Five ways utility services can benefit from mobile field service solutions
Utility technology solutions are needed 24/7/365
Utility services are the lifeblood of our society: sectors such as water, power generation and supply, wastewater and phone/broadband are on call 24/7 and without them, more or less everything ーfrom household activities to industrial production ー stops.
Utility providers tend to cover large geographical areas and rely heavily on field workers. Employees in this mobile workforce may spend long periods on the road and away from office facilities, work in dangerous or uncomfortable environments, and/or work alone. This is the front line of utility services and without such field service mobility, utility providers simply cannot serve their customers.
Meanwhile, utility markets and operating environments are becoming more and more competitive, and customers increasingly expect the convenience and immediate response they get from omnichannel retailers. Problems with supply chains and recruitment persist, profit margins are being squeezed, and it doesn’t take much to tip some providers over the edge (as the recent collapse of several UK energy providers demonstrates).
However, while all of this may feel threatening to utility services, increased digitalisation and field service technology actually bring many opportunities. A large field service workforce is potentially a huge advantage, because it means utilities are already equipped to be proactive and outgoing in their efforts, rather than office-bound. By deploying mobile utility technology solutions within their existing workforce they can add value, increase customer loyalty and develop new revenue streams. The only caveat for utility services is this – start now, don’t get left behind.
In this post, we’ll explore five easy ways for utility services to make quick wins with specialist mobile field service solutions.
- Use remote digital monitoring and cloud solutions
Many utilities already use cloud software solutions with connected internet of things (IoT) devices – for example, in remote meter reading and smart meters – but there is scope to do much more. For example:
- Sensors embedded within domestic machines or industrial equipment can now monitor those devices at all times, and deliver real-time data (including fault and lifecycle reporting) to the cloud. This lets utility providers trouble-shoot problems ahead of the technician’s visit and make sure that technician arrives fully equipped. Such insight also allows the optimal scheduling of maintenance and replacement cycles, which tends to make customers very happy. The resulting (shorter and better-planned) site visits allow field staff to be more productive and they are less likely to get called back due to having arrived without the relevant component, or having failed to identify the fault.
- In the unlikely event that a technician cannot solve the problem in these circumstances, as long as they are equipped with a mobile device and have access to the company’s cloud system or online records, they can easily view the relevant documents or manuals without having to carry them in their vehicle or go back to the office.
- Remote monitoring can also be used to measure consumption patterns (e.g. of fuel, machine parts) for both the business and its customers, which can be factored into service scheduling, purchasing and pricing decisions.
- Utility technology solutions can also collate and format data from field visits into customised reports, invoices, compliance records and more. This means that bills can be issued on the spot, along with any reports and supporting documents. All the field service operative needs is a connected mobile device and, in some cases, a mobile printer.
- Keep staff safer
Many utilities staff work alone and/or in potentially dangerous conditions. Mobile field service solutions can make staff safer, allowing them to work without anxiety about their own safety. This tends to increase staff morale and loyalty. For example, push-to-talk (PTT) technologies are now available on mobile and vehicle-mounted devices (i.e. there is no longer a need to invest in specific transmitters/receivers) and PTT can be used for quick communications, to call for back-up, communicate with other members of a team and to monitor staff whereabouts.
In a similar way, telematics can be used to ensure staff are where they should be and for appropriate lengths of time (and to locate them if help is needed).
Other devices and apps are, of course, available: hands-free cameras and voice recorders can deter crime and provide a robust audit trail; a wide selection of safety-enhancing apps can be added to standard mobile devices (including smartphones) – this includes location-tracking software and geographical data apps (e.g. What3Words).
- Asset tracking and protection
Many asset tracking solutions – including the telematics, barcodes, RFID and tracking apps described above – can help utilities to save money. This type of field service technology can minimise loss and theft, reduce insurance costs, optimise route planning and customer visits and monitor productivity rates.
- Greater productivity
Several of the field service mobility products already explored (or a combination of them) can be deployed to improve productivity. For example:
- Telematics can be used in conjunction with live travel information and PTT/vehicle-mounted devices to optimise travel routes and distribution of work.
- Staff who feel assured of their safety tend also to feel valued and more motivated.
- Cloud solutions combined with mobile field utility technology solutions and mobile devices can often automate mundane work such as data capture and reporting, which frees up staff for more directly profitable activities (in some cases it can also reduce the need for highly dangerous work e.g. at height or in confined spaces).
- Field service technology now lets field workers issue invoices and reports in seconds, on the spot, using only mobile digital devices.
- Remote monitoring allows more to be done before a site visit is needed and can be used to make that site visit shorter and more effective.
- Happier customers, better sales
With digitalisation and utility technology solutions, utility firms can give the seamless, non-disruptive and prompt service that their customers now expect. Even if a field staff member can’t immediately solve a problem, if they are connected they can quickly put the customer in touch with someone who can. Mobile devices used with cloud solutions also make upselling easier: it is now a breeze for a technician to download relevant marketing material or information for a prospective customer, and to set up a convenient sales call. All of these solutions make for happier, more loyal customers.
There is no doubt that the utilities market is tough, and the current supply chain is far from perfect, but a fully-connected mobile workforce is a huge asset. Don’t waste it!