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Efficiently Automate ICS and Incident Management

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As we ease into summer, NOA is predicting another above-average Atlantic hurricane season. Although the 2021 storm season has officially just begun, utilities have been prepping for weeks. 

And as the storms roll in, so will the media coverage. News reporters love covering extreme weather events and emergency situations. They are so eager to be right in the middle of one hundred and fifty plus mile per hour winds, while tethered to a tree by only their wits and the anxious viewers at home, that they might not have much of a plan if something were to go wrong. The rest of us, not so much. We know the damage these events can inflict and the lives that are at stake. Planning is not something we take for granted and we do it while the sun is still shining, and past storm data and real-world experience is readily available.  

That’s what the Incident Command System is all about. It allows a utility or critical infrastructure industry to establish effective incident management techniques to improve emergency operations, response, recovery, and restoration times. ICS can help organizations develop and maintain four key things:  

  • Safety for customers and crews 
  • A focus on fast, clear decision-making 
  • A loss of confusion in chaotic circumstances
  • An increase in situational awareness  

Automating ICS with a solution like ARCOS Incident Manager can deliver these benefits faster. In a few clicks, Incident Manager not only stands up an organization’s ICS structure, but also increases the level of preparedness by providing a historical record of previous emergencies. Teams can see and understand emerging trends from the data and learn from best practices. Problems in the span of control can be identified quicker, assessed, and Incident Manager can scale up instantly to face an increasing threat or scale down as the event’s energy dissipates. Incident Manager is an approach that leads to a coordinated, cost-effective ICS roll-out.  

ICS is gaining prominence in the private sector due to the increase in weather severity, and the greater number of incidents the storms are causing. Be prepared for anything and learn how to streamline your incident management in less than five minutes by gaining exclusive access to ARCOS’s Incident Manager video library. It reveals how to automate and fill gaps in emergency management processes and procedures. Click here to view the videos on demand 

Shift Management in This Day & Age

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When you consider all the technology swirling around you today, the possibilities are endless. With almost any movie you have ever seen or any song you’ve ever heard sitting in the palm of your hand via a mobile device, why not turn that power towards your company’s productivity, and ultimately your bottom line? 

Surprisingly enough, with all the technology options out there, companies are still running their staffing, scheduling, shift-filling and callout all from paper spreadsheets. Talk about an Excel nightmare! Not only is this a slow, antiquated process, it actually hurts the performance of your company. When there are errors on spreadsheets, crews being called in to the wrong place or at the wrong time, and supervisors having to make manual phone calls – it impacts your productivity, wastes time, and can affect your bottom line in the end. 

Here’s a quick example; a worker at a manufacturing plant suddenly becomes ill, but they have an 8-hour shift scheduled for that day. That worker contacts their direct supervisor saying they cannot make the shift. Now what? Does the supervisor have to make dozens (if not considerably more) of calls trying to find a replacement? Does the supervisor have to go down a list of union members, so the calls are made in the correct order to avoid a grievance? This doesn’t have to be how the situation unfolds. With ARCOS, we harness the power of automation so that supervisor doesn’t have to take on the time consuming task of finding and calling the correct employee to fill that slot. 

Are you looking for better flexibility in real-time? We developed ARCOS RosterApps to help modernize large workforces by simplifying some of the most demanding tasks. With ARCOS RosterApps, complicated events like shift bidding are simplified through our system. A supervisor sets up a schedule and the process becomes automated with workers bidding on shifts based on their seniority, specific preferences and union or collective bargaining agreements. The supervisor is then notified if there are any conflicts, and they can reach out directly to the employee to address the issue. This whole process takes seconds and helps eliminate the chance of mistakes or operator error. 

Does this sound like something you’d like to experience at your workplace? Check out our shift management video series, and contact us to find out more about the ARCOS Resource Management platform and incident management technology. 

Contractor and Utility Service Provider Management Made Simple

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Contractor management can be challenging.  

