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

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.

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.

Digitization in Mobile Workforce Management: Overcoming 5 Barriers in Field Operations

The pandemic added a level of urgency to digitization in utilities unlike anything the industry has ever seen. And yet, for many companies, the ongoing work towards digital transformation has been anything but smooth.

In this report, we cover some of the barriers we’ve seen firsthand as companies follow the path to streamlining and simplifying end-to-end mobile workforce management.

Read the guide to learn:

  • How digitization is reshaping field operations and bridging the gap between field and office workflows
  • The top 5 obstacles companies face when implementing technologies meant to promote digital ways of working
  • How to overcome these challenges with a phased, achievable roadmap to digitization

Download the White Paper

A Checklist for Field Operation Digitization

Utilities and telecommunications companies have been under pressure to digitize in order to remain competitive and support the mobile workforce for many years. For too long, the norm for field operations has revolved around paper-based processes, physical maps, and duplicate data views. Of course, the pandemic has forced many companies to re-evaluate their technology landscape and re-examine the impact of technology-driven solutions on a remote workforce.  But the years following COVID-19 have proven that nearly anything can be streamlined and digitized with the proper technologies in place. 

The efficiency gains and cost savings to be had from digitization are too great to ignore. This is especially true for field operations. In order to overcome barriers – both internal and external – it’s critical that organizations have a comprehensive project plan that addresses the varied elements needed for successful digitization. Preparing for digital transition of field operations is a process and one that should have a set of measurable milestones and results from the outset. Executives also need to engage with their teams to understand the challenges fieldworkers face and work with them to find solutions that make sense for both sides.   

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

  • 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 transformed 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 to the ideal operational state.
  • Develop 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, celebrating learning steps, and acknowledging 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 organization’s needs and ensure the best roadmap with the least interruption. Make sure your partner offers configurable solutions that solve the unique challenges your teams face every day, from the back office to the frontline. Also, ensure you’re getting increased visibility and productivity in every part 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 organization 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 – download our latest guide: Digitization in Mobile Workforce Management: Overcoming 5 Barriers in Field Operations now. 

Schedule a Free Workforce Management Assessment

Top 4 Considerations for Finding the Right Technology Partner for Utilities Companies

Utilities companies must improve their flexibility and resilience by enabling new technologies and solutions in an era defined by digital transformation. By embracing a new technology partner, organizations can drive new business models, move beyond traditional and conservative processes and operations, and enhance their workforce capabilities.

Utilities companies that embrace digital strategies and make bold commitments to digital transformation will drive industry-wide innovation. Exploring new technology partnerships helps businesses achieve their digital transformation goals. Choosing the right technology partner is key to a successful transformation and helps organizations:

  • Overcome industry-specific challenges and those unique to your individual business
  • Set up new operations and processes to run more efficiently
  • Easily integrate technologies with new and existing systems
  • Leverage a repeatable and lasting solution

Technology manages the complexities resulting from digital innovation so that businesses can continue to create solutions that positively impact people’s lives. Utilities companies must transition to digital technologies in order to be competitive, offer enhanced customer experiences, and survive and thrive in an age driven by technology.

1. What to Look for in the Right Technology Partner

Technology partnerships help organizations redefine and enable new business strategies. They seamlessly connect business and IT environments, so businesses can generate value through technology adoption and enable their workforce to focus on innovation. A technology partner should understand the inherent challenges of the utilities industry and how their solution can seamlessly fit into a company’s digital transformation strategy.

2. Understanding Unique Industry Challenges

Great technology partners understand unique utilities industry challenges, like environmental issues, economic competitiveness, and security. The right technology partner will help a business expand their IT capabilities, handling important technology updates and maintenance, so that existing IT and technology teams can focus on more crucial work and innovative projects, which can also help with employee retention.

Many energy companies have been around a long time, with legacy systems and processes that have been SOP for years. As they modernize their infrastructure and further enable data and analytics-based decision making, the need could arise to embrace new cloud capabilities like the ones offered by companies like Fortinet and firms alike. Transitioning to modern technology should be seamless and frictionless, and technology partners should offer Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions so that companies can:

  • Easily implement new technologies that are continuously updated over time
  • Facilitate a quick migration process compared to upgrading hardware
  • Scale architectures up or down as needed

Organizations like Epoch Solutions Group offer EpochField as a service that integrates with multiple back office IT systems, such as GIS and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM). This enables them to deliver new services and help companies overcome the limitations of on-premise deployments.

