A representative from Cleveland Utilities recently gave Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club members an inside look at how the company uses various technologies to keep its customers supplied with electricity and water.
Walt Vineyard, the company’s vice president of information technology, told Sunrise Rotary members technology is continuing to change how Cleveland Utilities does things.
While working to provide 30,000 customers with electricity and 30,000 with water, the company’s IT department has the task of working with a variety of computer systems in diverse locations, including on its own property and at local law enforcement sites.
In addition to the computers at CU offices, workers also maintain computers used by the Cleveland Police Department and the Cleveland Bradley 911 Center.
The company maintains servers at all three locations, as well as some 750 desktop computers and 200 laptops.
Cleveland Utilities also maintains all 79 traffic signals and controllers that are located in Cleveland, devoting a fiberoptics system to that particular use.
With all its workers assist in keeping running, CU must be ready to not only take care of regular customers but work with those agencies as well.
“We actually go on call to help them if anything goes wrong,” Vineyard said.
He showed Rotarians a slide show with photos featuring the various computer servers and command centers.
The company employs large databases and servers to keep track of everything.
The customer information system is composed of 1.7 terabytes worth of data that keeps track of information on thousands of customers.
A 30-terabyte meter data management system keeps tabs on customers’ electricity and water usage. In addition to determining how customers will be billed, Vineyard said the information is also relayed to customers online via a website they can use to see charts and graphs of their usage.
Supervisory control and data systems are used to check the status of and help maintain electrical substations and the water system.
An outage management system allows workers to discover where outages have occurred.
An automatic vehicle location system allows the company to keep track of its 102 vehicles as they hit the road to take care of repairs. Vineyard said that is especially important after a storm or other outage-causing event.
“We can line up the work for that particular truck,” Vineyard said.
With all the sensitive data the company maintains, IT workers have ensured there are redundant system backups at Cleveland Utilities, the police department and the 911 center. All three locations each have servers that bear the data of the other two.
Other backups exist both in electronic form and in more than one physical location owned by Cleveland Utilities. Also, for the sake of security, water and electrical controls are on different systems.
In addition to being able to keep track of data using computer systems, the company has seen advances that have allowed it to do its work faster.
Vineyard said when he first started in the early 1990s, the company was working with a card catalog-type system employing paper maps to find customers in the event service was needed.
In 1993, Cleveland Utilities launched a $1.2 million project to make technology upgrades, which included getting computers on which map programs could be used.
In addition to data being able to travel through computer systems, advances have allowed Cleveland Utilities to use fiberoptics.
Some 50 miles of single-mode fiberoptics lines run through the city to support the systems the company manages, many along the same routes as electrical lines, Vineyard said. However, 39 miles of fiber are self-supporting.
Another change has been being able to read customers’ meters without visiting their homes or places of business.
Cleveland Utilities has already employed an advance metering infrastructure to replace old meters with electric ones that can report data electronically. Electric meters are now installed at 30,000 customer sites. Once the data is measured by the system, it travels to one of 27 “gatekeeper” systems that transmit the data either by fiberoptics or cellular signal.
Vineyard said it only takes between 1.2 and 1.5 seconds for a signal to go from the person’s house to the company’s computer screens, and having such a system in place saves time, because it keeps meter readers from having to visit people’s properties.
The company is currently working to do the same thing with water meters, he added.
About 1,000 of Cleveland Utilities’ customers have already had the advanced meters retrofitted onto their existing metering systems.
The company plans to do the same thing with the remaining 29,000 water customers, but “over several years,” Vineyard said.
Looking back on how things were when he first started working at CU, he reiterated technology has allowed the company to do its work “with more efficiency.”
In 1991, the company had 20,000 customers, and that number is now 30,000. While the number of customers has increased, CU actually has fewer employees than it did in 1991 — 182 now instead of the 185 it had then.
“Technology has allowed us to do more with less,” Vineyard said.
n Before they heard about CU’s systems, the Rotarians got to see the most recent Paul Harris Fellowship recipient recognize her father for his service to others, by making him a Paul Harris Fellow as well.
The Paul Harris Fellowship is a recognition from the Rotary International Foundation that comes when someone donates at least $1,000 to the organization. A person can either keep the honor for themselves or give it to someone else.
Laura Record, who had been honored with a fellowship earned by Dr. Sally Poston just one week prior, chose to honor her father, Wayne Record.
She said she has always observed him going out of his way to help other people, doing things like chopping wood to help neighbors heat their home in the winter or helping the driver of a tractor-trailer that had gotten stuck in the snow put snow chains on the tires. He currently volunteers four or so days a week at The Caring Place, she said.
“There has not been a time when I can’t remember Dad serving,” said Laura.
Though he said he was a little “embarrassed,” Wayne Record thanked the club for the honor as the Rotarians gave him a standing ovation.