Epoch Solutions Group Blog

Digitizing Telecom Field Operations: A Step-by-Step Guide

For many years, telecommunications companies have been under pressure to digitize their field operations to remain competitive and offer the customer experience demanded of them. For too long, the typical operational model revolved around separate business areas operating in silos and using disparate solutions to manage their field workforce and operations across each division. However, according to Boston Consulting Group, only 22% of telecom companies have been able to successfully execute against this transformative need. Disjointed processes, a significant volume of planned and unplanned work, duplicate data views, and rising customer expectations have provided challenging ecosystems to integrate and digitize. The years following COVID-19 have proven that even these operations need to be streamlined and digitized utilizing the proper technologies available.

The efficiency gains and cost savings derived from digitization are too great to ignore, not to mention how it addresses the need to meet rising customer expectations. This is especially true for field operations. To overcome internal and external barriers, it’s critical for telecoms to have a comprehensive project plan that addresses the varied elements needed for successful digitization. Preparing to transition field operations to a digital model is a process that should include a set of measurable milestones and goals from the outset. Telecom executives also need to engage with their teams to understand field workers’ challenges and work with them to find solutions that make sense for all stakeholders.

If you’re looking to transform your field operations into the next phase of digitization, here’s a checklist your team can use to ensure the transition to digital management is smooth and effective:

  • Understand the business case for upgrading to digital tools. Lay out the short- and long-term goals and align digitization plans to them to ensure priority work is completed first.
  • Assess your current state and identify areas of improvement. Conduct a thorough audit to identify the most pressing challenges that digitization will address and develop a roadmap accordingly.
  • Design a plan to implement digitization in a way that makes sense for your organization. Form a task force for the transition and include team staff members who will be working directly within the digital systems; comprehensive involvement gets everyone engaged and focused on the same goals from the start.
  • Train and equip your field workers with the tools they need to be successful. Identifying early adopters to champion training, celebrate learning steps, and acknowledge change management wins will help keep teams motivated.
  • Monitor and optimize your digitization efforts over time. Schedule regular evaluations aligned to planning, implementation, and execution milestones to course-correct or leverage successes throughout the system. 
  • Work with an implementation partner that can help you assess your telecom’s needs and ensure the best roadmap ahead. Make sure your partner offers configurable solutions that solve the unique challenges your teams face each day, from the back office to the frontline. Also, ensure you’re getting increased visibility and productivity in every aspect of the process

Each of these steps is important in achieving success with digitization in field operations, but it’s also important to keep in mind that every telecommunications company is different and will have its own unique challenges and needs. You know it’s time to update your process, but where do you start?

Learn more about how to get your operations ready – schedule an EpochField demonstration today.

Learn how workforce management software can modernize your telecom field operations

Industry Outlook 2023: 4 Utility Workforce Management Trends to Watch

The demand for workforce management technologies is growing rapidly, and this has implications for utility companies and their field operations. In fact, according to Grand View Research, the workforce management market was estimated at $6.1 billion in 2019 and is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% through 2025. Several factors are driving this market growth, notes the research firm, including the demand for “workforce optimization, increasing cloud deployment, and the need to comply with regulatory mandates.” To meet their current and future operational challenges, utility companies can benefit tremendously from leveraging workforce management technologies. Fortunately, a new generation of enterprise-grade field workforce digitization platforms is fast emerging. These solutions are allowing utilities to take full advantage of geospatial field data to inform operational decisions, automate workflows, and enable deep, ongoing visibility into how field operations are unfolding across the service area. To discover just what technological advances are of greatest value to utilities today, Epoch Solutions Group conducted a survey of customers in December of 2022 to learn more about their most pressing challenges, opportunities for the future – and how they plan to apply digitization to sharpen their operational model. Based on customer feedback and other industry sources, we have identified four common operational objectives of utility companies today, trends that are driving technological investments and setting the stage for a digitally transformed tomorrow.

Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change is a consequential factor impacting many industries globally. For utility companies, the phenomenon not only presents operational challenges, but it also creates additional safety risks for utility field crew workers and the communities they serve. A recent Accenture survey cited by Forbes bears this out, revealing that utility industry executives believe climate change is a growing problem, and that “utility companies must double-down on their efforts to create technology-enabled resilient systems” in response. A full 95% of utility industry survey respondents believe having “greater adaptability” in their networks is a critical step toward achieving resiliency. The majority of respondents to our own survey agree, pointing also to investments in renewable energy as a top opportunity for 2023 – and both effective vegetation management and meeting environmental/decarbonization targets as among their most notable challenges. To ensure network adaptability going forward, implementing a field workforce digitization platform is a best practice to follow as these solutions enable marked increases in technological scale and flexibility. To track and trace conditions on the ground, including vegetation growth, aging infrastructure, and other factors that pose environmental and safety risks, utilities need an advanced field workforce digitization platform built to capture vast amounts of data for dissemination, analysis, and decisioning. To combat one of the most dangerous impacts of climate change – the increasing prevalence of wildfires – utilities need to focus on modernizing their vegetation management practices. With a feature-rich, highly automated field operations platform in place, utility operations teams can leverage real-time field data to track the growth patterns of vegetation more accurately and then take the steps necessary to protect their infrastructure assets from dry brush and other fire hazards. The ability to track field data at a granular level also allows utility companies to respond faster and more strategically when adverse weather conditions arise, including devastating winter storms and hurricanes that can cause widespread outages impacting entire geographic regions. The ability to trace and track the condition of assets and their surrounding terrain also enables utility companies to demonstrate their compliance with environmental and safety regulations – and to continuously improve business practices in ways that better protect consumers, structures, wildlife, and the environment going forward.

Automating Workflows for Better Productivity

Another top operational challenge noted by our survey respondents is the industry’s reliance on outdated systems and infrastructure. Legacy systems that have evolved over time simply lack the extensibility utilities require today to meet fast-advancing service demands. To unlock the power of their data, utilities need the ability to integrate systems and resources from cloud and back-office technologies to the mobile devices deployed in the hands of field crew workers. A modernized, seamlessly integrated enterprise, built on workforce digitization technology, gives utilities the connectivity they need to share data across all their applications, including the GIS solutions they rely on operationally and enterprise-wide business applications from companies like Oracle and SAP. Seamless data sharing across the continuum enables greater visibility into operational processes and their impacts, better collaboration among teams, and a more informed approach to field operations management overall. Consider also the industry’s aging workforce, a dynamic that is impacting utility companies on many levels. In fact, analysts predict that 50% of the industry’s workforce will retire or otherwise exit the profession in the near term, leaving utilities shorthanded in several key areas – from field crew technicians and administrative dispatchers to back-office service teams and engineers. To fill in these vitally important skill gaps, it is essential for utilities to deploy technologies that enable automation of workflows and processes. By automating routine tasks, utility companies can ensure that new staff members and contractors have the technological support they need to increase their productivity and keep systems and assets running optimally in the future. The most advanced digitization solutions on the market today can facilitate automation in many key areas, from scheduling and dispatching crews to data collection, entry, and analysis. These types of feature-rich solutions built for automation, connectivity, and scale will allow your company to meet staffing challenges head-on by digitizing repeatable tasks, enabling universal data access and sharing, and keeping personnel resources focused on the high-level, strategic initiatives needed to promote operational efficiency, safety, security, and sustainability.