After an incident has happened and crews are being dispatched, four things are often asked about contractors and utility service providers: 

  • Where are they?  
  • How many are they bringing? 
  • What are they doing now? 
  • When did they do that? 

Miscommunication, bottlenecks, and bad roster exchanges have plagued the utility and contractor relationship since a tree downed the very first powerline. It is a gap that keeps widening as weather events keep becoming more and more severe.  

The Resource and Contractor Management Solution 

ARCOS closes that gap with Resource Assist. Resource Assist is a centralized solution that automates the assignment of contracted resources. Utilities no longer must endure the long, time-wasting process of manually identifying and reaching out to multiple contractors and utility service providers, checking their available resources, integrating their committed external assets, and then releasing them and waiting months for the contractor’s expenses and reports to come back.  

Restoration work can be accomplished with no hiccups, misunderstandings, or garbled transfer of information thanks to Resource Assist’s advanced data sets and automation. How does Resource Assist provide instant clarity on what resources are available?  

Efficiently Exchange Data to get Work Done 

Utilities use Resource Assist to make a detailed request for assistance which is sent to contractors they choose and that have signed up to be a Resource Assist utility service provider. Contractors receive a notice that a request has been made and use the platform to quickly review, respond, and adapt resources to meet the utility needs. The data the contractors share is previously vetted by the app and ready to go, including rosters that are pre-formatted in the way a utility desires. The utility can then use a solution like Crew Manager or Mobile Workbench to get the crews to where they need to be. Resource Assist also enables utilities to finally have accurate reporting for full situational awareness and post-event summaries as it keeps track of everything in one historical record of truth.  

Contractors can also expand their use of the ARCOS suite by running their operations with Mobile Workbench, Callout, or Crew Manager. The automated benefits offered to utilities by these solutions are an advantage to the workflow and resource management of utility service providers – plus the ease of data transfer when everyone is using the same system can speed up job acceptance, encourage more work opportunities and lead to a contractor being a utility’s top choice under any circumstance.  

Check out the free version of Resource Assist, Resource Assist Lite and get a quick start on restoration efforts so you can respond, restore and report faster. Contact ARCOS to learn more.  

Accurate Data Collection and Efficiency for Customers and Beyond

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Utilities are investing millions to improve the acquisition of customer data in their attempts to streamline and improve billing, while finding ways to standardize energy consumption and generation costs.  Improving energy efficiency in our homes, businesses, schools, governments, and industries via the smart grid, smart meters and other tech is of great prominence as utilities reach mandates on a reduction of carbon emissions by 2050sustainability goalsand look for ways that deliver more profitability. However, without an internal review process of daily and emergency procedures, you are missing a vital subset of analytics that can leave innovative forecasting blind to open paths that serve clients needs and cut costs 

 If you are monitoring data relevant to your customers to help with your efficiency, are you also investing in technology to help with capturing and organizing work and resource information, including contractors used and historical data capture? 

 Loose paperwork, hastily filled-out work tickets, spreadsheets, halferased white boards, and post-it notes do not give any organization a complete picture or record of who was where, when or job completions. Details are lost during a speedy restoration process leaving reporting to become potentially unclear to inhouse stakeholders and outside regulators. Data is lost, such as how many crew members and resources it took to finish a job, the time it took them to complete it, how many contractors were assigned to a field opportunity, and the real time they clocked in and out. There are also issues with inventory selection and check out, what equipment was used where and when, and clarity on what an initial problem was and how it was solved.  

 Each of these data points are extremely important in performing predictive analysis and cost estimations. It allows utilities to understand how they can improve restoration and set-up times and find savings on reducing callouts, contractor hires and the efficient use of material in the warehouse, stockyard or what is already on a truck. 

