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Making the Case for Mobile Workforce Management: How Field Workers Can Benefit From Improved Communications

It’s imperative that utility businesses monitor both the safety and performance of their field crews. Yet, the cost and resources it requires to complete transportation activities to and from the on-site location can quickly drain a bottom line. With so much time and money wrapped up in supervisory control, it’s no wonder many business leaders in the sector are planning to significantly cut costs moving forward.

According to a new report by Bain Insights, the North American utility industry is expected to cut around $15 million from its overall operating expenses by 2022. The impetus? Concerns from cost-conscious investors, though tightening regulatory and compliance measures mean that making such reductions will likely prove difficult at best.

One measure that energy companies are looking more toward in an effort to scale back on in-person, on-site management costs is mobile workforce management, or MWM. As a whole, the sector has embraced the technology. In fact, one study by Navigant Research titled “Utility Mobile Workforce Management” reveals that leaders expect to shell out a collective $420 million by 2020 on MWM solutions.

Why MWM Matters

In a nutshell, MWM technologies consist primarily of tracking tools that allow for remote management, enabling supervisors to check in on crew performance from anywhere, at any time. They’re traditionally devices affixed to operational vehicles that enable remote monitoring of that fleet’s activity. Other smart tools include tablets or handheld devices that workers actually keep on or near their person to check in throughout the day.

Some of the metrics most commonly gathered include routine data such as vehicle speeds or routes. Yet, the systems are equally beneficial in times of crises or outages, as they allow managers to communicate live with teams as they work through issues.

Still, for all its advantages, MWM hasn’t been without its pushback. Utility leaders around the country looking to adopt a leaner business model are hesitant to invest in the systems without proven data that they’ll be able to improve monitoring capabilities for less. As the results are softer in nature and not as easy to analyze as the advantages of supplying workers with required safety supplies or other necessities, it can make taking the plunge a risk that many aren’t ready to tackle.

Yet, it’s worth taking a second look at MWM, starting with its ability to drastically reduce operational expenses. By allowing managers an inside view of how much fuel each vehicle is consuming and which routes it is taking, these tracking devices can catalyze an advanced discussion on more economical transportation plans. For instance, if a company sees that its linemen are taking 45 minutes to get to a site that’s only 15 miles away, it can send up a red flag. Upon further examination, they might discover that the pre-planned route goes through a school zone or another traffic pattern that results in slower speeds and delays. As a result, they can adjust their route accordingly and get crews to site quicker, improving overall efficiencies and reducing fuel costs.

Other times, managers might notice that vehicles are idle for longer than necessary, and they can probe into the reasons why. Are there unnecessary stops occurring along the route? If so, can they be avoided or shortened to help crews better manage their time? This information wouldn’t be available to off-site managers in the past and as a result, utility companies could be shelling out money needlessly.

Last but certainly not least is the issue of improved safety. According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than 1,500 workers die annually as a result of traffic accidents. If supervisors can monitor employee speeds from afar, they’ll be better able to discern when those speeds become excessive and can take real-time measures to slow the linemen down or curb reckless driving behaviors.

Moving Forward: MWM and the Changing Utility Landscape

A budget-conscious manager is an asset in any industry, and perhaps nowhere does this ring truer than in the energy and utility sphere. As the sector looks to make cost cuts where possible, one area they should consider investing heavily in is smart tools that make it easier than ever for linemen to communicate and collaborate with their teams and supervisors.

Though the initial costs might be significant, the return will be evident, from the improved operations to the fuel reductions to the bolstered safety measures. Moving forward, successful utility companies will be those that find other areas in the budget to make lean, while putting these systems and their capabilities into the hands of their remote employees. A capable workforce is a productive one, and MWM is shaping up to be the missing link in that performance puzzle.

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