Meeting the Expectations of Digital-First Consumers

The digital expectations of consumers today are higher than ever. Companies like Amazon and Google have taught consumers well that they can expect the exact information, products, and services they need on demand. This dynamic has widespread implications, and utility companies are taking note: our survey results point to customer satisfaction as a notable challenge facing utilities today. No longer is it acceptable to make modern consumers wait at home for hours for a service call – or to repeat themselves over and over again to different service reps when requesting a repair. Customers today expect data to be readily available to everyone involved. That means they expect to be updated, frequently, on when crews will arrive – and when they do, customers expect crews to know exactly what needs to be done – and to be fully equipped to fix the issue at hand. With an advanced field workforce digitization framework implemented, your utility company can capture, synch, and share real-time field data with employees and customers alike for expedited response times, better communication, and more rewarding consumer experiences.

Turning Field Data Into Actionable Insights

Data management is another major challenge cited by our survey respondents – and for good reason. Field data today is streaming into utility company systems and applications at an unprecedented rate, as the number of drones, sensors, smart meters, satellites, LiDAR systems, mobile devices, and digital cameras proliferate across both populated urban settings and remote locales. The ability to digitize, standardize, store, and analyze the volumes of field data utilities receive is transforming the way field operations are managed. With deep real-time visibility into operational data, utility back-office administrators can make more strategic, timely field crew deployment decisions that ensure the performance of infrastructure assets. Going forward, advances in high-performance computing and digitization technologies promise to help utility companies leverage their data streams in exciting new ways. As new, faster, more powerful hardware and software solutions become available, utilities will be able to advance their enterprise infrastructure to better leverage AI, machine learning, and other data-intensive applications used to run predictive models. Proactive analysis of utility field data will prove instrumental going forward in critical decision-making processes related to crew staffing, scheduling, and dispatching, and to future investments in technology and equipment.

Choosing the Right Provider

Technologies designed to track field assets in real time, deliver universal data access, scale operational workflows, and automate key processes are already helping utility companies achieve dramatic increases in responsiveness, efficiency, and service uptime. And we are only scratching the surface of what utility workforce digitization solutions will enable in the future. To ensure your investments fully deliver on their promise going forward, be sure to partner with a technology provider that can help you design a comprehensive, long-term plan for your infrastructure – and that offers the development, deployment, and service resources needed to implement new workforce digitization and automation technologies as they emerge. With population growth exploding across many areas of our nation and demand for energy resources increasing accordingly, your utility operations teams will be expected to perform at ever-higher levels going forward. Having the technological resources in place now to support this paradigm will allow you to advance your service levels to meet future operational demands, ensuring that your customers have the safe, reliable, affordable energy they need to power their daily lives for years to come. Epoch Solutions Group can help you meet the challenges ahead in 2023 and beyond. Contact us for a free demonstration of our EpochField platform utilizing GIS technology today.
Schedule a Demo

Optimizing Field Workforce Operations Using GIS Technology for Improved Environmental, Social, and Governance Outcomes

Utilities today continue to implement environmental, social, and governance (ESG) business practices to help preserve the environment, improve working conditions, and safely deliver energy to the communities they serve. While ESG continues to be a guiding force for the industry, adhering to ESG principles takes thoughtful strategic planning and the right investments in tools and technologies. By all measures, advances in GIS mapping technologies are helping utilities fulfill their responsibilities as stewards of the environment. Here are four ways GIS frameworks can help utilities optimize their field operations to advance their ESG vision and deliver safer, more sustainable environmental outcomes as a result.

1. Supporting the Prevention of Wildfires

One of the most impactful ways GIS technologies improve ESG outcomes is in the fight against wildfires and other impacts of climate change. The ability to digitally map the terrain across service areas at a granular level allows utility companies to better track vegetation growth patterns – and determine which wooded areas pose the greatest fire danger going forward. With this real-time field data in hand, utility companies can proactively address potential trouble spots before they escalate and manage vegetation in ways that minimize environmental risks.

2. Going Paperless

Traditionally, field data collection has been a paper-intensive process, requiring crews to fill out hard-copy forms, take notes manually, and draw their own illustrations and schematics to record the condition of infrastructure assets. With an advanced GIS mapping technology implemented in a field service management platform, utility companies can instead fully digitize data collection, allowing field crews to capture, record, and disseminate the field data they collect using just their smartphones. The most sophisticated platforms on the market today come with a highly intuitive mobile app that field workers can easily download and operate, online or off, from any mobile device they use on the job. Not only does this technology eliminate the volumes of paper once generated by the industry, but it also facilitates faster, clearer communication between field crews, internal employees, and customers, for better response times to service requests and improved infrastructure performance overall.

3. Reducing Energy Consumption

GIS mapping technology is proving instrumental in helping utility companies prioritize the scheduling and deployment of crews and ensuring that their time and equipment are fully optimized. One of the most valuable benefits GIS technology offers utility companies today stems from their embedded route optimization tools. These tools of productivity allow utility personnel to pinpoint the exact location of field crew members, equipment, and other resources, and automatically determine the most efficient route from their current location to the next deployment. As a result, crews can minimize their time in transit – and their fuel consumption – as they travel from place to place. In addition to reducing a utility’s energy usage, route optimization applications are yielding significant cost savings for customers across the region.

4. Safeguarding the Field Workforce

For many utilities, pipelines, powerlines, and other infrastructure assets span a highly diverse terrain, from complex urban settings to remote mountainous areas, swampland, deserts, and waterways. Inspecting, maintaining, and repairing utility assets often takes crews into dangerous, unfamiliar settings that can put their safety at risk. GIS technologies help ensure safer working conditions for field crews by allowing utilities to quickly sift through the immense volumes of field data they collect and pass pertinent information on to crews, so they are aware of – and prepared to navigate – any hazardous conditions. Once on site, field crews can send up-to-date data back to internal operations teams as well, information that can be stored, shared, and analyzed immediately for real-time actionable insights into the condition of infrastructure assets and their surrounding environment. Having this level of situational awareness helps utility companies quickly identify workplace hazards and make more informed, proactive decisions on how to address them.

