Written By: Jim Plasynski, Chief Revenue Officer, KorTerra
I recently had an opportunity to speak at the Global Excavation Safety Conference on the topic of “Operationalizing Risk Scoring to Reduce Damages.” Over the past few years, there have been many new challenges facing the damage prevention industry due to macro market changes that are increasing the volume of work and the cost of both labor and supplies.
In November 2021, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized a $1.1 trillion budget aimed at advancing and restoring much of the United States’ critical infrastructure over a five-year period. This bill represented a more than $400 billion increase over any previously funding bill. These funds are aimed directly at building out fiber across the country, improving roadway, bridge, water, and wastewater infrastructure, and more so the construction work attached to these projects is going to have a significant impact on the 811 ecosystem and damage prevention efforts at any organization. The 811 system has already been stretched in recent years with pre-infrastructure bill fiber buildouts, and this next wave of work, which is likely to occur in our communities over the next three years, will introduce an even greater amount of pressure on the system.
Increased work and ticket volume isn’t the only challenge facing the industry. A combination of labor shortages, supply chain issues, increased gas prices, and inflation being at a 40-year high is resulting in higher operating costs for businesses and the damage prevention community. Regulators are also increasing their scrutiny of asset owners and the ability of those organizations to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their legal obligations. With all these items occurring simultaneously, damage prevention leaders are forced to assess if their current processes are successful in reducing damages amidst an environment where pressures are increasing from multiple angles.
For the past three decades, the use of technology in the damage prevention space has continued to accelerate as mobile technologies advance rapidly. Many organizations have now made investments in ticket management systems to create efficiencies for their field teams around the completion of all the associated workflows attached to the 811 tickets. Many of us have heard the terms ‘machine learning’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ mentioned repetitively in recent years. In the past several years, ticket management providers have begun leveraging these technologies in their platforms when assessing the risk profile of tickets to help better inform damage prevention efforts.
As you assess the nature of risk on any given ticket, not all tickets are created equal as it relates to the risk profile and the likelihood of a damage occurring at a particular dig site. Highly established 811 ticket management companies, like KorTerra, have been gathering ticket data across more than 1,100 customers and tens of millions of tickets per year for decades now. The gathering of this data has resulted in a highly understood dimension related to the variables that can elevate risk on a given ticket. These datasets are now being trained against machine learning models to provide organizations with risk models and risk scores on their tickets.
A combination of ticket data, GIS mapping data, and historical damage data are applied against a machine learning model to provide an effective risk score model for each customer. The efficacy of multiple models is assessed to ensure that the best model is provided to a specific customer resulting in ticket risk scoring that is both meaningful and actionable. One of the primary challenges for most damage prevention teams is they often don’t have enough staff to lean into every risky scenario. Risk scoring is aimed at providing these teams with an elevated understanding of the tickets where the risk profile is the greatest based on historical data driven evidence. The goal of providing the scores is to elevate the highest risk tickets so that damage prevention teams can effectively prioritize their interventions.
I have spoken with nearly a hundred companies on this subject, and a repetitive message that I often hear is, “we are looking for the needles in the haystack, but we don’t have enough resources to comb through the hay to find them.” In one of my recent conversations, a top tier energy provider shared that with their staff they only have the resources to pursue action on the top 1% of their riskiest tickets. With this reality in mind, as risk scoring models are developed, they need to provide customers with a percentage of their tickets to pursue that is manageable.
In our work with our customers, KorTerra has consistently provided customers with risk scoring models that enable them to identify 55%-75% of damages in approximately 10% of their ticket population. As you think about this, what this means is that you can find anywhere from ½ to ¾ of your damages in roughly 10% of your ticket population. This type of outcome is actionable, where you can have your damage prevention teams focus their intervention efforts on the top tier of tickets with the greatest risk. If your energies are focused on the tickets that are most likely to create damages, the likelihood that you will reduce your total number of damages, the percentage of tickets where you are seeing damages, and total costs of damages year over year will improve.
If you and your organization are considering implementing risk scoring as part of your damage prevention efforts, spend some time assessing what actions your team can take as you turn on a scoring model. Ensure that any provider you are working with provides an outcome where they aren’t just throwing scores on your tickets. You need the distribution of the scoring to be of a nature where you can have a small percentage of your tickets with higher scores (if they are giving you 30-40% of your tickets with high scores you likely aren’t going to have enough resources to be able to do much with this and you might as well just flip a coin). Work with your provider to ensure that they can tell you the attribute data that is driving elevated risk. Being blind to this hinders your ability to know what type of intervention is appropriate.
Finally, create clear actions that you want your damage prevention teams to take based on different scenarios and ensure that, whether you are working with internal locators or third parties, the nature of the risk in each scenario is communicated clearly so preventive measures can be appropriately applied to the situation to reduce the risk of a damage.
In summary, risk scoring is beginning to positively impact the 811 system and damage prevention efforts. By leveraging data and machine learning technologies, risk scores can be applied to tickets to elevate the tickets that have conditions with the greatest risk of potential damage. Damage prevention teams can then leverage that data point to allocate resources more effectively to the highest risk tickets and improve the effectiveness of intervention efforts, resulting in a reduction in damage incidents through improved collaboration and data sharing across industry stakeholders. As risk scoring programs continue to evolve and improve, we can expect to see even greater benefits for underground infrastructure protection and public safety.
Please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about this subject.
KorTerra is the leading provider of damage prevention software, protecting billions of dollars in underground infrastructure. For over 30 years, the leading stakeholders in gas distribution, pipeline operation, telecommunications, electric distribution, contract locating, and city, county, and state governments have trusted KorTerra as their damage prevention solution. KorTerra helps mitigate risk and ensure the safety of field personnel by providing secure software platforms for processing 811 locate tickets, tracking and reporting asset damages, meeting regulatory compliance, and more. Explore additional solutions at korterra.com and follow KorTerra on LinkedIn.
Paige Nygaard – KorTerra, Inc.