Utilities don’t have it easy. They’re responsible for managing critical infrastructure in good weather and bad to deliver essential services to customers while simultaneously managing an increasingly complex environmental and regulatory landscape. Beyond business as usual, other challenges have arisen, with serious potential impact on how utilities run their field service organizations. See how today’s utilities are dealing with three of these major challenges.
- Variability in technology maturity
Utilities have a reputation for being laggards in technology adoption, and historically have been slow to make major changes, such as using cloud-based solutions. This is no longer the case. In fact, there has never been greater variability in technology maturity among utilities. In an industry accustomed to keeping up with the Joneses, field service operations now run the full gamut: from manual to fully automated. This makes it harder to look at a neighboring region and do what they do—they could be several steps ahead of you, or worse, several steps behind.
Of course, the good news is that this will lead to the emergence of new best practices, and although some utilities will be forced to play catch up, those leading the charge are more than willing to set a good example.
Cloud solution adoption is becoming the norm, and is now the mandate for many. Getting on board with the cloud means the latest technology and best performance is always available, with no need to worry about upgrades and delays.
- Maintaining adequate staffing
Utilities are facing a workforce crisis. The compound problem of an aging workforce and difficulty in recruiting is resulting in workforce shortages. One Australian utility has been forced to recruit internationally and pay for the relocation expenses of new workers. According to research from the Service Council, the shortage is expected to get worse.
As seasoned workers retire, they take their skills and experience with them, and aren’t being replaced quickly enough. Attracting a new generation of employees brings its own challenges, and utilities must dedicate more resources to employee recruitment, retention, and engagement.
Fortunately, access to the latest technologies is a big draw for younger workers, who expect mobility and full access to all necessary job information on their devices. They also want more flexibility and precision in scheduling—just like customers—and will be happiest working for organizations that provide optimized scheduling and employ the most sophisticated solutions for business needs.
Augmented reality (AR) and wearables can also play a role in attracting new workers, as well as imparting knowledge from more seasoned employees. Integrating AR enables remote assistance on jobs where managers and more senior technicians can coach junior techs through tasks that require more skills and experience. This increases the utility of less experienced employees and lowers the cost of sending someone into the field.
- Change management
As utilities strive to adapt to new technologies, regulations, customer expectations, and market pressures, the additional challenge of change management arises. However rapidly or gradually a utility is willing to change, it’s likely to encounter obstacles from within its service organization.
Absent regulatory or resource roadblocks, utilities must contend with the resistance older workers may show towards new technologies, policies, and processes. Proactive communication is the key to solving this problem. This is not merely announcing your intentions, but being able to articulate the benefits of the change that are specific to each stakeholder population. In the case of using AR, for example, seasoned employees might not be happy about spending less time in the field, but they could enjoy less travel time and the satisfaction of teaching a new generation of technicians.
Before embarking on a major transformation, take time to understand the pains and challenges faced by your field workers, and thus learn how to frame changes in ways that will lead to enthusiastic buy-in.
As customer experience grows in importance, many utilities have instituted dedicated roles such as customer success officer or customer experience officer to take ownership of customer-centric initiatives. Similarly, when other changes are introduced, it could be valuable to designate a chief transformation officer—someone who takes ultimate ownership of the process and can focus primarily on making it a success.
Utilities face myriad challenges and pressures, especially in managing a field service workforce. From an increasingly complex technological landscape, to workforce shortages, to changing expectations from every direction, utilities are balancing many new priorities while maintaining infrastructure and providing reliable service to customers.
A willingness to evolve and adapt to the changes will distinguish those who are successful from those who will see these issues exacerbated. Adopting the latest cloud-based solutions for managing service teams will be essential to meeting the expectations of customers and new employees, and good communication will ease the pain of organizational changes.