The Benefits of a Platform-Level Solution

As a utility company executive, the technologies you implement today will have a significant impact on your company’s ability to operate sustainably in the future. To ensure that your utility continues to meet advancing environmental standards, deploy a comprehensive, platform-level field workforce management solution using GIS technology. A feature-rich GIS mapping framework allows your utility company to easily collect, access, and share field data, seamlessly integrate your infrastructure assets, and enable the technological scale and extensibility needed to deploy future innovations. To unlock all the benefits offered by GIS mapping technology, look for a field management solution that features a powerful, integrated scheduling engine designed to streamline and automate operational workflows. The platform you select should also feature a highly visual, interactive map-based interface that updates and displays real-time field data and allows internal teams to automatically initiate crew deployments with drag-and-drop simplicity. With GIS mapping technology deployed as part of your field workforce management platform, all stakeholders, from your administrative teams to field crews deployed in the most remote locales, can better communicate and collaborate – and ultimately make more informed, data-driven decisions to ensure safer, more sustainable energy delivery. Let us help you plan the next steps on your ESG journey. Contact us for a free demonstration of our EpochField platform utilizing GIS technology today.
Scheduling Guide

3 Ways to Incorporate the Needs of Field Teams into Utility Digitization Plans

New GIS mapping platforms are fast emerging, helping utility companies digitize their field data and automate their operations for improved service reliability, accelerated response times, and better communication across back-office teams and field crews. However, while these platforms hold significant promise to transform the way utilities operate, introducing them to the thousands of workers deployed in the field can be a challenge. After all, many utility field crew workers have been doing their jobs the same way for decades – and learning entirely new processes and workflows can be challenging as well as unwelcome. To help field crews more readily embrace these important new tools of productivity, utility companies should consider the needs of this pivotal workforce in the earliest design phases of a solution. As aptly stated by Customer Think, “good user interface design determines the success of an application. If the customers find the application to be too complicated to navigate or too busy and confusing, then irrespective of how many features and add-ons it provides, it will be left desolated, untouched, and unused.” Here are three steps utility companies can take to ensure that their digitization investments are aligned with the needs of all stakeholders, and that the solutions they deploy deliver the features, functionality, and easy navigation their field crews require.

1. Conduct a Needs Assessment

With any large software implementation, this is always a best practice. So, what exactly goes into an effective needs assessment? According to IT Alliance a needs assessment is defined as a “systematic review of your company’s technology requirements, taking into account what is needed today, and the expected needs based on your plan of growth.” To determine your current and future needs, it is of paramount importance to gather input upfront from all employees, contractors, vendors, and others who will be using the new platform. Accordingly, your needs assessment should query stakeholders on what they like and dislike about their current processes and workflows, and what improvements they would like to see a new technology deliver. Communicate with field crews the reasons for the new solution, and how these changes will both benefit the company – and help them do their jobs better, faster, and easier. In bringing many voices to the table, and listening to field crew input, you will have a better understanding of the pain points in their daily tasks today – and can proceed intelligently and confidently with the development of your software design requirements.

2. Select a Configurable Platform

The next step in the development process will be selecting a vendor partner. When considering an initiative as broad and complex as the deployment of a field management digitization platform, it is best to take a holistic approach that considers only solutions that are enterprise-wide, and highly configurable. A flexible, extensible, enterprise-grade digitization platform will allow you to seamlessly implement customized features and functionality to meet specific user needs your field crews and others have outlined – and build out the platform with emerging technologies that will enhance your field operations for years to come. In addition, this flexibility allows the new solution to seamlessly integrate into your current processes rather than forcing new ways of working unnecessarily. Ultimately, the digitization solution you select should serve as a point of integration across the environment, including the many business and GIS applications your utility has hosted in the cloud and on back-office servers. It should also enable automated, data-driven field operations scheduling and dispatching, and should support a device-agnostic app that is easy for field crews to access, download, and use from their own mobile devices. Finally, the new platform should enable real-time data processing, synching, and visibility across all systems, applications, and users, so informed decisions can be made, and collaborative processes between internal teams and field crews are improved.

3. Provide Testing, Training, and Support

Once the development of your new digitization platform is near completion, it is essential that you conduct beta testing with a variety of internal users before going live with the solution. As noted by Adobe, beta testing is “a type of user acceptance testing where the product team gives a nearly finished product to a group of target users to evaluate product performance in the real world.” Involving members of your field crew workforce in beta testing ensures that they can provide feedback on how the solution is performing for them, so you can make any modifications to the features, navigation, and other aspects of the platform’s functionality before the solution is moved into production. Remember, though, that you are also asking your field crews to make significant changes to how they work. To that end, make sure that you offer sufficient training and support resources so field crews can confidently move forward, taking full advantage of all the advanced functionality and efficiencies digitization has to offer. According to software industry experts, there are four modes of training you should consider leveraging to ensure field crews can quickly master the new software: self-study, eLearning, face-to-face learning, and coaching. So, selecting a full-service technology provider with in-house experts who can scale training for the size and diversity of your field crew workforce – and provide ongoing technical support will be critical to the successful adoption of the new solution.

Partnering with Epoch

For decades, Epoch Solutions Group has been driving utility industry innovation by delivering technologies and tools that are purpose-built for the unique needs of utility companies. Our flagship digitization and geospatial mapping platform, EpochField, enables field operations managers to integrate data, systems, applications, and users into a seamlessly connected ecosystem that unleashes the power of data and enables easy, automated workflows and processes from end to end. EpochField’s intuitive map-based interface allows operations managers to identify, assess, schedule, and reassign field crews, equipment, and other resources, based on deep, real-time field data visibility – all with drag-and-drop simplicity. And EpochField is just as simple for field crews to use. A full-featured companion mobile app is easily downloaded and launched from any Windows, Android, or iOS device deployed in the field, and offers complete functionality both online and off. This allows field crews, no matter where they are located, to digitally collect, document, share, and report on infrastructure and environmental conditions right from their smartphones, leveraging all the benefits of EpochField’s advanced automation technology and the broad situational awareness enabled by real-time field data digitization. Because EpochField is highly configurable, it will seamlessly support future technology deployments as well, so you can continue to build out your infrastructure to meet the needs of your valued customers as your service area grows and changes. Let us help you transform your field operations and enhance service levels across the communities you serve. Schedule an EpochField demonstration today.
Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

7 Reasons to Invest in a Field Management Platform Featuring GIS Technology

For utility companies, effectively managing assets, documenting those activities, and scheduling any necessary maintenance or damage response is essential to promoting operational efficiencies and service uptime. Having real-time data on how personnel, equipment, and infrastructure are performing across the service area allows utility field crews and back-office teams to streamline the scheduling of routine maintenance, inspections, and service calls, and enables the swift response times consumers expect when outages occur.

To unlock the high levels of situational awareness utility companies need today, they are increasingly investing in advanced GIS mapping solutions that capture and process field asset data digitally, in real time. With this critical infrastructure data at their fingertips, field operations teams can quickly assess conditions on the ground and make more informed scheduling, dispatching, and planning decisions accordingly.

So, how can utilities leverage GIS asset management technologies to improve their operations, reduce outages, and deliver safer, more reliable energy to the customers they serve? Here are a few pivotal use cases for GIS mapping solutions that speak to the benefits of the technology.

1. Using data to drive maintenance and repair decisions

GIS mapping technology allows utility companies to automatically trace and track the history and condition of infrastructure assets throughout their lifecycles. With the technology, utilities can also track the exact whereabouts of field crews, equipment, and vehicles in real time – and view all this field data through one holistic, digital map-based interface. Using intuitive navigation tools, these interactive dashboards allow back-office teams to drill down into inspection, maintenance, and repair records for infrastructure assets displayed on the map, determine which assets are in most need of servicing, and – with touch-screen simplicity – automatically generate field crew assignments, work orders, and dispatching instructions accordingly.

2. Leveraging data to expedite field crew scheduling

Modern GIS mapping solutions drive scheduling across the entire service area as well, allowing back-office teams to automate the many processes and workflows involved in field operations management. Because field data is seamlessly integrated across a utility company’s enterprise, field crew scheduling can be conducted based on a breadth of information, including which crew members are available at any given time, what their skillsets are, and their proximity to infrastructure assets in need of attention. Once field work is scheduled, the work orders are immediately accessible for viewing and processing by all stakeholders, from back-office teams to crews out in the field. The most advanced solutions on the market also include route optimization tools that automatically provide field workers with the fastest route to get to their next assignments.

