Utilities outlook for 2018: challenges, trends and the future

In this special guest blog, we asked Steve Smith, Vice President of strategic industries at ClickSoftware, for his views on the challenges, trends and outlook for companies in the utility sector. Here’s what he had to say:

What do you think the current challenges are facing the utility sector and how are utilities responding to these?
Utilities are facing disruptive challenges on many fronts; consolidation in the market, an aging workforce and shortage of skilled labor, rapid technology development which has dramatically changed customer and employee preferences and expectations, as well as dealing with regulatory compliance. And in North America, all this is against a backdrop of federal uncertainty regarding future energy policies.

So how can the utilities address these challenges while harnessing the opportunities brought about by the industry’s transformation over the past decade?
Many of these issues are demanding more efficiency within the business, as privately held utilities are focused on improving profitability. They’re seeking to transform their business models to adapt to shifting market trends, turning to field service and mobile workforce management solutions to help run their field service teams as effectively as possible. In this new era of the customer, where everything and everyone is connected, progressive utility companies are now employing Chief Customer Officers or Customer Experience Officers. These leaders have the mandate to ensure that the latest technology is being leveraged to balance delivering the right level of service to meet both customer expectations and regulatory standards while operating as efficiently as possible.

Do you believe utility companies are now more open to transitioning to the cloud?
Absolutely! Despite initial reservations in the utility sector, largely based on security issues and capitalization of expenditure, the tide is turning as more and more companies are looking to implement cloud-based solutions for mission-critical applications such as Field Service Management. Even if they’re not adopting cloud now, they’re moving towards it fast. In addition to reducing internal costs, companies are looking to leverage the benefits provided with cloud solutions (e.g. latest technology, access to processing power, seamless upgrades) and they’ve found means of capitalizing the expense. And it’s not just for the big players, for smaller municipality utilities with aging IT infrastructures, cloud-based solutions can be an effective way of saving on costs, improving customer service and satisfaction as well as forgoing long upgrade cycles.

What does the future look like for field service technologies and how do utilities stand to benefit?
Like all service organizations, utilities are constantly searching for ways to boost productivity and profitability and look to technology for faster and more efficient ways of doing business. Some of the ways that emerging technologies are already being used to improve field service efficiency include:

  • Augmented Reality – increased adoption of technologies such as augmented reality smart glasses will help to resolve some of the issues relating to the shortage of skilled workforce. Real-time visual collaboration or recording and documenting processes and information during a repair session for example, could be an effective and efficient means of preserving and sharing the practical knowledge of experienced employees with new team members.

 

  • IoT and big data for predictive maintenanceIoT sensors at an asset level can now allow for large volumes of data to be collected and stored, providing companies with clear visibility into the health, performance and failures of their assets. For example, by analyzing data on past maintenance activities and patterns in temperature changes, utility companies have the insight needed to schedule preemptive maintenance when temperatures rise to levels that have led to failures in the past, helping them to prepare for the unexpected and minimize disruptions to productivity.

 

  • Drones – there’s a lot of press right now about the proliferation of drones in both commercial applications and disaster situations. There’s certainly a growing recognition of the value they can bring to the utilities sector to support the monitoring of infrastructure, assessing asset condition and performance as well as damage after a storm for example. Drones offer a far more cost-effective, safer and faster means to collect accurate data than traditional methods such as helicopters.

 

Thank you for your time Steve!

Steve Smith, Vice President of strategic industries at ClickSoftware, has more than 20 years of experience defining and delivering mobile workforce management solutions for a range of vertical markets including telecommunications, utilities, insurance, home services, medical equipment, capital equipment, and oil and gas operations.

Contact us today to discover how Diabsolut FSM partners with ClickSoftware to provide its utility customers with services and solutions that increase field service productivity and efficiency, improve customer satisfaction all the while mitigating the risks associated with running mission-critical applications.

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