 Software, like the ARCOS Resource Management platform, can help with accurate real-time data: 

  • ARCOS Mobile Workbench provides a way to tie in any system a utility may be using and issuing one source of truth for all work ordered and inventory items used to close out issued tickets 
  • Crew Manager provides the same historical data capture, but on a dispatched crew level.  
  • Callout can let you know when employees were called and when they accepted a crew assignment. 
  • Resource Assist can follow contractors and utility service providers that were called in for a specific event or job, login work completed and hours worked.  

 Data collection across the whole business spectrum should be on the minds of all utility employees from the boardroom on down. Customer data is essential, but matching it with backend work and resource management data provides the option to find trends, failings, successes, and chances to improve processes while completing the operational picture.  

 A clear view of how to achieve faster restoration times and future savings is possible and can be realized. We’d love to tell you how. 

The Smart Grid, Complementary Work and Resource Management

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Since its conception in the 1870’s, the current mode of transmission and distribution of electricity hasn’t seen many updates. While a considerable amount of time and effort have been put into generation, the output of power distribution has presented challenges for the electric industry. 

But as time marches on, thankfully so does technology. Today’s utilities are no longer bound by hydro and fossil fuels as a new age of renewable energy is entering the marketplace. Solar and wind have grown up and become a necessary add to a power producer’s resources. The strides made to create more effective generation are finally beginning to spread back to wires and poles. Smart Grids are the future of electric transmission and distribution efficiency – but what are they and how do we gear up for the demands of tomorrow?  

The Brains Behind the Grid 

Boiled down, a Smart Grid is a modernization of the power generation and distribution infrastructure. It aims to automate and manage electricity needs for the next century and beyond by supporting and integrating renewables, empowering customers with real-time information about their energy consumption, and helping utility companies reduce outages and restore power fasterLet’s break these down and look at each component.  

  • Adoption of Renewables 

A Smart Grid promotes universal access to low-carbon power generation sources. Whether it’s wind, solar, more hydro or electric vehicles, a Smart Grid takes these sustainable resources and broadens their current use in “supply and demand” grid principals by supporting a decentralized production of power. They provide demand flexibility, new business models with high ROI, and improved system control for consumer engagement. Nature doesn’t ask much in the way of compensation and with the current advancements made in wind and solar, a utility’s Smart Grid dollars can stretch further and further, benefiting costumers by keeping rates low.  

  • Assisting in the Reduction/Fast Repair of Outages 

Outage reduction and restoration comes in two flavors – Smart Generation, and Smart Distribution. Based on feedback data sampled from multiple points in the gridSmart Generation “learns” how power generation resources behave and then optimizes itself to automatically maintain voltage and power factors. Smart Substations are capable of monitoring and controlling the electricity and aid in this process. Smart Distribution includes automated monitoring as well. It’s a self-optimizing and self-balancing system that includes long distance transmission by super conducting cables. When the two flavors combine, the mix can efficiently control the ebb and flow of electricity and instantly know when a community, neighborhood, business or customer home may need less or more power – and when the power is out or compromised in some way. This can trigger an automated callout and repair crew dispatch inside a resource management solution like ARCOS Mobile WorkbenchCrew Manager or Callout, leading to nominal restoration times.   

  • Empowering the Customer 

Smart power meters allow a customer to know how much power they are using and provides direct two-way communication to the consumer’s power provider. Besides increased data collection to automate and keep billing more accuratesmart meters are often the first detectors of an outage and can start the repair crew dispatch process. Intelligent appliances also come in to play, as they can decide themselves when to consume power based on self-obtained smart grid datauser set preferences or bothOnce fully implemented, the Smart Grid could save the average family household $600 a year and show how they could reduce their own energy consumption by 5-10%.  

 As the demands of our time align with current and upcoming Smart Grid technology, it really is a whole new worldWhile taking these next stepsautomating your everyday operations across the board, including operations, can make a huge difference 

 ARCOS Resource Management solutions can help utilities manage these new projects and initiatives, while saving time and money. To discover how much of the future really is now, contact ARCOS today.  