3. Reducing manual touchpoints – and the associated human errors

Field data collection today is still typically handled through a hybrid model whereby information is captured through both digital and manual processes. For back-office scheduling and dispatching teams, that often means scanning and keying in data from hand-written field crew notes and schematics and combining it with digital photos, video footage, online communications, and other data sources. This labor-intensive data collection process slows operational productivity, hampers decision-making processes, and is prone to human error. With an advanced GIS mapping solution in place, utilities can take advantage of integrated workflow automation technology to digitally collect, process, store, and synch field data across systems and applications. As a result, they can dramatically reduce the manual labor involved in data collection – and eliminate opportunities for clerical errors as a result.

4. Establishing a comprehensive, centralized data repository

Crews need real-time access to field data to get their work done properly once on site. When data access is limited – or when field data is outdated altogether – crews must pause what they are doing and check in with the home office by phone or email to clarify their next steps. Using an advanced GIS mapping solution allows all stakeholders, from frontline field crews to back-office schedulers and dispatchers, to be working off the same page, with data on infrastructure assets synched in real time across all the systems, applications, and devices they use. In turn, field crews arrive on site with full visibility into what needs to be done so they can conduct routine work more efficiently and strategically address any unplanned issues as well.

5. Leveraging mobile devices in the field

Field crews are comprised of a mix of full-time, part-time, and contracted workers, each with their own smartphones, tablets, and other computing devices. And they are employed by utilities in the thousands. To keep field crews seamlessly connected and communicating with back-office teams, the most advanced GIS mapping solutions on the market come with a mobile app that is easily downloaded and operated from any Windows, Android, or iOS-based device. Empowering field crews with the ability to conduct and report on their work via their own smartphones equips all employees with the data they need to nimbly and intelligently respond to conditions in the field, collaborate and troubleshoot more effectively, and better ensure that infrastructure assets are performing optimally.

6. Improving customer experiences

Today’s digital-first consumers and businesses have come to expect broad real-time data access for virtually any service they use – from Amazon deliveries to Uber ridesharing and restaurant wait times – and they expect the same kind of experience from utilities. The deep situational awareness enabled by GIS asset management tools allows utility employees that interact with the public – from contact center agents to field crew teams – to keep customers informed on exactly when workers will arrive, what type of work is being performed, and how quickly services will be restored.

7. Saving time, labor, and costs

Without the deep data access and visibility enabled by GIS mapping technologies, utilities may find their crews crisscrossing the vast service areas they manage to address issues that pop up unexpectedly in a scattershot manner. By contrast, having geospatial data universally accessible allows utility company employees to move from a reactive posture to a more proactive stance, in which they can identify and mitigate infrastructure issues and risks before costly outages occur. As a result, an investment in GIS asset management technology helps utility companies operate more efficiently and strategically, cut their response times, save time and labor, and deliver better outcomes for the communities they serve.

Discover how an advanced, platform-grade field asset management solution featuring GIS technology can digitally transform your field operations. Watch our video.

Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

5 Field Operations Workflows Transformed by Automation

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.

4. Inspections

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.

Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

Digitizing Workflows: How 4 Utilities Are Putting Geospatial Mapping to Work

Natural disasters like the recent landing of Hurricane Ian on the shores of Florida remind us of how important our energy resources are and just how complex the management of them can be.

While millions of Floridians waited patiently for power to be restored in the aftermath of the storm, the utility companies grappling with the event pulled thousands of field crew operators together in a coordinated taskforce to bring much-needed energy resources to the areas impacted.

While hurricanes the likes of Ian occur infrequently, the fact is that the gas and electricity Americans rely on from coast to coast are both vitally important to the safe, efficient operation of our economy and reliably available thanks to the dedication, expertise, and responsiveness of utility companies nationwide.

To help mitigate the effects of outages large and small, a new generation of geospatial mapping technologies is fast advancing. These innovative solutions are already proving to be true game changers for the industry by streamlining, automating, and expediting energy delivery processes and enabling real-time data visibility and sharing across field crew and back-office teams alike.

Here are a few examples of how the technology works – and how Epoch Solutions Group is leading the way to a new, more efficient, reliable energy delivery network by placing cutting-edge innovations in the hands of digital-savvy utility companies.

Empowering Mobile Field Crews at Ameren

For too long, staff at Missouri-based Ameren relied on mobile mapping solutions that were only updated quarterly, resulting in outdated information—or data that could only be used online—which was impractical for workers on the go. And because Ameren’s existing work management tool didn’t have an integrated map, mobile crews struggled to gain spatial reference as to where their work needed to be done.

To address this challenge, the utility partnered with Epoch Solutions Group to implement its EpochField field operations management platform and leverage the company’s extensive GIS consulting services.

Scalable and highly configurable, the EpochField mobile mapping solution is built on ArcGIS Runtime SDK for .NET. Using the SDK’s Xamarin libraries, the app runs on Windows 10, iOS, and Android devices, allowing users to work offline or online, download and view updated GIS data on demand, and draw accurate field diagrams with the map markup tool.

Equipped with an offline, map-centric mobile solution configured to their unique needs, mobile crews at Ameren are now completing their daily work—from routine maintenance and inspections to making repairs and dealing with service outages—using the most up-to-date information available.

Because they enjoy offline functionality and real-time data sharing with back-office staff, field operations have been transformed, communication between teams is much faster and clearer, and all stakeholders company-wide can now deliver the outstanding, reliable service their customers have come to expect.

Read the full case study here.

Modernizing Workforce Management at Entergy

A full-service utility, Entergy generates and distributes electric power to 2.9 million customers across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and natural gas to 108,000 customers in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.

Recently, Entergy embarked on an enterprise strategic initiative to modernize its electrical and gas operations by deploying an enterprise asset management system (EAM) and a workforce management system (WFMS) across all its operating companies.

Initially, Entergy selected EpochField to enable faster, more efficient field inspections of gas assets, and in 2018 the utility company built on this implementation by deploying EpochField as its mobile workforce management solution for all field crews responsible for electric transmission and distribution, gas, and vegetation management.

Ultimately, EpochField proved to be the right solution for Entergy because the platform was able to integrate with the utility’s complex legacy systems for GIS and asset management, and with its mobile client application as well.

A single product suite for all field workflows, EpochField delivered the geospatial data crews and back-office employees needed to schedule, author work types, and create work orders for the utility’s thousands of field crew workers. According to Entergy’s management team, EpochField outperformed other solutions on the market in its ability to automate and expedite field service operations and workflows.

Since the full deployment of EpochField in 2020, Entergy has achieved the operational efficiencies and enterprise-wide integration the utility company needed to ensure reliable energy delivery to its vast customer base. Today, the tool is proving instrumental in the utility’s quest to reduce overall storm response time which, in turn, is yielding significant financial benefits – and consumer goodwill – as efficiency gains are improving service uptime while reducing operational costs.

Read the full case study here.

