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Utilities Need to Modernize Field Service Management

As utilities embark on digital transformation, they must focus on improving field service to level up both employee and customer experience.

Woman in hardhat checking utility panel: utilities field service management
Utilities must evolve into digitally enabled, customer- and user-centric organizations.[Shutter B/Adobe Stock]

The idea of “digital transformation” is thrown around a lot, across all industries. Often, the vendors who make it possible also make it sound easy. But, where does a utility organization with complex systems start? Utilities know data stores are valuable, and systems and processes may need to be updated, but the thought of undertaking such a momentous change seems overwhelming and, yes, expensive. Still, to keep pace with customer and internal users’ expectations, change is inevitable. 

At the heart of their digital transformation, utilities must first focus on evolving into digitally enabled, customer- and user-centric organizations. Progressive utilities want to maintain, enhance, and streamline operations while improving the user experience. According to a recent survey of 75 utility executives, by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, enhancing the customer experience will be utilities’ top business priority in the year ahead.

Rethink digital transformation 

While digital transformation often can feel overwhelming, utilities find the shift manageable by taking things one step at a time, addressing evolving customer needs, employee expectations, and asset management requirements.

Organizations equipped with … the tools to leverage newly available details can address and manage the long-, mid-, and short-cycle work more effectively and efficiently. 

Traditionally, customer service was the purview of the customer contact center. Contact center agents were the voice of the company, fielding customer calls, connecting the request to dispatch, turning on service, and managing billing concerns. Instead, looking forward, every employee — from contact center to field operations — will drive the utility’s brand in the eyes of its customers and regulators, and therefore must be armed with the data and capabilities to quickly resolve issues. 

This mindset can have a ripple effect on utility-wide operations. When field personnel are digitally enabled and empowered, the impact is felt in the front and back offices, throughout operations, and, of course, by the customer. Organizations equipped with a seamless process and the tools to leverage newly available details can address and manage the long-, mid-, and short-cycle work more effectively and efficiently. 

Digitizing field service operations can be accelerated by adopting an operational layer that eases connectivity while ensuring operational agility and the inherent variability dictated by the wide range of field service needs within a utility. An accessible platform that integrates the existing landscape (including ERP, EAM, CIS, and OMS/ADMS) and supports a seamless interaction across the business is what’s needed. It should also hold all data collected, such as services used, past maintenance issues, and relevant asset details (including billing history), so the entire organization can connect and collaborate.

By digitizing utilities field service management, organizations will see numerous benefits:

More effective field service calls

A digital platform provides awareness of the people and resources available in the field and the customer or asset needs to be addressed. Information such as a technicians’ unique skills, tools or parts needed, and asset information ensures the right technician, crew, or contractor is dispatched to quickly resolve the issue. Agents, dispatchers, and coordinators can now deliver relevant information to field personnel, whether they are addressing a potential gas leak, planning regulator-mandated inspections, or coordinating a massive capital project. With dynamic scheduling and access to real-time information on mobile, field, and grid management, workers can adapt in real time, coordinating smoothly as a situation develops.

Based on the types of outages … the utility can have field personnel with the right expertise and equipment waiting nearby to assist as soon as conditions are safe.

For example, if severe weather is predicted in a certain area, field teams can use analytics to compare the weather forecast with the risk of outages to determine the best location to stage personnel and equipment. Based on the types of outages and required repairs expected in each location, the utility can have field personnel with the right expertise and equipment waiting nearby to assist as soon as conditions are safe. Agents can quickly communicate relevant information, such as downed power lines and service restoration updates, from the field to customers while at the same time reporting information to aid in restoration from the customer to the technicians. 

Better insights from shared data

Field service operations are often derailed due to a lack of data. Despite the mountains of customer and asset data collected, many utilities are unable to manage and analyze the information in a timely manner, making it useless. While data is one of a utility’s most valuable assets, employees often don’t have the means to access, parse, and leverage it. 

Analytics software can process asset repair data and recommend the necessary parts for replacing equipment when it makes more sense than repairing it. 

By having all data accessible, field teams would be able to access the repair history of an asset while at a job site. Using this info, they may see a pattern of repairs to a unit, indicating the successful approaches in the past. Likewise, they can access additional efforts for that asset or at that job site, allowing them to complete all the work needed, improving operational efficiency.

Field personnel can more effectively manage equipment and assets with artificial intelligence (AI) and visibility into real-time analytics to improve decision-making and predict potential issues. For example, analytics software can process asset repair data and recommend the necessary parts for replacing equipment when it makes more sense than repairing it. Likewise, applying AI to better assign planned job durations can deliver a process of continual improvement that increases the precision of the plan, reducing errors and rework as execution diverges due to past imprecise assumptions of how long work efforts should take.

Additionally, a digital platform also can connect a utility’s employees to third-party partners, such as regulators, contractors, and municipalities so they can streamline the data-sharing process and ensure the best outcome. By deploying a system that connects legacy applications and tools with data from the entire organization, utility companies can transform their operations over time. With a project-based approach, digital transformation happens at a pace that does not overwhelm the organization or its employees. 

Proactive utilities field service management, streamlined operations 

The right digital tools help managers better plan workflow by using predictive analytics to compare service demand with available resources. By equipping managers with asset and customer data such as repair history and enrolled services, they alert field personnel beforehand of the site, asset, and customer history. The field personnel brings the right equipment in anticipation of a similar issue, which would mean one truck roll instead of multiple — resulting in improved asset uptime and a satisfied customer. Additionally, a note can be added to the asset and customer’s history, which a service agent can refer back to during their next interaction. This reduces truck rolls and maximizes available assets each and every time service is requested.

With a seamless flow of details available across operations … field service becomes a proactive, value-added service

With a seamless flow of details available across operations, inherently collaborating with internal and external stakeholders, field service becomes a proactive, value-added service that creates customer and employee satisfaction while streamlining operations. This positively impacts the delivery of service and the utility’s brand. 

A utilities organization roadmap for the next 100 years

Transforming an entire utility doesn’t happen overnight or with one initiative. Digital transformation starts with a single project, and then its success provides the momentum to tackle various pain points. Providing an agile and contextual operational layer that seamlessly collaborates across the existing utility landscape, as well as internal and external parties, delivers the user experience, innovation, and operational agility demanded by the fieldwork at utilities. It allows the complexity of digital transformation to be addressed where it delivers on a utility’s mandate of keeping the services flowing. With a digital platform, you can begin new business processes that set off a transition to more forward-thinking energy and program offerings. 

Stephen Smith has over 20 years of experience defining and delivering Mobile Field Service Management solutions covering vertical markets that include: Telecommunications, Utilities, Insurance, Home Services, Medical Equipment, Capital Equipment, and Oil & Gas operations. He helps service organizations optimize the use of their field resources, so that they improve operational awareness, streamline processes, and establish controls while ensuring flexibility and variability are enabled within their operations. Prior to his current role as senior director of Strategic Industries at Salesforce, Stephen managed ClickSoftware’s Oil & Gas practice, ran the global solution consulting team as well as assisted partners and customers with understanding and deploying MFSM best practices.

More by Stephen

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