For utility companies, automation is innovation. Until recently, utility field crew operations were managed largely through manual processes that required teams of administrators, reams of paperwork, and constant back-and-forth communications between internal employees and dispatched crews to assess conditions on the ground and direct field work accordingly.
While for decades this hands-on approach was the industry standard for utility field crew management, today that is no longer the case. New geospatial and digitization technologies purpose-built for the industry are now automating many manual workflows while making critical infrastructure data readily accessible for real-time reporting, analysis, dissemination, and decision making.
Here are five essential utility company workflows being transformed by automation today. Together, they illustrate the potential of advanced digitization platforms to modernize the industry, expedite processes, and make energy delivery safer, more sustainable, and more reliable than ever before.
1. Field Crew Scheduling
Field crew scheduling is a costly and complex task. Deploying thousands of field workers across the vast geographic regions most utility companies serve presents a host of logistical challenges, including difficult terrain to navigate, volumes of data to sift through, and unreliable Internet access in many remote locales.
With field data digitized and synched across systems and applications, administrators can leverage real-time situational awareness in every scheduling decision they make. And with automated workflows in place to streamline scheduling processes, they can eliminate the phone tag, email threads, and manual data entry they once relied on to coordinate field operations and keep crews informed.
2. Outages and Repairs
Outages can occur any time during the day or night and managing a customer’s experience during an unexpected outage can be a critical interaction for any utility company. When this happens, repairs are frequently needed after hours and on weekends when labor costs are high, and many workers are not available. So, workers are often redirected from their regularly scheduled responsibilities, which can significantly disrupt previously planned work schedules.
Automating the tracking and dispatching of field personnel allows administrators to deploy the right crews to areas in need much faster than through manual processes. The most advanced workflow management tools also automatically reconfigure master schedules following an outage so vitally important routine maintenance work gets done on time and on budget as well.
3. Assignments and Dispatching
Deciding where to deploy field crews is a data-intensive exercise. If data is not captured and stored digitally in a central database for automated updating and dissemination, crews can be left with confusing or incomplete information out in the field.
Automated dispatching processes through a comprehensive scheduling and workflow management tool allows administrators to quickly pinpoint the current location of field crews, equipment, and assets, and determine where crews are most needed next.
The most sophisticated workflow solutions on the market enable the dispatching and relocation of crews through highly visual, map-based dashboards that automatically generate work orders and dispatching instructions from intuitive, touchscreen interfaces.
Digitizing and automating field operations data also allows utility companies to leverage emerging intelligent technologies, such as AI, to create predictive models from historical data that can aide in the planning of future field crew assignments.
During field crew inspections, workers are tasked with assessing the condition of field assets and their surrounding environments, recording their findings, and delivering this information to back-office teams for analysis, scheduling, and dispatching purposes.
When this data is collected in a manual fashion, it is often provided piecemeal to the utility company, and can include many hard copy documents that need to be scanned or keyed into central databases – extra steps that can slow productivity dramatically.
Documenting inspections through advanced workflow management tools allows field workers to conduct data collection processes digitally instead, capturing photos, information, and notes via their mobile devices. Once data is recorded digitally, it can be synched in real time to back-office systems and applications for immediate use by administrative teams. The most advanced solutions in the industry come equipped with device-agnostic mobile apps that allow information to be captured both online and off, from any Windows, Android, or iOS smartphone a field worker may be using.
5. Vegetation Management
To effectively reduce the risks associated with vegetation fall-in and grow-in around power supply systems, utility companies need ongoing visibility into the status of each asset’s surrounding terrain.
Accordingly, utility companies gather vegetation data from a variety of sources, including field crew documentation and aerial imagery, using both manual and digital techniques. Data arriving in different formats must then be digitized and processed by back-office applications so administrative teams can assess how vegetation is growing in each locale and manage it accordingly.
The ability to automate data collection processes allows vegetation data around utility assets to be tracked digitally on a continuous basis. Based on this dynamic, real-time field data, utilities can plan their vegetation management practices and better ensure that the environment is preserved, lives and property are protected, and that the utility company is operating in compliance with environmental standards set by local, state, and federal agencies.
Let us help you digitally transform your field operations workflows. Schedule an EpochField demonstration today.