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Case Study: How Varasset Revitalizes Joint Use Departments

Summary

Varasset took on the challenge of assisting a large east coast electric utility. The utility provides power and transmission services to nearly 2.5 million customers, and powers a number of government facilities. Recent federal funding for broadband expansion programs prompted communications companies to create aggressive internet rollout plans. These plans require access to the utility’s poles for timely broadband delivery. This resulted in a massive surge of attachment requests to the utility’s joint use department. The utility chose Varasset’s software solution to help manage its joint use department’s systems. With Varasset, the utility experiences more efficient asset tracking, billing, and permitting processes. The utility can now assist in completing broadband rollout projects with ease.

Background

In 2018, Mike, the Joint Use Administrator at the utility, was worried. After the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) was announced, he knew that his department would be flooded with pole attachment requests.

VATI offers funding to communications companies to expand high-speed internet services across Virginia. Motivated by the prospect of winning new customers, these communications companies would seek the fastest implementation methods available. This meant attaching broadband delivering devices to the utility’s poles in a process known as “joint use.”

Utility PolesJoint use requires utility owners to track and facilitate broadband attachment processes, such as rental billing, violations, and pole make-ready. The utility has a robust GIS in place. However, for it to store pole data, Mike and his team had to manually input data into nearly 20 different text fields per pole.

The utility’s legacy joint use billing software frequently caused problems. Occasionally, the system needed to purge data, resulting in lost billing records and missed rental income. The billing software could not create invoices, so Mike’s team had to calculate and create each invoice by hand.

The utility’s system couldn’t track its utility poles geographically. Communications attachers are responsible for marking the poles they have devices on. However, if attachers didn’t mark their poles, the utility’s field technicians had to perform the burdensome task of tracking back an attachment through its records based on physical characteristics and guesswork.

The utility avidly uses NJUNS, a popular interagency communication system designed to help joint use professionals, attachers, and contractors stay coordinated on attachment jobs. While this tool is crucial, the pole attachment data stored within it was siloed from the utility’s work order management tool, GIS, and billing tools. Therefore, the data needed to be manually copied from NJUNS into the work manager and the joint use billing system.

After waiting nearly 30 minutes for the legacy joint use system to start up one day, Mike knew it was time to seek out a faster, more efficient tool to help his joint use department thrive. After weighing the multitude of options available to him, he sent out a request for information from Varasset, a leader in software solutions for the power and communications industries.

Strategy

Varasset developed a streamlined workflow that integrated the utility’s Esri GIS, NJUNS, and work management tool. Using its powerful open REST API, Varasset easily incorporated data from all three platforms into a single database. Mike could immediately leverage the utility’s NJUNS data to affect each system.

“NJUNS drives the bus,” Mike said. “Whatever we edit in NJUNS will edit and update in Varasset.”

Mike pointed out that before using Varasset software, he needed to open four separate systems to close a single attachment request ticket. Now, Mike can close the ticket in NJUNS, simultaneously updating Varasset, which then updates the work manager. This same flow applies when an attacher wants to create an attachment ticket in NJUNS. The attacher submits a ticket in NJUNS that automatically updates Varasset and the utility’s associated systems.

“Clicks (in the process) were reduced by 70% for the life of a permit. It saves significant time from inputting data and lets us focus on our customers more and other pertinent duties within the department,”

– Mike, Joint Use Administrator

Varasset also improved data integrity in the utility’s GIS tool through geographical mapping, making pole audits much more manageable. Now, Mike can see all attached devices and their owners on a given pole with one click. This also makes rental billing easier, allowing the utility’s billing department to double-check numbers to ensure there aren’t any unpermitted attachments on utility poles. In addition, Varasset automatically generates rental billing invoices, eliminating the task of handmaking each invoice for each attacher.

“It is like data integrity magnitude 1000. It’s just amazing that this is going to work!”

– Mike, Joint Use Administrator

Previously, Mike was overwhelmed by the number of new pole constructions in his area. But with automated notification delivery, Mike has simplified and expedited joint use communications with all attachers and construction crews. This has made assisting broadband expansions easier and faster than ever.

Another considerable benefit the utility received through Varasset software is data security. The utility provides power to the Pentagon. With recent upticks in security breaches, especially in the power and transmission industries, the utility needed a highly secure software solution. Varasset’s software and organization is AICPA SOC 2, Type 2 certified, which is a top priority to the utility. Varasset is fully implemented behind the utility’s firewall in compliance with its IT policies. This multifaceted approach to data security gives Mike complete confidence to serve power to the US Department of Defense.

Results

The utility has signed agreements with over 20 new communications customers due to the announcement of rural broadband initiatives. One of those customers made over 400,000 pole attachment requests. But Mike is no longer concerned about how to handle the broadband tsunami. He has maximized the efficiency of his joint use department by integrating data he already had into Varasset.

Varasset’s versatile API eliminated once necessary time-intensive workarounds. By synthesizing the utility’s NJUNS, GIS, and work management systems into Varasset, Mike and his team have the power to see and affect every system simultaneously. The utility receives the benefits of each system through one centralized interface.

“The fact that it’s 2022 and we’re the busiest we’ve ever been because of broadband funding… if we didn’t have Varasset, we would be reaching out to start this up now, and we’d already be too late to the game.”

– Mike, Joint Use Administrator

The utility can easily assist Virginia’s ongoing broadband expansion projects through automation, streamlining, and integration.