The Art of Coordinating IT Decision Making to Business Strategy 

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Let’s face it  IT (Information Technology) is a massive part of every business. Today’s smart industries demand flexibility, speed, analysis, and data from a multitude of sources and systemsIT provides those key components (hardware, software, consultation, app reviews, and everything in between) and without them, you might as well not even turn on a light switch to further business objectives and goals.  

But many IT teams are overwhelmed and understaffed leading to inefficient project development and work management issues. Project delays, or starts and stops, are becoming increasingly frequent thanks to a lack of personnel and time. It is a costly scenario and not one with a clear-cut solution as to how to manage talent and keep engineers engaged, while not allowing a dip in customer satisfaction or a loss of a company’s opportunity to improve operations.  

However, there are ways to strengthen and build a better IT Decision Making wheel that is in line with an organization’s business strategy.

 1. Build a Charter of Operations 

A Charter of Operations made of IT and business leaders can first assess the scope and needs of a project. Typically submitted with a technology request from business operations, the Charter reviews things like budget, time commitments, employee skills needed, and business goals and starts the wheel turning. From running new cable to reviewing software or APIs, they are the hub of decision-making efficiency. They approve and define a project’s processes and put them in motion, tapping the leads necessary to keep things moving in a positive direction.  

2. Building the Team with Leads 

Leads take the project after assessment and add the spokes – the crews and team members – to compliment what the hub has established. They are careful not to remove team members from one project for the sake of another. “Spin Up” is a major consideration at this stage. You don’t want to pull someone who has been working on a lengthy project onto one that appears to need more attention. If the removed crew must start from scratch and learn everything anew while another team is being brought up to speed on the previous project, that has just put two projects in jeopardy. Leads also match skills with the jobs defined and lock a timeframe for completionThey also may hire outside to complete a technology work order if a project calls for itSolutions like ARCOS Crew Manager and Mobile Workbench can help organize and speed up this process.  

 3. Review and Reassess 

The outside rim of the IT Decision Making process holds everything together. It is a final look at how the integrity of the planning, work management, and the team’s efforts paid off. Did that app review come in on time? Are the legacy systems talking with the new program installations? Did the control center’s equipment investment come in under budget and on time? Did crew members stay on project? Did the technology advance business goals and strategy? All of these are review factors to consider. If one is out place, the wheel will be bent and not rolling correctly. Fix the issue so the next time the rim maintains its correct shape for a smooth, supervised, controlled jaunt over the cobblestones of mismanaged jobs and goals 

Without a well-formed IT Decision Making plan matched to business strategy, organizations may find that they really do have a very bumpy journey ahead. Based on the right criteria, these three suggestions can build on success and help make decisions that benefit all departments while moving an organization’s business model down the road to a beautifulsparkly gold sunset filled with achievement and a measurable ROI. 

To find out more about how ARCOS solutions can complement the trek, contact us today, or check out our Managed Services offerings    

The Agile Work Management Solution for COVID-19 Protocols and Everyday Resource Management 

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What if you could have a digital snapshot of which crews and equipment were available for day-to-day operations AND events minuteshours or even weeks ahead? Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), has just that with the addition of ARCOS Crew Manager to their ARCOS Callout and Scheduling Suite 

Why do cooperatives need such a solution? Ronnie Wise, Distribution Operations manager for SMECO, said, “We gave our DSOs (Distribution System Operators) these tools, so they can put more time into researching what crews need, or formulating a game plan for restorationIn the midst of chaos, it’s made life less chaotic.” Crew Manager has even delivered a way for SMECO to manage COVID-19 crew “pods” to help mitigate a potential outbreak among employees. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.  

Day-To-Day Work Management and Advanced Resource Allocation for Events 

Alongside their work and outage management systemSMECO’s DSOs use Crew Manager to keep tabs on their crews everyday field work and customer appointments. SMECO operations supervisors (crew foremen), begin their shift and enter the status of crew members into Crew Manager. The software then analyses, and processes hours worked, breaktime and availability on a personalized dashboard for the DSOs. 

