Written by Katie Flowers
Natural gas has been used commercially in some form since 1785. Much has changed in the world in the years since, of course, and that includes changes within the natural gas industry. Yet in recent years, gas utilities have been slower to adapt to the changing trends. Utilities are facing an increasingly digital world, and now is the time for them to make sure their operations and procedures are up to par with the many regulatory requirements placed on gas utilities.
There are still many utilities following the same procedures they’ve been using for decades, many of which involve lots of paperwork and manual processes. While performing procedures this way may have worked well enough in the past, they aren’t as compatible with today’s times and can cause issues that could be detrimental to the business. But what if there is a better way to perform work orders, log leak surveys, put together compliance reports, and other operational tasks? Thanks to advancements in technology, there are now digital operations and management tools to help gas utilities better optimize work and stay competitive by digitizing their work procedures and forms. One such product is HSC Cloud.
What does digitizing work procedures mean?
Today, there are many options available to modernize natural gas utilities’ operations in a way that works for them. HSC Cloud is an innovative cloud-based operations software specifically designed for natural gas utilities. Simply put, HSC Cloud allows you to turn all your paper processes and asset maps into digital versions. Instead of sending technicians out in the field with piles of papers to manually conduct inspections, work orders, or maintenance, these forms can now be filled out electronically and accessed from any device, anywhere.
Digitizing your utility’s operations and forms also improves workflows and allows those at all levels of the business to keep a closer eye on the health of the network. Keeping digital forms in a centralized space allows easy, real-time access to anyone who needs to see them. Having forms housed in a centralized digital space can transform access to just a few clicks and prevents the need to dig through several filing cabinets to find specific reports. The stacks of paper you’ve been accustomed to are no longer necessary.
What Makes HSC Cloud Different
Built just for natural gas utilities, with the support to match
Unlike other systems that are designed to simply store digital forms, HSC Cloud is the only solution designed specifically for gas utilities. When implementing new technology, it’s important to have the necessary support for a successful solution. Our team offers dedicated support to get your utility started, and whenever you have questions along the way. Onboarding and implementation are included, along with training for every user, from the superintendent down to the technicians who will be using the system daily. The HSC Cloud Customer Success Manager will review the utility's forms, assets, and business processes to align the implementation to the utility's compliance goals. The Customer Success Manager will also develop the utility's compliance reports in HSC Cloud, streamlining this annual process for utilities.
Customize your solution
Many simple tools have been developed that promote a one-size-fits-all approach, but the work activities for natural gas utilities are so unique that a customized solution specifically designed for gas utilities provides a better outcome. Whatever your utility’s needs are, HSC Cloud can provide a completely customized solution, and it can be used in a variety of ways to best meet a utility’s pain points. You can implement one use case, a few, or all of them. How you apply HSC Cloud is completely up to you. It can be used for odorizer inspections, pipeline patrols and leak surveys, regulator station inspections, meter surveys, valve inspections, annual cathodic protection surveys, and rectifier inspections. If your utility has room for improvement for any of these functions, HSC Cloud provides a solution.
Security you can depend on
A changing digital landscape provides many incredible benefits, but it can also bring the opportunity for new security threats. Cybersecurity is something natural gas utilities need to seriously consider when looking to make changes to their system. It’s important to make sure you can trust the technology you’re using to protect your system so you can continue to deliver natural gas to your customers without obstruction.
HSC Cloud runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS), a scalable cloud computing platform with high availability and dependability. AWS protects the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of HSC Cloud data and provides you with the ability to scale your usage of HSC Cloud while maintaining a secure environment.
Another way we keep your data safe is with our SOC 2 Compliance certification. SOC 2 is an auditing procedure that makes sure service providers take the necessary steps to protect the data and privacy of the organization and its clients. Having this certification shows that HSC Cloud has worked to maintain a high level of information security. SOC 2 was created by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), and they based the certification process on how companies comply with the five trust service principles of security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. HSC Cloud currently has Type I certification, which lays out the organization’s systems and if it meets the described trust principles. For HSC Cloud, this includes the requirement for two-factor authentication to access sensitive resources and other systems when possible. For additional security, all traffic between client devices and servers is encrypted and non-secure access is prohibited. We also stay on top of any potential issues by conducting annual penetration testing, and if any vulnerabilities are found, they are addressed within 60 days.
We take data security and compliance seriously, which is why we are seeking additional certification. The SOC 2 Type II certification builds on what was completed for Type I by detailing the system’s operational effectiveness. We expect to have the Type II certification by the middle of 2023.
See Improvements Across your Entire Operations
Do more with digital forms
If it’s been a while since your utility has made any updates to its procedures, then many of these processes likely still include several different types of paper forms. Over time, this amounts to large stacks of paper taking up valuable space around the office, or documents may even be spread across different offices. Having excess clutter can make finding what you need a difficult task. However, you don’t have to spend time digging through filing cabinets to find a specific document. HSC Cloud allows a utility to store all their important documents, such as inspection forms, leak surveys, compliance reports, and more, as digital files. For example, instead of trying to remember where the historical leak surveys are kept throughout the office, you can quickly find the dedicated section that stores these items in the software with just a few clicks.
