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Public Utility: SoCal Gas Co.

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In 1867 Los Angeles was a frontier community of adobe and frame houses and small buildings, huddled around a plaza with a total population of less than 5,000 people. Five of those citizens formed what they called the "Gas Works" under the official name of the Los Angeles Gas Company in June of 1867. This was the great grand daddy of today's Southern California Gas Company. The Gas Company (as it's known to local Californians) has grown from the original 5 founders to over 7,000 employees. The first few hundred feet of pipeline laid in the old Los Angeles Plaza has expanded to about 45,000 miles of transmission and distribution pipelines providing natural gas service to about 17 million people. It is part of an industry that has a million-mile network of underground pipe delivering its energy to fifty-five million American households and providing one-third of America's industrial energy needs.

Serving a territory of 23,000 square miles, Southern California Gas Company is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the country. With its customers located from central California to the Mexican border, The Gas Co. delivers about 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year. That comes to about five percent of all gas delivered in the United States. That's a lot of gas. And that adds up to a lot of electronic drawings to manage, too. That's why when Victor Dy, Systems Analyst for The Gas Co., was charged with going out and finding a new document management system to suit the utility company's needs, he knew what he was looking for. "We already had a drawing management product in place, but it was a very basic file transfer system and was not meeting out needs," says Dy. "We were having a lot of problems with it." Reliability problems compounded with the old software's inability to perform database searches led The Gas Co. to seek out a more dependable and robust document management system.

That search led Dy to tsaADVET's Falcon/DMS Electronic Document Management System. Since its introduction in 1989, Falcon/DMS has saved thousands of CADD users time and significantly increased their productivity by providing a quick and easy way to access documents. tsaADVET's document management software is currently in use in hundreds of companies worldwide, representing a wide variety of industriesĀ¾from food, beverage, pharmaceutical, chemical, and multi-faceted manufacturing companies to government operations to utility companies such as Southern California Gas Co. When Dy was writing the specs for the new document management system, he specified that the new system must run off of an Oracle database and must also include file search capabilities. During this time, however, there were other projects developing at The Gas Co., and workorder-sketching that involved workflow among departmental groups became yet another important consideration.

"We asked tsaADVET to provide all of those requirements," recalls Dy. "And they came through the first time." In fact, tsaADVET came through with its flagship product, Falcon/DMS. Even though the Oracle database wasn't available in Falcon/DMS at that time, Dy had enough faith in the developers to know that tsaADVET would deliver.

Since The Gas Co. first implemented Falcon/DMS in August 1994, Dy has worked closely with tsaADVET developers, who further customized the software for added functionality much of which is available to everyone today through the latest version of Falcon/DMS, which incorporates not only the ability to utilize Oracle as the main database but it also can be integrated with Sybase or Microsoft SQL, giving further flexibility to the already strong functionality inherent in Falcon. In addition, Falcon/DMS is compatible with selected TCP/IP enviroments. It includes revision control, multiple environments control so that different environments can be established based on departmental or functional needs, support for long file and directory names, additional administrator-assigned database fields, and improved reporting capabilities.

Over the WAN

The Gas Co. has 100+ users that use Falcon/DMS to access and control about 100,000 MicroStation drawings and scanned raster images dating back to 1927. Several operating groups within the utility company, including its GIS, Mapping Services, Geographic Analysis and Survey Groups, rely on their custom workflow and its integration with Falcon/DMS and its file search capabilities. The challenge is that they're all not located in The Gas Co.'s headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Instead, some of the groups are up to 50 miles away—in Anaheim, in Compton, and in Redlands, Calif.

The Gas Co. has a central database located on the 21st floor of The Gas Company Tower in downtown Los Angeles, and has four distributed file servers located at remote sites. When a file is checked out from the central database, the file is then transferred from either a local server or remote server depending on the original file location. "The way we all work together is by using an FDS, a file distribution system which tsaADVET developed for us," explains Dy. "We must distribute files to different regions, sometimes two or three different regions. So we must have workflow and file search capabilities." Workflow is very important to The Gas Co., because once files are distributed, users, in turn, must know where to send the file next.

Also worth noting is that sometimes users may not know the exact file name, but may know some aspect of the project. He or she can query the Oracle database by keyword description or by site or region through Falcon/DMS to locate the file. In addition, The Gas Co. users requested having the ability to see the history of the file. "This is very important to us," notes Dy. "And Falcon/DMS meets that need." Falcon/DMS' session accounting capability gives The Gas Co. the ability to report on specific files. For instance, users can check to determine how many times a file has been accessed and/or the length of time a user was in graphics.

The Session Accounting Module can be used for a variety of purposes, for example, internal and external billings, background history when preparing new bids, and for tracking who is working on which projects. The system administrator can set up the Session Accounting Module to track a variety of fields in the database, and can set up specific reports using the data captured by the accounting module.

Since the utility upgraded to Falcon/DMS in 1996, its users are even more pleased with the product. According to an internal survey of its users, the top choice of what they liked most about Falcon/DMS was its ability to upload and download any number of files at the same time.

Dy particularly likes adding new files to the database for new projects. Why? It's easier and faster, he says. "I can do this on my PC and all of the files are locally accessible. What used to take me all night long now only takes me three or four hours!" exclaims Dy. About the administration side of things, with the Document Manager feature of Falcon/DMS, Dy says: "The supervisors are very impressed with the new capabilities built in to Falcon/DMS."

Among those capabilities are the speed at which their users can search for files. "It is a lot faster," affirms Dy. And the supervisors also liked Falcon/DMS' ability to check out multiple files, and its file search capabilities.

Ease of Use

As for the learning curve, Dy reports that it was very easy for users to learn. "It is pretty simple," he says. "There's basically just one menu and all of the buttons are right there for them to select. It's very easy on the user end."

And ease of use is of paramount importance when you take into consideration the 100,000+ drawings that The Gas Co. must manage in the course of the average business day. With 17 million customers relying on the utility company for heating, cooking, and many other household uses, The Gas Co. must deliver.

The deregulation of the gas industry has brought many new challenges and opportunities to utilities like the Southern California Gas Company, including such things as new, flexible transportation alternatives; more options for buying, selling, and moving gas; greater efficiencies in cost and time; and tools and technologies to enhance its services. Falcon/DMS plays a significant role in helping The Gas Company maintain its competitive edge by providing a valuable management tool to aid in improving its efficiencies and reducing its costs.