Joined-Up Utilities: How Collaboration Services Can Deliver Safety and Efficiency Benefits

G. Barton
G. Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Collaboration technology can ensure that resources are deployed in the most effective way and help reduce maintenance issues and accidents.
  • Collaboration technology should be interwoven with other technologies such as corporate applications and IoT and contact center platforms.

Increasingly extreme environmental conditions ranging from wildfires and droughts in North America and Australia to heightened instances of flooding in Europe and China have all been in the news in recent times and are symptomatic of ever more extreme climatic conditions.  Utilities need to keep power and water available to the population in these circumstances while also meeting demands to generate power through less carbon-intensive means.

Collaboration technology, offered by vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, Ring Central, Zoom, and Google, cannot solve all these problems, but it can be used to make utilities’ jobs easier and safer. 

Efficiency and Safety

In the COVID-19 world, the power of collaboration platforms can help utilities adjust (as other industries have) to normally desk-based workers now working from home via team chat, shared files/applications, and audio/video conferencing.

For utilities, there are additional benefits in supporting highly mobile workforces who may rarely work from a corporate office/site even in normal times.  A combination of resource management apps and collaboration tools can ensure that engineers are deployed more efficiently and flexibly.  Collaboration tools enabled for mobile devices will allow engineers to respond to more critical situations as required and allow managers to track more closely where their employees are to reduce traveling time and lower response times.

Furthermore, if on-site engineers are provided with ruggedized smartphones and/or tablets, they will be more efficiently able to log progress and to document and report any further potential maintenance and safety issues.  The use of QR codes on components or structures such as pylons and hydrants can also allow the location of potential issues to be more accurately and quickly recorded.  QR codes can also be used for more closely monitoring stock levels and equipment locations.

Similarly, if engineers’ tablets are connected to Internet of Things (IoT) platforms that are themselves connected to sensors on machinery and equipment, then engineers can be more quickly informed of emerging maintenance or safety issues and where they are located.

Emergency Response

More extreme weather has meant more weather-related emergencies.  Utilities are not necessarily front-of-mind ahead of fire and rescue services.  However, the addition of utilities to the USA’s FirstNet emergency services wireless broadband network is recognition of their importance.

Collaboration platforms can be used to create response teams with clear lines of authority so that the right people can be informed and the right level of response instigated depending on the severity and nature of the situation.  A coordinator/coordinators will be able to monitor the situation and pass on instructions and information as required.  If these platforms are connected to contact center platforms, then information reported from members of the public via phone lines or social media channels can be directly filtered to the response teams.   

Customer Experience

Improved interconnection between utilities workers, managers, and contact centers can also improve the customer experience and reduce costs.  Fault reporting can be, to a greater extent, automated.  Reporting and logging of repair statuses on platforms that can be accessed by contact center staff will also improve customer satisfaction, particularly when combined with automated updates.

Tech Ecosystems

Utilities should be aware that delivering next-generation platforms that combine technologies will require an ecosystem of tech companies including fixed and mobile network operators, systems integrators, and technology/platform vendors.  Utilities should look for a partner who can help in the co-creation of solutions and one who can also manage the wider network of partners required to deliver and maintain services.

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