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As organisations in the utilities sector mobilise their pandemic response plans to ensure vital services continue without interruption, we look at some of the challenges presented by the current situation and how technology can provide fast and efficient business solutions.

Workforce Management

Organisations are noticing the knock-on effect of their workers self-isolating, parents having to look after children due to school closures, and staff working from home to follow government guidelines. With questions around how engineers can visit customers’ homes safely whilst adhering to social distancing guidance, suppliers are, naturally, prioritising the most essential jobs.

To achieve this, reporting dashboards can be created with software solutions such as Microsoft’s Power BI to give insight into key business areas operating with a diminished workforce.  This allows users to assess the impact of the current situation, analyse its risk and improve workforce management.  Utilities companies already with an Office 365 (O365) E5 license have access to this data visualisation tool along with many data visualisation templates for ease of use.  Alternatively, Power BI can be purchased as an additional plug-in to your O365 license.

The software enables organisations to instantly recognise trends from a variety of data sources by displaying it in meaningful formats.  This can include data visualisation in the form of heat maps, area graphs and a range of flexible charts and graphics.  Users can drill down into areas such as: business functions, geography or specific services.  This information can help organisations determine which departments require more manpower, amended working patterns or process automation to alleviate pressure.

Regulatory disruption

As water companies prepare for the start of a new AMP period in April and networks are negotiating on RIIO-2 price controls, questions are being raised about whether they will be held to performance improvements and if the timelines for consultations and final determinations will remain in place as planned.

Whilst changes to timelines and engagement methods are likely to be imminent, companies should be looking to automate manual processes as much as possible with technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to optimise their performance.  RPA provides a realistic and cost-effective solution to automate processes such as order or contract management, defect detection or the management of employee data.  Implementing RPA technology can increase operational quality and efficiency, reduce the resources required and provide significant cost savings.

Those with an Office 365 license can also look to maximise their investment by utilising Microsoft’s Power Platform.  Laptop, tablet and mobile apps can quickly be created in Power Apps to support internal resource planning for required work such as repairs, fitting of outside smart meters or taking readings.  Field engineers can then enter the required data directly from the app on their mobile device.

Further background procedures may be automated to schedule visits or collate, store and process the data gathered using Power Automate.  Using Power BI this data integrates with key business systems and can be used to analyse and monitor the total number of field agents carrying out repairs, incidents reported and actioned as well as response times.  These improved ways of working contribute to a more streamlined performance.

To explore all options available to your organisation, Jumar Technology’s experts are providing free consultations to review how you can further leverage your existing technology to meet these growing demands and deliver quick wins.

Coronavirus update from Jumar – click here.