Enabling Real-Time Data Visibility at FortisAlberta

As a regulated electricity distribution utility serving central and southern Alberta, Canada, FortisAlberta is responsible for ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of electricity to more than half a million residential, farm, and business customers across the region.

To achieve the consistent reliable service its customers require, the utility’s 1,100 employees work day and night to keep systems up and running, prevent and respond to outages, survey and repair infrastructure assets, and maintain the power grid. Recently, FortisAlberta has developed a Grid Modernization Program that includes enhancing, replacing, or upgrading existing operational technology and information technology systems to better serve its customers, improve the reliability of its distribution network, be prepared for changes in the regulatory environment and distribution grid with the introduction of renewable energy, and gain operational efficiencies.

The solution is an enterprise-wide Mobile Workforce Management (MWFM) system based on Epoch Solutions Group’s EpochField technology and specifically, its Work Scheduler Solution.

Unlike other applications on the market, FortisAlberta found the EpochField platform to be configurable for their unique needs. “Our objective is to put in place a single system for all work scheduled in the field, and to provide all stakeholders wherever they may be located with a single source of truth on what has been completed, what is happening now, and what is planned for the future,” said Dave Stratichuk, Manager of Operation Technology for FortisAlberta.

According to Stratichuk, the tool is performing as planned. “When we are making real-time scheduling decisions, we automatically have accurate, up-to-date information on who is on vacation, who is taking sick leave, and who has other scheduling limitations. Before, all this information had to be input into systems manually,” said Stratichuk.

Read the full case study here.

Digitizing Field Operations at San Diego Gas & Electric

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) serves approximately 1.5 million electric and 900,000 gas customers in Southern California’s San Diego and Orange County communities. Until recently, the utility company relied on its legacy back-end systems and applications to guide its field operations, including annual infrastructure patrols, technologies put in place years ago.

However, when the software provider of SDG&E’s primary field management solution announced its plans to retire the application, SDG&E’s management made the decision to invest in new infrastructure tools and technologies to power the future of its field operations

According to Jeffrey Lewis, an experienced industry consultant working with SDG&E to orchestrate the digital transformation initiative, the utility was seeking a new platform designed to deliver more robust functionality to its field crews and to aide in the annual patrols critical to identifying areas in need of further inspection, vegetation management, repairs, and other routine maintenance tasks.

After a thorough review of solutions, SDG&E selected the EpochField enterprise-grade field crew mapping and management solution. A platform-level application, EpochField digitizes field operations data and connects field workers on the frontlines to third-party, back-office systems and applications – from anywhere their deployments take them via its device-agnostic mobile app.

Before implementing EpochField, SDG&E field workers relied primarily on paper maps – some 27,000 of them – to manually record infrastructure data collected in the field during its annual field patrols. This process generated volumes of hard-written forms, sketches, and other documents that had to be individually digitized and formatted for uploading to SDG&E’s back-end systems and applications.

For SDG&E, implementing EpochField has been a huge step toward faster, more efficient field operations – and more sustainable business practices overall. “EpochField has empowered our field workers with its intuitive, automated mobile app which has delivered all the functionality workers need to quickly and easily record infrastructure data in the field, right from their smartphones, tablets, and laptops,” said Lewis. “Now, for the first time, SDG&E is bypassing many of the redundant manual steps once involved in the collection, recording, and processing of field data.”

Plus, he adds, fewer manual touchpoints have led to greater data integrity and accuracy, vitally important to grid safety and compliance, and to ensuring reliable service uptime for all the utility’s customers.

Read the full case study here.

Discover how geospatial technology can transform your own field crew operations. Request a free EpochField demonstration today.

Schedule a Demo

Ensure Your Field Solution is Configurable for Your Utility Operations

Utility company field operations run on a complex maze of systems, applications, and networks that have been developed and advanced over time. Within these distributed environments, legacy systems must connect to the latest cloud, on-site, mobile devices, platforms, servers, and applications to expedite workflows and enable efficient and accurate field crew and resource deployment. This often needs to occur seamlessly across thousands of miles of physical assets within the utility’s service area. For many utility companies, the sheer complexity of infrastructure assets they must maintain presents numerous challenges, especially when new technologies are introduced into the environment. To take full advantage of all that Big Tech has to offer the industry, new software implementations must be tailored for the unique composition of each utility’s infrastructure. And no two utility company enterprises are alike. Like many utilities today, you may be looking to modernize your field operations systems in order to achieve greater integration across assets, data visibility, workflow automation, and other pivotal benefits. To ensure you are selecting a platform that can be configured for your own unique needs, investing in the right partner provider and solution is key. Here’s what you need to know.

Developing A Platform Configured for the Way You Work

While there are many infrastructure solutions for utilities on the market today, not all enable the flexibility, scale, and configurability needed to adequately serve the industry’s complex demands. When selecting a platform, it is of paramount importance to ensure that the solution you standardize on will meet your needs now and grow along with you as you add field assets, your service area population grows, and new innovations emerge designed to streamline utility field operations. First, you need a platform that enables digitization of field asset and crew data – and that serves as a point of integration across the full array of software and hardware solutions that populate your enterprise. This type of ecosystem-wide framework will ensure that you are able to leverage the investments your utility company has already made in other infrastructure assets, including feature-rich point solutions that address pressing operational challenges. Because there is an urgency about the work you perform, the solution you select should facilitate automation of routine tasks, such as data entry, that can slow field scheduling and dispatching processes and become devastating bottlenecks should an unexpected outage or unfolding emergency occur. Real-time, two-way data synchronization between all mobile devices field workers may use and both the back-end systems and cloud-hosted applications driving your enterprise is essential to have as well, as this will enable easy, fast, communication and dissemination of data to all stakeholders. This solution you choose should also work in concert with a companion scheduling engine, designed to leverage digitized field mapping data and enable the deployment of field crews and resources to wherever they need to be quickly and easily. The most sophisticated platforms on the market today present field data to all stakeholders in a single, holistic, digitized map of the service area, which automatically populates and updates as work is performed and field crews are redeployed. This real-time data sharing provides your teams with the ongoing situational awareness needed to pinpoint and troubleshoot problem areas and ensure that crew deployments are prioritized and positioned optimally, according to your service area’s needs. The interface of this dashboard is important to consider as well. The ability to dispatch and reassign crews automatically with drag-and-drop simplicity allows your team to work more collaboratively and to visually see what is happening with deployments, and where, without having to manually prepare and pore over work orders and other manual documentation.

Beyond the Platform: Why Service and Support Are Key

Because the solution you choose today will serve as your operations foundation for years to come, you need more than technology to ensure reliable energy delivery. You need ongoing access to technical experts that bring both the engineering experience and deep industry insights required to help you build out your field operations platform as your needs grow and change. This right partner should include full-featured, infrastructure-wide digitization, work scheduling, and dispatching solution you need to meet the challenges you face on a daily basis. It should also maintain a full staff of engineers, project managers, and other industry experts who work with your own internal teams from the initial design phases to tailor the features and functionality of the utility platform for your needs. For utilities, the need for configuration is most pressing when it comes to workflows and scheduling, with workflows presenting the greatest challenges. This is because each workflow that is configured can impact the performance of others that it touches across the technological continuum. To ensure that workflows are optimized and prioritized in ways that meet the needs of all stakeholders, make sure your partner developers hold pre-design workshops that bring together all who will work with the with the goal of generating a list of project deliverables for everyone involved.

