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.