Preventing accidental damage to buried utilities is a key area that companies working in this sector are attempting to improve. Communities are greatly affected by excavators striking buried cables or pipes; they lose access to their utilities and, more importantly, injury or death can result.
USIC, a company delivering solutions for underground damage prevention, is turning the tables by developing industry-leading technologies to reduce utility damages. We sat with Amit Shankar, the CIO of USIC, so he could share his valuable insights on how his team is leveraging technology to enhance utility damage prevention and infrastructure solutions.
Give us a brief overview about your company? USIC is America’s leading company in underground utility damage prevention. The numbers speak for themselves; we will perform over 75 million locates this year alone. From a local municipality to a multi-state telecom provider, we partner with various utility companies of all sizes and types across the US. The law mandates that 811 is called to have the public utilities marked before someone digs in the ground. However, 811 contract locators like USIC will only locate public facilities that run meter to main like gas, electric, telecom, sewer, and water.
USIC has two other sister companies that help to control and maintain our client’s infrastructure. Blood Hound (bhug. com) also locates underground utilities, but with a focus on privately-owned infrastructure. Over 65% of all underground utilities are privately-owned; Blood Hound specializes in locating these private facilities. Reconn, our utility services division, specializes in maintaining, inspecting, and protecting gas and electric infrastructure of public facilities. The USIC family of companies works together to provide a suite of solutions to protect, control, and maintain our client’s infrastructure.
What are some of the challenges your clients face, and how does USIC help your customers mitigate those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges for our customers is damage prevention of their critical underground infrastructure. We help them by delivering quality, efficient, safe, and innovative solutions to protect our partner’s infrastructure and critical assets.
Our partner company Reconn performs Ticket Risk Assessment (TRA), which predicts those facilities that are more likely to get damaged based on available historical data. TRA’s technology uses algorithms and data-analytics to identify the top ten highest risk tickets with a 40 to 50 percent risk valuation.
Knowing the status of a locate is important for an excavator digging the facility. With our free DigCheck Pro app, we give excavators and customers the ability to actively check the status of their ticket while also providing real-time photos and videos of the locate and the facility. We capture 2.5 million photos and videos per day and make them available via DigCheck Pro in real-time. The app also gives the excavators the ability to look at the street view of the location where the excavation work is scheduled; this helps them visually understand the jobsite better, which allows them to bring the right equipment. The 811 call centers and our customers around the country make sure that the excavating community is aware of the technology available to them, free of cost on both iOS and Android platform on their respective App Stores. Ultimately, excavators are the workforce that visit the location and execute the job for our customers, and for that reason, we want to make their work as safe and efficient as possible.
Being the largest player in this space, the amount of data we collect from over 75 million locates we perform annually across US and Canada, makes us different from our competitors. Not only do we collect that data, but we share the analytics with our customers and our partners to help them protect the underground infrastructure
As a part of our customer onboarding process, customers are also provided access to our Customer Portal. This portal allows customers to view their tickets in detail, see photos once a locate has been completed, and view information related to damage investigations.
Shed some light on the “Ticket Risk Assessment”?
We use historical data of a locate, taking into consideration such factors as type of utility, excavator and past damages, among others at that facility. Using this information, we can proactively determine what the probability of a damage occurring is on the new ticket based on the previous data. Additionally, we offer watch and protect services where our qualified field technicians are dispatched to the site during the excavation to ensure our customer’s infrastructure is protected.
What makes USIC different from the rest?
Being the largest player in this space, the amount of data we collect from over 75 million locates we perform annually across the country, makes us different from our competitors. Not only do we collect that data, but we share the analytics with our customers and our partners. Due to our size and scale, we can support our customers in emergency response scenarios, be it storm or any other natural calamity, by providing additional support to protect their critical infrastructure. We are equipped to immediately mobilize our workforce nationwide to respond to natural disasters or other customer needs.
The mobilization effort includes fleet, locating equipment, and personnel, accomplished within a time frame no other underground damage prevention provider can match.
In just five years, we have doubled our size and have made sure that our systems and technology are scalable; we are equipped with the resources necessary for the future. The is evident from the rate of increase in our workforce – we have grown from 5,000 to 10,000 employees in just over 4 years. Additionally, we have expanded to include different business lines and service areas since the inception of our company. While doing so, we have ensured that the technology we use not only responds to but caters to the requirements of the industry.
What does future hold for your company?
As we continue to move ahead, there is no reason for us to believe we won’t continue to grow at even faster pace. We ensure that we are providing the best technologies to our own technicians, while helping our customers as well as excavators. As such, the idea is to provide them with the tools and technology that will help them become more productive by making better use of time and making their locate specific tasks easier. We understand that executing the field work is not easy. One of the big areas we are focusing on right now is what we refer to as “Connected Tech” that gives the field technicians more mobility and better connectivity. This primarily involves replacing the laptops they use today with a tablet with a mobile version of their ticket management app. Also, recently, we launched the “Connected Truck,” that acts as a Wi-Fi hot spot for technicians and helps to improve their connectivity. We are in the process of developing new apps that provide better mobility in order to make the technicians more productive, including the development of a very user-friendly UI. The future of the USIC family of companies looks very bright, with technology leading the way.
How does your technology play a role in your own employees’ safety?
Geospatial information plays a significant role in how we do business: where are we physically right now, where have we been, where are we planning to go. With 10,000+ technicians driving fleet vehicles over 200 million miles per year, and walking an estimated additional 10 million miles, we convert time motion analysis into cutting edge predictive models to prevent vehicle collisions and lower our risk to the general public. For example, we use our own vehicle telematics information combined with low-tech “How’s My Driving” phone calls to create dynamic, visualization-friendly daily risk scores so that employees and management alike can evolve behavior behind the wheel. While the nation in general is seeing year over year 11% increase in collisions, USIC has reduced it by 10% on a yearly basis.