3. The Need for Configurability and Customization

Technology partners must be able to configure their technology to integrate with an organization’s existing systems, processes, and workflows. New solutions should be set up seamlessly and shouldn’t require a talent overhaul to operate. These solutions should be repeatable and serve as a foundation for future growth and opportunity.

Technology partners should also help business and IT teams expand how they use technology in their everyday workflows. It’s about providing a solution that helps organizations reduce the complexities of work via enhanced workflow processes.

Organizations are preparing for the future by shifting to new digital business models so they can unlock significant value. This is not simply an engineering-specific transformation. Rather it requires a holistic change to the business and operating model across culture, supply chains, products, and more. Configurable solutions from technology partners take into consideration the unique needs of every organization so that teams across the business and IT can benefit and operate in their individual capacities.

4. System Integration

A lack of system integration can lead to short-term challenges and long-term operational inefficiencies. Creating a sustainable business foundation that will support future technology additions and integrations should be enabled by a technology partnership.

Digital transformation for organizations is a continuous pursuit driven by the impacts of artificial intelligence, data availability, and analytics. As organizations build their technology architecture to enable data-centric decisions, the insights need to be accessible across teams and business areas to maximize the value and effectiveness of these strategies.

System integration helps people use their data quickly and efficiently, solving data management challenges that typically impede growth and opportunity. Organizations will have clarity and visibility into their operations and data that helps them to drive new products, services, and solutions.

Choose Epoch Solutions Group as a Technology Partner

Epoch Solutions Group understands the critical capabilities necessary to make digital transformation successful. They include:

  • Overcoming industry-specific challenges and those unique to your individual business
  • Setting up new operations and processes to run more efficiently
  • Integrating technologies with new and existing systems
  • Leveraging a repeatable and lasting solution

Contact a consultant to learn how Epoch Solutions Group can help your organization achieve its digital transformation goals now and in the future. Click here to schedule a demo today.

How Digital Innovation Helps Utility Companies Quickly Get Things Back Up and Running After a Storm

One of the worst winter storms swept through Texas in recorded history during 2021, causing power outages to millions of people and businesses. According to McKinsey and Company, this catastrophic event led to Governor Abbot issuing a disaster declaration in 254 counties. 2020 and 2021 were two years that had the most named storms in history, with 30 and 27 named storms respectively.

From hurricanes, to devastating winter storms like those in Texas and increased weather activity throughout the country, the impacts of storms on energy infrastructures is far reaching. Managing these systems and monitoring and responding to a power crisis in real-time is highly complex. Utilities companies need to implement a flexible digital infrastructure to meet the many challenges they encounter when providing consistent and active services, and to be prepared to get services back up and running quickly in the case of a storm emergency.

Responding to New Energy Landscapes

The effects of climate change are significantly impacting the utilities industry. Frequent and severe weather conditions have pushed infrastructure capabilities to their limits, leading to power outages, lower efficiency, and higher costs.

Water, electric, and environmental regulatory environments are evolving. As a result, energy companies must reimagine maintenance and inspection goals and approach new solutions that give them greater control of their assets.

Implementing weather-resistant, mobile electrical structures like these modular e-houses that can accommodate almost any power structure could be one of the many solutions. The advantages provided by these e-houses, such as withstanding the elements while ensuring resistance to fire, explosions, and galvanic corrosion, seem to be in line with the requirements for outage prevention due to storms and other disasters. With that said, technological solutions can also come into the picture and help utilities provide immediate and timely services during emergencies.

Climate Change, Regulations, and Consumers

Amidst new climate and regulatory landscapes, utilities companies are faced with new consumer demands and behaviors that are changing alongside the digital world, like smart home environments and smartphone applications. Consumers are driven by personalized experiences that give them more control and data at their fingertips. Energy companies must deliver these experiences to keep pace with modern consumer needs for transparency and personalization.

Utilities companies should respond to climate change, regulatory environments, and consumer demands and generate value using new, innovative solutions that:

  • Optimize operations
  • Overcome the limitations of legacy systems
  • Improve the customer experience

A utility company needs the right digital capabilities and solutions that help them more efficiently manage their operations while equipping the workforce with new digital tools that improve workflow processes and collaboration. Energy companies need real-time access to the right data to assess changing environments and instantaneously react and respond accordingly.

