Transformative Trends with Multiple Benefits to Utility Resource Management
Used with permission.
- January 22, 2019
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In this article I examine the three following resource management trends and describe how they interact and reinforce each other to the benefit of the utility and the customer:
- Situational Awareness
- Data Integration
Defining Resource Management
Resource Management involves office staff, field employees, vehicles and equipment, and some services. This is a 24/7 job covering daily operations that includes planned and unplanned events.
Because of the vast information available to today’s utilities, the collecting, analyzing, presentation and use of integrated data quickly evaluates conditions and allows for adjustments on the ground creating full Situational Awareness of evolving circumstances.
If your original restoration was to take 10 days but may now take less or more time than originally estimated, situational awareness – supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a dashboard to display compiled data – allows you to make well-informed decisions and strategically move forward. New automation tools provide the utility a platform on which to gather, analyze, and display multiple data sources in near real-time and share that information with mobile resources. Automated platforms with concise information displays are dramatically transforming the strategic thinking and logistical planning of utility operations.
Actuation awareness has become a popular term today because we have so many different technologies that are capturing and providing data. With data integration and dashboards, we can bring the information together into one centralized location and feed it out to field supervisors and their teams. With mobile devices and applications, those field teams can, in turn relay real-time intelligence back to the standing organization. Information flow is now two-way. The next logical step is using the data to create a managerial roadmap so that teams can become more strategic in their efforts to minimize incidents faster reducing reliability indices and improving customer satisfaction while reducing the overall cost.
Open and Closed Loops
Our organization often refers to various operational tasks in the utility industry as an open or closed loop. An open loop signifies segments of a work loop that are not automated or efficiently executed and create manually-driven mistakes, errors, and slow execution. We look at these processes and identify ways to close the loop using technology. We're not necessarily going to change the process but provide a tweak, so a utility has a way of doing something better. The intent is to close the loop and make it more efficiently automated with less opportunity for errors - thus providing situational awareness quicker and a faster overall response time.
Resource Management is that whole process. We look at a variety of resource management loops and examine areas that we believe are perfect for solutions that can be automated, integrated, and displayed in a mobile device, making them more efficient and less prone to time-wasting and error.
Industry Scrutiny and Stakeholder Satisfaction
Today, utilities and organizations must have a greater understanding and awareness of what they are doing and how they are doing it as utilities are being scrutinized to a greater degree and held accountable by not only customers and regulators, but by shareholders who want to ensure that the company is spending their money wisely and efficiently. It’s important that they are prepared to communicate real-time information and activity status to all stakeholders and provide situational awareness of their workload and how they are set to shift priorities. Data integration, and analysis facilitates that process.
For instance, knowing how many employees you normally have available to execute work and being ready if someone calls off sick or identifying if an individual has worked all night and are on rest, allows a utility to be agile enough to quickly adjust operations.
Another example is making sure customers are informed about scheduling because they need to know what's going on. Setting realistic, achievable expectations with the customer is a high priority. Let’s say I'm building a new home and I'm supposed to have electric service on by Friday because I'm moving in on Saturday, or my appliances are arriving, and I want to plug them in and test them. If customers can’t plan their lives with the assurance that utility scheduling is reliable, they may have to pay extra money to have the technician come back out and will share their disappointment with family, friends and negative internet reviews. Drops in customer satisfaction can snowball in any number of negative directions for the utility.
You're being looked at by customers, regulators, and shareholders that want to make sure that you're doing the best job and, especially, that you're going to provide them service in the event of an outage.
During an outage, customers may be faced with the question, “Do I get a hotel room tonight or will my service be back on?”. The utility may say, “It’s too early to tell”, or just provide a global date and time without any customer specific information. So the customer goes to the hotel and then finds out the power was restored that evening. Customers will not be pleased that they’ve spent three hundred dollars for a hotel when they could have been home sleeping. Incidents like this put a bad taste in the customer’s mouth, which may roll over to executives and regulators and bring down profits.
Improving Reliability Indices
Conversely, improving your CAIDI/SAIDI reliability indices means you are probably maintaining or even improving customer satisfaction levels. However, that improvement in customer satisfaction isn't just about reliability. Effective resource management and outage assessment allows a utility to communicate and provide accurate information to your customers which improves their lives and therefore, customer satisfaction. With the advancement in mobile devices and associated software, utilities can benefit with real-time updates, improved communications and safety. Real-time updates will also improve your customer service by providing real-time information. By staying in touch and providing useful information, customer satisfaction will go up even if you still have an outage on Christmas Eve.
Technology and Processes
Advancements in data collection, analysis, and integration technology provide solutions that allow a company to improve their overall efficiency, communication, and reporting. Keep in mind that technology goes hand in hand with well-established processes. Technology isn't going to fix a bad process. That fact highlights another significant benefit of the data collection, analysis, and dissemination technologies: it provides a new baseline or reference tool against which utilities can examine, evaluate, and improve their existing processes.
As an industry veteran, it’s exciting to see these new tools and strategies come online. I remember when the first battery operated hand tools entered the industry and how they impacted the workforce. I encourage utilities and other organizations to continue their evolving operations strategies. The benefits to all parties involved are evident.