all the original software in Dade and Broward counties was changed to Telepartner International. FPL now has more than 320 vehicles running with the application, including trouble trucks, trouble investigation trucks, and field supervisor trucks.

Today, half of the company is still on the private radio network and half is using RAM Mobile Data. Both groups are served, however, with a single software solution. One server supports both the private radio connection and RAM's public radio network, and all end users can use the same client software.

By using the mobile data network as a supplement to its own private radio system, FPL accelerated implementation throughout the remaining areas of the company.

The software is the middleware that makes the connectivity portion of the application work. Transparent to the end user and the application, it allows a technician access to any application running on the FPL mainframe through terminal emulation. FPL uses the DOS version of the software. A major benefit is that FPL did not need to rewrite any portion of the TCMS application.

TCMS is now used by more than 320 trucks in the field dispatched by four distribution dispatch centers.

All repair orders are dispatched electronically to the correct technician. Field workers have on-line access to work orders and can query and update databases over the wireless network.

Workers need only enter their ID and password: from then on. most transactions are initiated with a single keystroke. For example, rather than typing in the time and date of an event, the field worker places an "X" in the appropriate field and the system defaults to the system date and time.

Key commands are customized, reducing the number of keystrokes required to accomplish the routine tasks of logging in, sending updates, and initiating other transactions between the field and the trouble call application. The information exchange takes place in seconds from the fixed, mounted MDTs in the vehicles.

The communications server, TeleServer, provides access to the TCMS application running on the mainframe. TeleServer offers remote and mobile access to mainframe, midrange, and LAN information systems with a choice of connectivity options and operating environments.

The TCMS application using MDTs makes both the dispatcher and the field worker more productive. The dispatcher no longer has to dictate instructions over the phone to the repair person in the field. The person in the field no longer has to write the instructions on paper and give trouble ticket details to the dispatcher so they can be manually entered into the system.

The TCMS application provides better information to customer service centers, enables better customer feedback, and promotes teamwork.

With the MDT application, FPL has been able to shorten service interruptions while reducing operating costs. The company also saves money through reduced overtime.

In 1996-97, FPL will implement a distributed version of its TCMS application using object oriented technologies.

FPL has learned from this process that wireless technologies should be selected and implemented by all departments, not department by department, and that the most effective training takes place one-on-one in the vehicle. The company also learned that ongoing hardware maintenance is a necessity and that 24-hour support is critical.

For successful wireless data applications to be developed, an application such as TCMS should drive the wireless requirement rather than the other way around.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Company Operations; in-house wireless network at Florida Power and Light
Author:Tracey, Jim
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1997
Previous Article:Classroom without walls.
Next Article:In search of greater bandwidth.

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