Unlocking Data Visibility, Automating Workflows

To achieve the integration across the environment to enable the real-time data sharing utility companies need, the best utility field operations automation platforms should be able to directly communicate with all of your utility company’s application stack and databases – including fundamental business process applications, such as Esri, Oracle and SAP. To complement this, a queue mechanism should be able to handle long-term processing tasks, such as work order creation, which requires tracing an electrical feeder to identify all structures along a circuit in need of inspection, for example. The use of Python scripts allows both process execution and automation in configurations that are unique to each company’s needs as well. With the right tool deployed, your field operations administrators can schedule and dispatch resources with the full confidence of knowing that data is up to fully up to date. This means, for example, if someone has taken a vacation or sick day, the scheduler automatically knows this and sets schedules accordingly. And when an emergency occurs, the system should quickly deploy the right workers, with the right skillsets, who are located in proximity, to the most critical locales to get services up and running quickly.

Making the Transition

While transitioning from manual processing and reporting of field data to full digitization of these workflows can present a learning curve for employees and field crews at first, your teams will appreciate the simplicity of EpochField’s interface, and the dramatic improvements they realize in efficiency, productivity, and resource utilization when using the tool. Ultimately, having the real-time data they need right at their fingertips is transformative, enabling visibility into work being performed and the seamless collaboration between teams your utility company needs to keep service levels high for your valued customers. See how EpochField can be configured to handle the unique demands of your utility company’s field operations. Schedule a free demonstration today.
Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

How Utilities Can Improve Productivity and Decrease Labor Costs with Automated Scheduling Software

For utility companies today, field service scheduling is one of the costliest and most complex tasks they undertake – and one of the more critically important. According to industry research published on Energy Central, field operation labor costs typically represent as much as 60% of the overall asset maintenance costs utility companies incur. For many water and gas utilities, these costs can be as high as 80% of total spend. This is because so much of the scheduling and workforce management processes are carried out manually by utility personnel. While this labor-intensive approach was sufficient for the needs of the industry years ago, today’s public is accustomed to much faster, more responsive services from the organizations that touch their lives (think Amazon and Netflix), and utilities must digitally transform their service models to keep their operations in step with what consumers today expect from them.

Achieving Workforce Efficiencies, Cost Savings

Consider that the average utility has about 500 to 800 field crew workers – without field service scheduling software, utilities typically employ one scheduling administrator for every 12 to 15 field crew members they manage. In implementing an automated scheduling software solution that is data-driven and mobile-ready, utilities can “cut ratios from one scheduling staff member per 15 field workers to one staff member per 80 in the field,” according to commentary published by consulting firm BCG. The productivity gains achieved through an advanced, automated scheduling solution allow utility companies to increase workers’ availability in the field as well – by as much as 50% and “reduce by 25% the time needed for routine jobs.” This is because scheduling and workforce automation allows utility companies to dramatically accelerate their ability to track all the moving parts involved in the scheduling and dispatching processes and complete field work much more efficiently. Digitizing and automating the scheduling solution also allows utility companies to leverage AI and machine learning technologies, which can create predictive models of their future staffing requirements based on historical data. As a result, advanced field service scheduling software can enable highly accurate, data-driven capacity planning throughout the year so utility administrators can arrange for all the field crew workers they need well in advance. And when a crisis occurs that leaves a group of customers out of service due to a storm, fire, pipeline leak or other adverse event, automated field service scheduling software can quickly process the real-time geospatial data surrounding the area and determine the best, fastest routes for field crew teams to get to impacted areas. In addition to saving valuable time for field workers and operations managers alike, an intelligent automated scheduling solution can significantly cut labor costs for utilities as a direct result of these productivity gains.

Choose the Strongest Scheduling Tool for Your Field Automation Needs

The most advanced automated work schedulers on the market today empower operations managers and dispatchers to streamline field operations resources. They offer these capabilities:
  • The ability to map out both scheduled work and work to be scheduled
  • Dynamically updating maps that display the location of all field crews and equipment
  • Access to field data from any connected device, from field crew smartphones to back-office servers and the cloud
  • Both map-centric and non-spatial presentations of work order information, with the ability to query the database
  • Work and work cycle scheduling functionality and dispatching features for the field – considering each worker’s personal time off and other scheduling data recorded in external systems
  • Automated assignment of work to users, user roles, and groups of users
  • Management and assignment of field equipment resources
  • Automatic creation of work orders based on network tracing operations
  • Auditing features for completed work
  • Creation and archiving of historical records
  • Reporting and analysis functionality for work performed
  • System and application event logging features
Learn how utility companies are using automated field service scheduling software to streamline business processes, accelerate field crew response times, and deploy the right equipment to locales in need with our latest guide, Working Faster, Smarter: A Guide to Automated Field Crew Scheduling.
Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

Working Faster & Smarter: A Guide to Automated Field Crew Scheduling

For utility companies today, field crew scheduling is one of the costliest and most complex tasks they undertake – and one of the more critically important. According to industry research, field operation labor costs typically represent as much as 60% of the overall asset maintenance costs utility companies incur. For many water and gas utilities, these costs can be as high as 80% of total spend.

This is because so much of the scheduling and workforce management processes are carried out manually by utility personnel. While this labor-intensive approach was sufficient for the needs of the industry years ago, today’s public is accustomed to much faster, more responsive services from the organizations that touch their lives (think Amazon and Netflix), and utilities must digitally transform their service models to keep their operations in step with what consumers today expect from them.

In this report, we cover the benefits of using an automated work scheduling solution to increase utility companies’ worker efficiency and productivity.

Read the guide to learn:

  • How the utility industry workforce is changing, leaving companies shorthanded and missing key institutional knowledge and skills

  • How automated work scheduling software can increase worker productivity and efficiency, allowing them to spend more time completing work rather than on manually tracking and transferring data

  • How to find the right scheduling tool for your company’s field automation needs

Download the White Paper

3 Unique Utility CEO Challenges Solved by Digitizing Field Operations

For utility company CEOs, the demands of the job have never been higher. An aging workforce and staffing shortages are impacting the ability of utility companies to maintain high service levels and quickly address emergency outages when they occur.

Legislation governing utility companies continues to advance as well, imposing ever higher standards for vegetation management, environmental preservation, and other aspects of utility business practices. Rising costs to maintain and expand infrastructure assets are also impacting utility companies, a dynamic fueled by supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To meet these and other industry demands going forward, utility CEOs and their teams must make sound strategic decisions and technological investments now. Fortunately, new advanced digital utility tools are fast emerging that promise to help utilities better manage key aspects of their field operations and infrastructure.

So, what should utility CEOs be doing now to digitally transform operations, and how can investing in the right utility software solutions help CEOs and their teams overcome their most pressing field operations challenges?

Challenge #1: The Staffing Squeeze

With 50% of utility workers set to retire over the next decade, the industry will soon face a massive loss of field technicians, operators, engineers, managers, supervisors, and administrative employees. In addition to leaving them shorthanded, this loss of experience and institutional knowledge will create room for operational errors which can put field workers in danger.