Because HSC Cloud is fully customizable, and so are the forms. This allows your existing forms to essentially be built into the HSC Cloud system in order to keep your technician’s inspection processes the exact same. Fields can be marked as required to ensure technicians are gathering all the necessary information and won’t have to be sent back out into the field if they miss something. And for fields that are collecting data, your utility can set parameters around what values will be acceptable. Calculations can also be performed in the background with the data that you are collecting. Multiple choice and multiple select fields also allow you to filter through and analyze the data. This provides confidence that the information being collected is accurate and reduces the need, and costs, for additional truck rolls and labor for things like re-reads, lost records, or incomplete forms.
Digital forms also simplify the day-to-day work for your technicians by allowing them to easily move from one task to another without having to worry about having to constantly figure out what’s next. Technicians also won’t have to lug around piles of paper with them as they go about their daily routes or stress about misplacing any of their documents. With HSC Cloud, technicians can use their work-issues tablets to complete forms directly in the software. Forms can even be accessed from a remote location offline and will automatically sync once the device is connected to the internet. HSC Cloud also makes it easy to automate follow-on work orders and notifications if an issue is discovered during an inspection.
Stay in the know about your assets
From meters and regulators to a variety of instruments, natural gas utilities have a lot of equipment to keep track of. From technicians in the field to management back at the office, every person in a utility’s organization has a stake in the health of the system. Ensuring your equipment is functioning properly not only keeps everything running smoothly, but also protects your customers and employees. Is your utility having difficulty keeping track of it all?
A digital management system like HSC Cloud allows utilities to keep a closer eye on all aspects of their infrastructure. You can access a digital map of all your assets at any time, from anywhere. This map can act as your GIS, or you can integrate with Esri ArcGIS to bring all of your assets into HSC Cloud. With flexible configuration options, users may choose which data sets to synchronize and at what frequency, thereby eliminating the need to manually update HSC Cloud when changes are made to their Esri ArcGIS assets.
Needs vary from utility to utility, so the map can easily be customized to what works best for your business. The digital map shows you exactly where each asset is in your network with marked pins. Each pin can contain a photo of the asset, that way you definitively know which item it is regardless of weather conditions, like piled up snow, or an updated paint job. The pins also can contain equipment information such as manufacturer name, model, serial number, and installation date for tracking and traceability.
Keeping track of each piece of equipment and its status has never been easier with technology like HSC Cloud. The map gives a clear view of all your assets, and a digital paper trail with a log of previous inspections, surveys, and work orders. Having a documented history of your equipment just a few clicks away allows you to make smart decisions for the future.
Running a natural gas utility is no easy task, and every position in the organization is a busy one. Even with so much going on, it’s important to keep compliance top of mind. Natural gas utilities are increasingly being called to put a closer focus on compliance from public utility commissions and federal regulators. Having detailed procedures in place not only helps you better understand what’s happening in the network, but it also makes things easier when working with and reporting to your state’s public utility commission. Make compliance a more seamless experience with HSC Cloud.
With new regulations coming down the pipeline, and with legislation like the PIPES Act of 2020, it’s important to be able to be prepared and quickly adapt. HSC Cloud’s pre-packaged compliance automation makes for a quicker process that saves you valuable time. Custom automated compliance reports can be developed that automatically populate with data that was collected in the field. You can simply filter through work forms and equipment to analyze the necessary data. For example, you can create a report that shows all Grade 1 gas leaks that were found on piping in a specific region. There are also Excel and Google Sheets integrations that deliver configurable reports for deeper analysis. This allows you to work on reports in a way that works best for you.
Save time and money
In a world that is getting busier and more expensive, it’s always a good thing when there’s an opportunity for time and cost savings. HSC Cloud provides both. We know utilities are having issues with lost forms or needing clarification on forms, transcription errors leading to additional site visits, data entry redundancies, records in multiple locations, assigning follow up work, and gathering information to re-enter into compliance reports and audits. With technology like HSC Cloud, these issues can be avoided, saving all employees across your utility valuable time.
In addition, digitizing leakage surveys with HSC Cloud can give you an easier way to identify your asset vulnerabilities. You can plot leaks on a map overlayed with critical assets, and analyze leaks based on source, region, and classification. Leak inspection data can lead to more productive maintenance activities by scheduling asset repairs and replacements where the gas leaks are most prevalent. Repairing and replacing equipment that is causing your gas leaks can reduce the number of leaks in your system, reducing your gas loss and saving your business money.
There are so many other incredible benefits to digitizing your work procedures with HSC Cloud. Are you interested in seeing how it can be applied to your system? You can request a free demo here or send us a message to receive more information.