GIS addressed problem

STW receives more than 140,000 calls a year on issues like burst pipes. The difficulty is precisely locating the source of each problem. Now GIS is helping the utility find leaks fast and identify patterns.

BURST PIPES lead to wasted water and disruption. But if the location of the incident is not recorded accurately, it can also lead to substantial delays - increasing costs and impacting on customer relations.

Severn Trent Water (STW) has deployed GIS in its customer service centre to ensure all incident reports are accompanied by precise location references.

Respond to faults
This enables STW to locate and respond to faults more quickly, deliver an improved customer service, and gather more accurate data for management reporting. STW receives 140,000-plus calls annually to its service centre from people reporting issues such as burst pipes. It has not always been easy to establish precisely where they occurred.

Service centre customer agents only had access to rudimentary address data. If a caller did not provide an accurate address, it was difficult to pinpoint the incident's precise location.

Agents consulted A-Z map books, road atlases and even directories like the Yellow Pages to work out locations.

Up to 95% of incidents reported did not have precise grid reference locations.
"Sending an engineering repair team to a wrong location is a very expensive mistake to make," explains Dave Pearson, lead GIS architect at STW. "Valuable time is lost and a lot of additional effort is wasted."

Ensure the accuracy
To address the problem, STW introduced a comprehensive and flexible gazetteer service, backed up with digital maps made available to its customer agents. "We needed a way to ensure the accuracy of the location information collected in the call centre," says Pearson. "By greatly reducing the probability of sending out inspectors and teams to the wrong location, we felt that we had an opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce costs."

STW had used GIS solutions from ESRI (UK) to help manage its underground assets. When it launched the project to deploy GIS in its customer centre, it evaluated the latest solutions available from ESRI.

"Because the solution was going to be used while callers were on the phone, it had to be extremely fast," says Doug Cubin, GIS consultant to STW. "We felt that ESRI's GIS technology would give us the fastest possible retrieval of addresses and maps.

"Indeed, it has lived up to our expectations and, in some areas, surpassed them."

STW selected ESRI intranet mapping solution to make GIS capabilities available to customer agents in the service centre. Also, it developed a gazetteer application based on ESRI's spatial database engine to provide customer agents with searching capability.

This solution lets customer agents search for maps by address, motorway junction, schools and even the location of chemists and pubs. "If a caller reports a problem on the bend in the road, and can roughly describe the area and a landmark or two, we can find it," says STW.

Within the service centre, the agents use a customer relationship management application and follow on-screen workflow. If a caller is not reporting an issue at his or her own home, the GIS automatically opens. Customer agents then follow customer descriptions and drill down into the maps to find the right location.

When they click on the map, a X-Y coordinate is attached to the incident report, along with the postcode of the nearest address. STW had the skills to develop its gazetteer application in-house.

But it also took advantage of ESRI's implementation expertise, taking advice and support from its solutions architects and support services.

GIS has transformed the way customer agents work, and has led to improvements in efficiency, and there has been a significant fall in the number of incorrect locations reported by the field teams.

Location of incidents
Every year, STW plots the location of incidents on a map to help analyse any patterns and clusters. This is important for Ofwat reporting and for making infrastructure investment decisions. "To make this year's reporting a less onerous task it really was crucial for us to get an accurate spatial reference for each incident," says a STW consultant.

Currently, STW's GIS is used by 250 customer agents at one site near Coventry, with up to 40 concurrent users.

But, in the near future, the company plans to increase the number of users quite significantly. It has launched a new initiative to make an adapted version of its GIS available to all employees, so that everyone can search and access accurate digital maps of the region over the company intranet.

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