To manage resources for a forecasted storm or unfolding eventcolor-coded icons inside Crew Manager give SMECO’s managers access to a visual display of the status, skill sets and location of crews and equipment. Managers can drop and drag icons across the utility’s territory to create different restoration scenarios. If gap develops because of crews working too many hours or not enough resources available to cover a set of circuits, SMECO can reorder its plans quickly and create an alternative strategy including knowing the number of contractors they may need to call. 

DSOs also rely on the crew management software to set up resource attributes. These can allow Crew Manager to track a truck’s serial number so a DSO can link a color-coded badge reading “digger-derrick” or “single-bucket truck” to their response teamsBefore Crew Manager, SMECO relied on a revolving number scheme to track truck types and other equipment. Crew Manager simplified the process.  

Keeping Crews Safe with Easy Dissemination of COVID-19 Protocols 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way all of us respond, restore and report, including SMECO. To keep its crews safe and isolated from a potential coronavirus outbreak, SMECO has relied on Crew Manager to define its crews into blue and gold teams. This follows a protocol established to create pods of employees who work with the same group of employees. Its aim is to eliminate possible COVID-19 exposure and provide a quick clampdown of resources as situation warrants. It gives the DSOs complete visibility to see if a field assignment might cause crews from different teams to inadvertently converge at a work site The potential for crossover and contamination is containedprevented and work can continue to be performed without worry of a company-wide outbreak. 

Learn more about how ARCOS Crew Manager can manage, plan, and establish efficient resource and work allocation while keeping COVID-19 from impacting your work force, or contact us to talk more about your resource management challenges. 

Automation vs. Manual Callouts – Time and Cost Savings for Every Utility 

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The Problem
When it came to after-hours emergencies and unplanned events, control center operators were making call after call manually. The process didn’t just cause chaffed fingertips, it was also siphoning valuable operations time. Managers were not getting any closer to manning after-hours crews after repeated callout attempts or able to meet essential duties  and this went on for yearsMinnesota-based co-op Great River Energy had to do something. They decided to automate the process with the ARCOS Callout and Scheduling Suite 

The Benefits of Automation 

What exactly does this mean? To put it simply: the automated solution makes the callout calls for a utility. It takes care of knowing labor agreements, seniority, the hours an employee has worked, skills possessed, PTO and how close a crew member happens to be to a job site. It takes a complex job that sometimes takes double-digit hours to finish and turns it into one that can be completed in minutes

Hanging up the Phone and Embracing Technology 

The turning point was a recent winter stormGreat River Energy didn’t have the time to take operators off-line to make callouts when front-end analysis was needed to restore substations, identify transmission infrastructure damage, and formulate the start of peak generation. Restorative efforts were bogged down thanks to manual processes, leaving members and Great River Energy frustrated 

Mark Peterson, system operations manager for Great River Energy said it best, “Our operators have tools to pinpoint issues and analyze conditions, but it takes concentration and dedicated time to make the most of these toolsEvery minute spent on a manual callout is a distraction that reduces situational awareness in the control center. Automating callouts will save time for our control center staff, so they can focus on their core responsibility, operations.” 

Now, 28 member-owned cooperatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin will be able to automatically identify Great River Energy’s 200 available field employees after business hours and direct them to restoration work. It’s a feat whose success will be measured by the amount of people reached through the ARCOS callout system, and how much time automation shaves off the callout per event.  

Want to learn more about the ARCOS Callout and Scheduling Suite? We have a case study that can show you how one utility saved $6.6 million due to the reduction in time administering schedules, checking statuses, making callouts and addressing grievances.  

Improving the Customer Experience through Data Collection and Increased Efficiency

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We know how your utility customer and members think. These days, we’re ready to binge the latest Netflix original while ordering food straight to our front door – all without ever leaving the couch. In a virtual world where we want things instantly (and to stay up to date through social media), customers expect the same service from their utility provider as their favorite takeout place down the street. 

