Many electric utilities have implemented some type of Outage Management System (OMS) to help manage outage information and restoration efforts on the electric distribution system. But these same systems are rarely employed by water utilities. These have increased in sophistication and are often integrated into the utility’s Customer Information System (CIS), Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, Geographic Information System (GIS), and, most recently, Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) systems.
The OMS is able to provide customers with feedback such as how widespread the outage impact is and the expected outage duration through the IVR or a website (sometimes in the format of a map showing affected area). Even the use of “apps” for submitting and viewing outage related information is beginning to emerge.
For electric utilities, there are a number of OMS solutions with varying levels of maturity and sophistication. They often include functions that help the utility minimize the size and duration of outages such as:
- Ability to predict the location of the device or problem causing an outage.
- Ability to prioritize restoration efforts based on safety, number of customers impacted, etc.
- Ability to estimate the resources and material required for particular portions of the restoration effort.
- Providing information on the extent of outages and the number of customers impacted internally and to other stake-holders such as customers, media, and regulator.
The OMS concept has not been as widely adopted by water utilities for several reasons. While both water and electric utilities have exposure to having infrastructure damaged by backhoes and such, electric utilities also have a large exposure in the form of overhead distribution infrastructure. Storms, ice, or drunk drivers hitting poles are all risks to the aerial infrastructure.
Water utilities are now facing a rapidly growing problem with aging buried infrastructure and failures of the underground piping systems are becoming increasingly frequent. At the same time customer expectations continue to increase in regard to having uninterrupted service.
There are also some key advantages that an OMS can bring to a water utility that do not necessarily parallel anything in the electric utility. For example, a water utility could use an OMS to provide customer notifications related to boil advisories or other water quality issues affecting a portion of their customers. Or perhaps information about supply interruptions could be shared with public safety agencies (such as the fire department) to help them appropriately prepare and respond should there be an incident in the affected area. An OMS could also be used for proactive notification of maintenance issues such as planned outages, system flushing., and, an increasingly important function , notification tof customers requesting / requiring that they reduce their water consumption where possible because of issues related to the water supply during drought or when supplies or otherwise restricted.
So while the infrastructure exposure profile may differ between electric and water utilities, with some thought an OMS can bring unique value to a water system operator because of the potential health and safety exposure associated with problems in the water supply system. An OMS can focus the notification only on the affected customer base avoiding system wide notices that cause inconvenience and economic loss to customers not actually affected by the issue. When coupled with the more generic traditional benefits of an OMS mentioned above, this can create a compelling case for water utilities.
Is it time for you to take a closer look at the OMS option? If so, the team at West Monroe Partners has the experience and tools to help water utilities assess the value of an OMS and assist in implementation when it makes sense.