To mitigate the impact of a shrinking workforce, utility CEOs must focus on supplementing experienced workers with intelligent technologies and hiring or training staff to utilize these tools that:

  • Digitize workforce management to reduce human error and accelerate productivity
  • Enable real-time tracking and tracing of assets and conditions out in the field
  • Integrate systems and applications across the environment for better communication and faster data processing

Solutions that support field-level digitization are continually being updated and expanded upon to meet the most current needs of the utility industry. Consider platforms that are planning to enable intelligent technologies, such as AR-enabled collaboration solutions which capture critical knowledge from video calls and other sources for future reference by inexperienced new hires entering the industry. They should also be preparing to leverage AI and machine learning to help guide critical operational decisions, such as where to deploy field crews first when disasters strike.

Challenge #2: Regulatory Headwinds

The regulatory landscape governing utility companies is changing as well, and CEOs are faced with increasing requirements for tracking and tracing the location and condition of their infrastructure assets.

For example, consider ASTM F2897, a new regulation requiring gas companies to track the location and condition of assets at a much more granular level. New mandates designed to preserve the environment and help prevent wildfires continue to be enacted as well, calling for greater, more detailed tracking of power grids, pipelines, and other infrastructure assets – with fines imposed when service outages occur.

Broad access to field crew data and the ability to digitally analyze this data can help utility companies prove that their operations are in full compliance with industry laws. The digital workforce management platform selected should also allow utility companies to:

  • Leverage geospatial technology to track and trace assets in great detail
  • Display data in visual, map-centric dashboards, making it easier and faster to identify risks
  • Automate business processes to expedite workflows and reduce service downtime

With the ability to capture and record pivotal field data in real time, utility companies are much better prepared to demonstrate compliance with the high regulatory standards being set for them.

Challenge #3: Spiraling Infrastructure Costs

Utility CEOs are also grappling with rising operational costs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related supply chain challenges. As the costs to repair, replace, and upgrade infrastructure assets rise, utility company CEOs must advance their utility’s digital tools and enact new business practices to reduce their labor needs and associated costs.

Implementing a single, enterprise-wide solution can help eliminate the workflow bottlenecks that can tie up personnel, delay field deployments, and result in compounded, costlier damages when emergencies occur.

Ideally, the platform selected should automate these and other essential business processes including:

  • Scheduling field personnel
  • Tracking work in progress
  • Assessing performance
  • Managing assets
  • Identifying opportunities for improvement

With an enterprise-grade digital workforce management platform implemented, utilities can achieve the operational efficiencies needed to reduce headcount which in turn, helps them offset the increasing expenses imposed by rising equipment costs and other supply chain challenges.

Choosing a Provider

For utility CEOs, an investment in a digital workforce management platform should be made with an eye toward the future. In addition to enabling design flexibility and scale, the platform should integrate well across a utility company’s existing infrastructure. The platform selected should also be backed by an organization with a proven track record for overcoming industry-specific challenges.

For more than 15 years, Epoch Solutions Group has helped utility companies manage the full complexities of their field operations by leveraging advanced geospatial and workflow automation technologies. See how EpochField can transform operations for your utility company. Schedule a demo with one of our geospatial technology experts today.

Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

Why It’s Critical for Gas Companies to Digitally Manage Assets

For gas companies today, the regulatory landscape is rapidly evolving. New laws, such as ASTM F2897, continue to raise the standards for how gas utility companies must manage and track their assets in the field.

To maintain compliance with ASTM F2897 and other emerging industry regulations, gas companies are required to ensure that their infrastructure assets are performing safely, reliably, and sustainably – and to report the condition of field assets at a more granular level than ever before. Attributes ranging from the exact location of an asset to its material composition, size, manufacturer, model, lot number, production date, and facility, and maintenance history must be digitally recorded into gas company databases, reported to regulators, and updated as conditions in the field change over time.

Digitally Transforming the Industry

While in the past gas company asset data has been collected by field crews primarily through manual processes or hybrid models involving both manual documentation and digital apps, the need for gas companies to digitize their asset management processes has never been greater.

To help gas utility companies capture the essential asset data they need to comply with regulations and achieve the operating performance they are seeking, a new generation of geospatial technologies is revolutionizing the industry. Aided by intelligent workflow automation and highly visual map-centric interfaces, these solutions are empowering back-office teams and field crews with the tools they need to more effectively communicate, collaborate, and share real-time geospatial data.

While there are many digital asset management solutions available to gas utility companies today, not all offer the full range of capabilities they need. To maintain assets optimally, keep pace with increasing consumer energy demands, mitigate risks, and stay in compliance, investing in an enterprise-grade geospatial solution is a best practice every gas company should follow. Serving as a point of integration across field asset management systems and applications, an advanced platform can deliver deep visibility into the condition of assets and real-time situational awareness that gas companies need to achieve these and other goals:

  • More comprehensive and proactive management of their infrastructure
  • Better troubleshooting of problems before they escalate
  • The ability to ensure the health and safety of field workers
  • Improvement in response times when service outages occur
  • Complete, up-to-date asset management records
  • Reduction in both operational costs and regulatory risks

Here’s What to Look for in a Solution

An ideal digital asset management solution should be built around geospatial technology that allows gas utility companies to both track and trace assets and integrate that data into all related operational and business process workflows.

The platform you select should be scalable, configurable, and enterprise-wide, and it should allow you to import geospatial data regarding field assets into interactive digital maps that allow your team to drill down and view pertinent details about infrastructure assets.

The platform should also automatically sync data between mobile apps, back-office servers, and applications deployed in the cloud to ensure that all stakeholders can see the same up-to-date data and efficiently plan surveillance, maintenance, and repair work accordingly. It should enable fast, easy workflow creation and management as well, without requiring additional coding, and feature automated work scheduling engines and distribution modules for mapped asset data.

With the right digital asset management technology in place, gas companies can realize these and other benefits:

  • Real-time data sharing across systems, applications, locales, and personnel
  • The ability to analyze data for strategic assessments, predictive modeling, and more informed decisions on field deployments
  • Automated workflows to accelerate productivity and reduce human errors
  • Faster responses to outages for more reliable service uptime and better customer experiences

Why Choose EpochField

With EpochField, gas utility companies can gain the visibility into the condition of field assets and the real-time situational awareness they need to understand and record high volumes of asset data, optimize the performance of assets, ensure safe, reliable energy delivery, and meet the regulatory mandates governing the industry. Highly configurable to meet each gas company’s unique operational requirements, EpochField offers these and other advanced features:

  • Mobile offline collection and viewing of asset data for field personnel who are often working in remote locales, without an Internet connection
  • High-performance digital maps that display geospatial data holistically and dynamically update as new data is processed by the system
  • Configurable work order forms that are produced automatically based on field mapping data
  • The ability to customize schedules, work orders, and other operations documentation for the specific project or situation at hand

Schedule an EpochField demonstration today.

Leverage Utility Field Operations Digitization to Enhance Customer Service

The economy is digitally transforming, and utility companies are taking note. In fact, according to IDC, by 2023 digitally transformed organizations will contribute to more than half of the global gross domestic product. And the investments made by public and private entities to digitize operations are clearly paying off – so much that organizations the world over are doubling down on the strategy.

