If a lineman from the 1930s traveled through time and looked at modern electric infrastructure, he would probably recognize a lot of it. The poles, wires, insulators and transformers that form the Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative’s distribution grid are remarkably similar to the original equipment that sprang up as rural electrification began.
But the reality of modern electric service involves a whole layer of technology that was only in the imagination of inventors and science fiction writers during those early days.
“There are a lot of systems behind the scenes, connecting employees to each other, connecting operators to the equipment and using data to provide services for the members that give them control over their accounts,” said Jerry Woolston, TVEC director of technology. “Services like pre-pay, mobile apps and member account management all rely on technology, and then there is the operational side, giving lineworkers and technicians the ability to work efficiently and safely by giving them access to information communication tools.”
TVEC’s information technology staff has a unique set of responsibilities. Relatively normal tasks like maintaining office computers, networks and printers are combined with industry-specific needs like substation controls, dispatch communications and support for employees working from mobile devices in trucks throughout the TVEC service territory.
“I can’t say enough about my IT staff,” Woolston said. “For everything we do, in every area of supporting our members, it relies on the work of these individuals and I am proud of how they respond to the challenge.”
This year has been particularly challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic has swept around the world. Technological solutions were the key to protecting and accommodating the workers who keep the essential service of electricity flowing for TVEC members.
“Early on, the management team was considering the need for people to work from home, and as more cases popped up around the country it became clear that we were going to need that capability,” Woolston said. “Data security is always a concern, but in this case we were able to get people working remotely just as if they were in the office, and even the phone service is routed to work just as before.”
From a support side, the IT team also worked remotely, using tools to access computers and diagnose problems without having to break social distancing guidelines.
With so much change and disruption to the normal routines of business, Woolston noted that the long-term effects of the pandemic response may change how businesses function in the future.
“It will be interesting to see, after this is over, how it changes the dynamics in all sorts of businesses,” he said. “If there is anything good to come out of this, it is a test of what can work and how we work, and in some ways it has forced us to expand how we think about what is possible and what is best for employees and our members.”