Will Smartphones Help Utility Companies Combat Extreme Weather?
Author: Mike Karlskind
New England weather patterns are changing, and more extreme storms seem to be the new normal, putting utility companies under increased scrutiny. In recent years, there have been several high-intensity storms that knocked out power to large swaths of the community for days and weeks. Responding to public outcry over these power outages, new Massachusetts legislation is targeted at holding utility companies more accountable—requiring more coordinated rapid emergency response and greater public notification during power outages.
How can utility companies best meet these new requirements alongside the existing pressures of an aged infrastructure and demands to keep energy prices down? While there’s no single best answer, below are industry best practices that will help large utility organizations better plan for disaster and stay in compliance with changing legislation. Taking advantage of the latest smartphone and tablet technology in tandem with a mobile workforce management platform can streamline emergency response and keep management, and in turn the public, more accurately informed.
Adopt Mobile Technologies: In times of emergency, rapid response is critical. In fact, the new MA legislation requires utility companies to provide customers with estimates as to when electricity would be restored three times per day after an initial 24-hour damage assessment. This requires utility company executives to make media statements on short notice. Mobile technology is the best method to provide rapid and accurate communications to employees, executives, customers and other stakeholders. By deploying device agnostic mobile solutions and enterprise apps that connect field workers and executives to back office systems, everyone in the organization gains visibility. Field workers can more easily communicate with each other; outage dispatchers can more quickly assign jobs based on location and status; executives who are out in the field during emergencies can pull up up-to-the-minute dashboards to brief stakeholders; all this information can be culled together to update customers via texts, phone, or even a customer focused smartphone app.
Improved mobile workforce optimization and scheduling: Workforce management entails more than simply scheduling employees to work specific hours. A concrete process for emergency response should be backed by immediate and automatic decisions about which crews will respond while others continue their work. Workforce management, integrated with asset management, enables utility companies to forecast and plan for heightened demand, specifically around cyclic weather patterns. This also helps utility companies achieve greater productivity, even in times of heavy demand, by smartly scheduling employees and tasks based on physical location, knowledge-base, and other factors that help complete jobs faster.
Prioritize: Automated prioritization of tasks is critical for the utility industry in general (given the number of aging assets, organizations need to work ahead of breakdowns), but is a game-changer when it comes to disaster response. It’s not realistic to take an “all hands on deck” approach during emergencies; given some previously scheduled jobs may be necessary repairs to ensure there are no further outages. Given the complexities of assets, employees and tasks, an automated prioritization of tasks ensures that a re-shuffling of employees and jobs are done based on an organized system.