Consider industry research showing that 35% of business executives claim digital transformation helps them “better meet customer expectations,” 40% say it helps improve their firm’s operational efficiency, and “38% of executives plan to invest more in technology to make it their competitive advantage.”

To keep pace with innovation and deliver the kind of customer experiences expected today, utility companies are modernizing their infrastructure, automating and digitizing workforce management processes to improve employee productivity and operational efficiencies.

More than Cost Savings

While digital transformation strategies can yield significant time and cost savings for utilities, eliminating manual touchpoints from gas and electric customer service processes is a delicate balancing act. Even though modern consumers value – and expect – the easy, fast access to information they get using your website, social media outlets, chatbots, and other self-service resources, there are many instances in which only a live agent can meet a customer’s service needs.

Though the quality of the customer service you provide isn’t typically associated with your field operations, having an enterprise-grade, digitized workforce management platform in place can prove invaluable during the most critical, time-sensitive customer service interactions. Without immediate digital access to remote field service teams and infrastructure data, your agents may be ill-equipped to respond to customer inquiries during times of need – such as when an outage disrupts their daily lives or ability to conduct business.

Investing in the right utility digital tools can transform service interactions into positive customer experiences that resolve issues faster and instill consumer confidence in your brand. The most advanced solutions on the market today empower live agents and other internal staff members with these and other benefits:

  • Instantaneous exchange of data across systems, applications, locales, and personnel
  • The ability to distill data into strategic insights for more informed decisions on field deployments and other aspects of your operations
  • Automated workflows that expedite processes and reduce human errors
  • Faster, more accurate responses to service inquiries, for more positive customer experiences and better consumer sentiment overall

Beyond Technology

While the breadth of functionality achieved through digitization can prove transformative to your utility company’s operations and service levels, as with any organization sweeping changes to your infrastructure should be supported by a comprehensive change management strategy. Ultimately, staff members need to be well trained on the technologies you are introducing and comfortable assuming any new tasks and responsibilities your digital transformation initiative requires of them.

When evaluating field operation solutions, ensure possible partners provide the training and support resources utility companies need to educate both internal staff members and critical field operations teams on our industry-leading technologies. Implementation teams should be part of the process from the design and development phases of a project through the platform’s roll-out and beyond.

Why Choose EpochField

Epoch Solutions Group’s EpochField Service Platform transforms customer experiences by laying the foundation for business process automation, enterprise-wide data access, and real-time communication between field operations and internal teams, including vitally important customer service agents.

Based on the industry’s most advanced geospatial and workflow management technologies, EpochField enables seamless integration across your utility’s digital infrastructure and automation of processes ranging from data collection and reporting to field operation scheduling and work order management.

With EpochField, utility companies achieve deep visibility into what is happening throughout the regions and communities they serve and can therefore communicate up-to-date information to customers and other stakeholders in real time. Broad data access also helps internal teams quickly prioritize field operation team deployments to optimize service levels and minimize downtime when adverse events occur.

Highly configurable to meet an individual utility company’s unique infrastructure and service requirements, EpochField offers a breadth of essential features, including:

  • Mobile offline viewing for field personnel who are often working in remote locales
  • High-performance maps that dynamically update as new data is fed into the system
  • Configurable work order forms that can be customized for the customer service request at hand

With a track record of success extending back decades, we bring to clients a deep understanding of the technological, operational, and customer service challenges facing utility companies today – and proven industry best practices you can easily adopt now to ensure your investments in digitization deliver on their promise for years to come.

Contact us today to request your free consultation and EpochField demo.

How to Use Geospatial Technology to Automate and Streamline Your Utility Field Operations

For many utility companies, data collection is largely a manual process, or one that involves a mix of technology and manual record keeping. Data must be collected, digitized, processed, and kept up to date when on-site infrastructure and assets change. Field workers are often also deployed to remote areas with no online connectivity, making it difficult to access and enter the data required to do their jobs. 

In-office personnel also face a variety of challenges around field workforce management – namely, the sheer volume of data being collected from a variety of sources. Data recorded in legacy, on-site systems is also challenging to disseminate to teams of field workers, particularly when it is siloed in disparate computer systems and applications and needed in real time. 

So, what is the solution? With the geographic reach and service demands of utility companies continuing to expand in both size and complexity, the need to digitally streamline operations is more pressing than ever. The right geospatial technology can help companies automate and streamline the management of their geospatial data. 

Key advantages of geospatial technologies include: 

  • Integration of data into operational and business workflow processes to influence decisions on resource allocation and expediting the deployment and management of field crews. 
  • Ability to display physical assets digitally in interactive maps that allow utility personnel to drill down to pertinent details about the assets and their surrounding terrain. 
  • Fast, easy workflow creation and management, efficient work scheduling engines, and data synchronization modules for asset map data. 
  • Integration with enterprise GIS and business applications used by employees and other stakeholders, including Oracle, IBM Maximo, and SAP.

View the recording of our recent webinar, “Uncover Opportunities to Automate & Streamline Field Operations Through Geospatial Innovation”, to learn more about geospatial technologies, as well as the features to look for when selection the right solution for your company.

View the Webinar Recording

Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

Digitizing Gas Utility Workforce Management Enhances Community Safety

Industry technology is quickly transforming, making it essential for natural gas utility companies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their operational workflows. One way to accomplish this is to automate and digitize the data collection process. By digitizing workforce management, natural gas companies eliminate manual touchpoints that can compromise not only the quality and accuracy of the data but also community safety.

Tracking and traceability automation solutions enhance safety measures by allowing natural gas companies to adhere to safety and environmental regulations that keep communities safe by preventing gas line-related disasters and that reduce the gas industry’s environmental footprint. These digital solutions are revolutionizing the natural gas industry, bringing deep, real-time visibility into the locations, conditions, and technical attributes of natural gas assets, information that can be easily accessed and utilized by mobile field workers who are tasked with installing, inspecting, and repairing equipment.

The ideal tracking and tracing automation can support workflow processes allowing field workers to have remote access to asset map data and be able to work more efficiently in the field. When field workers can visually represent asset data, it increases the effectiveness and accuracy of both small, individual crews and entire services territories. Below are a few important features you want to look for when selecting your workflow automation.

  • A web-based platform to serve as a point of integration enterprise-wide for administration personnel, supervisors, and dispatchers
  • A full-featured mobile application allowing workers to conduct installation, inspections, and other routine maintenance tasks with all the data and functionality at their fingertips – on their smartphone or computing device of choice
  • Forms that can be easily configured
  • Offline functionality and high-accuracy GNSS receiver integration for easy mobile access to satellite data
  • A scheduling and dispatch engine that leverages real-time insights to expedite and simplify mission-critical workforce deployments
  • Mobile workforce management features that allow managers back at the office to dynamically track the location of field crews and quickly divert them to new locations as needed
  • Work-order management functions for easy digital planning, tracking, and management of work orders
  • Enterprise level asset management tools to coordinate essential operational processes and enable deep, ongoing visibility into the condition of remote natural gas infrastructure.

Download our latest guide, “Automating Tracking and Traceability Processes: Minimizing Human Error for Better Field Outcomes” to discover how digital tracking and traceability tools can help you lay the foundation for a future defined by greater uptime, innovation, and better protection from the damaging effects of environmental factors.