Utilities and the Impacts of Digital Technology

When the Texas power crisis occurred, harsh weather conditions were devastating. In the event that power outages occur, power grids and power lines are damaged, utilities companies require the capabilities to respond and restore power quickly.

Energy companies need customizable solutions that put their customers first and equip their employees with new capabilities to deliver and enhance services in a modern digital world. They must reimagine how they approach numerous business functions like asset management, workforce deployment, field workforce management, and vegetation management.

Assessing damage and quickly deploying field service crews helps energy companies restore power rapidly to their customers. EpochField, a solution from Epoch Solutions Group, enhances data collection workflows with tools that enable strategic planning, field data collection, and real-time analysis. It integrates operates with existing systems including outage management (OMS), work management (WMS), geographic information (GIS), and customer relationship management (CRM).

Innovative digital solutions like these improve damage assessment back-office functions. Teams utilize dashboards to provide a better view of to view outages, crew locations and work locations on a spatial map with integrated GPS tracking. Systems receive notifications when outages occur, and field crews are quickly deployed.

Also, scheduling optimization tools help utilities companies efficiently assemble and deploy large groups of field crews more accurately and efficiently. Field crews also use their mobile devices for online or offline work orders, sending and receiving information from the back office, electronically syncing data with the back-office enterprise systems. Any system user can create work order forms, document inspections, streamline maintenance, and demonstrate compliance to regulators.

Organizations need to prepare for today and tomorrow. Digital solutions from Epoch Solutions Group enhance utilities companies’ agility, resilience, and flexibility. Epoch Solutions Group drives innovation and opportunity with a technology platform that helps organizations respond to digital transformation, enhance operational efficiency, and overcome the challenges resulting from climate change, regulatory environments, and shifting consumer behaviors.

Digitize Your Utilities Operations

Schedule a demo today and discover how Epoch Solutions Group can help your energy company prepare for storm outages, the impacts of climate change, new regulatory landscapes, and changing consumer behaviors.

Network Tracing with EpochField Mobile

Historically, network tracing has been a critical piece of functionality needed by field crews in the utility industry. While certain functionality needed in tracing may not be as sophisticated as back-office uses, for example, capacity and flow analysis, it still is heavily utilized in the field along with one very definite requirement: it must work offline.

EpochField Mobile was designed from the ground up with “offline first” being one of the most important factors a utility field worker needs in a working mobile solution. With the capability of being scalable enough to download large areas, or all, of service territories for asset and map visibility to performing field workflow data collection and network tracing, all need to work offline.

Network Tracing with EpochField Mobile

At Epoch Solutions Group, we have supported an optimized offline connected model and tracing for many years. Three main factors led us to this decision that is the driving factor of this post. Our product, EpochSync, used for cross-platform spatial data integration for technologies such as Smallworld and Hexagon G/Technology, will now be integrated into the EpochField platform. There have been many discussions recently regarding Esri’s Utility Network, its capabilities, and how it can be utilized in a mobile solution, and I would like to address some factors in this topic.

  • Many of our Esri-based customers are still in the process of transitioning from geometric network to utility network and still need that tracing experience in the field today. The tracing extract functionality within EpochField Data Preparation Server has connectors for both Geometric Network and Utility Network. We can deploy offline network tracing to the field fed by the geometric network and switch very easily to the utility network. Once the transition happens in the enterprise GIS with no changes to the field, apart from the different schema necessitated by the utility network.
  • Utility Network is still not available offline, so any solution that utilizes this is severely limited in low or zero cellular coverage areas. Offline tracing through the EpochField Mobile network model continues with zero interruption.
  • Many of our customers utilize other GIS Platforms such as Smallworld and Hexagon as their system of record. EpochSync, which is now part of the EpochField solution, can handle the synchronization of network connectivity data straight into the EpochField Mobile network model. With the plugin architecture of EpochSync Pro, additional data sources can easily be customized to integrate other network connectivity models. This also adds additional capabilities to the EpochField Mobile solution, such as the ability to view Smallworld Internal Worlds, which has been somewhat of a mystery to other mobile solutions.
Network Tracing with EpochField Mobile

All in all, implementing a geospatial enabled mobile solution with tracing is often not just a simple question of “does it do network tracing?” There are many factors in how the solution meets both the business requirements and integrates with the existing enterprise architecture seamlessly and with a future roadmap. Utility network is absolutely part of ours but only when it is part of yours.

Schedule a demo to learn more about EpochField’s network tracing capabilities and how they can work for you.