Monitoring and compiling analytics and data is an important step the power industry has taken to enhance the customer experience. From keeping track of customer service hold times to social media engagement, transactional systems are defining consumer pain points, utility public perception, and improving overall customer interactivity and satisfaction. 

For example, one technological innovation providing detailed information is smart meters. Xcel Energy is rolling out the tech over the next five years in its eight-state service area. The censors give improved efficiency while allowing dynamic customer pricing that can lower billsDuring peak and non-peak times, energy can be allotted to areas that need less or more power, meaning that distribution is controlled in a more effective and cost-saving wayThe meters also give customers a better understanding and transparent view of how much electric and gas they may be using.   

But why should the data stop with customer interpersonal analytics? 

The cutting-edge tech is available now to review workforce, resource and organizational data from your own utility. Solutions exist that can manage crews from inception and follow them all the way from assigned worksites, jobs and inventory/equipment requests, to completed work ticketsConvoys can be split into smaller working crews and be tracked based on resource and attribute data. When extra help is needed, utility services providers and contractors can be speedily requested. To increase planning capabilities, stick counts can be created and resources can be organized and allocated by type and locationAnd each of these management possibilities provide more data points and reporting that can be used to continue to broaden the steps taken to improve consumer interaction, understanding, confidence and awareness.  

Working on managing data from the inside out can help your customers know that you care and are doing the best to keep the lights on and the power running. They desire a feeling of security knowing that when something does go wrong, restoration times will be short thanks to the tools power companies have in their arsenal.  Solutions like the ARCOS Resource Management Platform can ease consumer anxiety with the added efficiency they provide, while helping raise customer satisfaction scores.  

How is your organization leveraging the data from all aspects of your business to improve your customer experience, like boosting CAIDI and SAIDI in the time of Covid-19? Let ARCOS help 

 

The Longview Vision of FEMA Reimbursement and Storm Cost Recovery

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In cooperation with our utility partners, ARCOS has spent a lot of time mapping out successful ways to streamline the FEMA reimbursement process.  It’s not only an attempt to speed up storm cost recovery but to untangle what has traditionally become balled-up lines of crisscrossing reporting that confuse everyone, including regulators and auditors. 

We thought we would back up the truck a bit and review some of the resources that are at your disposal to help provide transparency, show what really happened, when and with whom, and give you the data to plan and manage any event or future calamity that stands to strain resource numbers and work crews.  

Ways to Learn 

Just last week, our blog took a look at how tech can solve storm cost recovery nightmares. We outlined how there is a simple, long-term solution for short-term small and large catastrophic events that can track requested FEMA and regulator criteria like: 

  • Logistics, including crew lodging and meals 
  • Point of Repair data capture, including GPS coordinates 
  • One Source of Truth placed in historical time sequence 

Automated solutions are the key to tracking and recording data seamlessly and effortlessly.  

ARCOS also has a recent whitepaper available that tackles the question of How utilities, municipalities, and cooperatives can save time recovering storm restoration costs?” The paper shares real-world knowledge gained from our customers and their operations, and how automation could cut their storm cost recovery processes in half.  

And for those who learn visually, our team put together an on-demand webinar about improving FEMA cost recovery and disaster funding processesIt is full of tips, suggestions, and even demos of ARCOS solutions that can keep reporting on the right path to a fast financial return. 

ARCOS solutions can also help with long-term project planning and execution, including projects carried out through FEMA mitigation and grant programs. Talk to one of our experts to learn more.  

Untwisting the Strings 

No one wants a complicated mess to sift through. Clear, concise, and up-to-the-minute, accurate reporting is available now  saving your utility time in FEMA reimbursement research and ultimately leading to recovering storm-cost dollars faster. Check out the resources above to start managing people and their work more efficiently, while providing the reporting needed for both planned and unplanned events.