Skip to main content
search

Blog

The newest content from ARCOS and around the web

Cyber Attacks Are Increasing, ARCOS Has Your Back

By Blog

Abstract cybersecurity graphic54 percent of companies expect a cyber attack on critical infrastructure in the next 12 months, according to a survey of 1,726 utility professionals responsible for cyber security.

As utilities increasingly evolve their business models by connecting IT systems to their operational technology for power generation, transmission, and distribution assets, critical infrastructure in the utility industry is becoming even more vulnerable to cyber attacks. It may have seemed simpler to protect your information when everything was done manually and on paper. But security is now a moving target as technology integrates into operations.

According to the study, most utilities say that cyber threats present a greater risk to their physical energy delivery infrastructure than their IT systems. This poses the serious industry challenge of ensuring the availability and reliability of electricity delivery to customers.

These days, your organization likely works with many third-party software vendors to manage your operations. Like ARCOS.

ARCOS takes cybersecurity very seriously. We have state-of-the-art protocols in place. We protect all your information that exists within our work order management system. Our mobile workforce management software is configurable to adhere to the individual security policies of each company we work with.

Why Not Stick with What’s Worked?

Some companies may seek to hold onto past manual processes because it’s risky and time-consuming to implement new technology. If an implementation fails, you can’t get back the time and resources spent trying to make it work.

But manual processes are cumbersome and inefficient. Employees have to jump through hoops to access the information they need. When communication isn’t free-flowing, steps are skipped or information doesn’t get to who needs it. This means it’s harder to get work done. That affects the bottom line of the company, leading to less profit and more difficulty hitting efficiency goals.

Another concern is that hard copies are vulnerable to damage and destruction. Coffee can be spilled on a report. An intern could shred the wrong document. A copy may be left on a desk and cleared away by cleaning staff. Even with an on-premise computer system, it’s usually connected to the internet. So, it’s still vulnerable to outside attack. If your system isn’t internet connected, a fire could wipe out everything stored on the hard drive that isn’t backed up off site. All these incidents come at huge cost to the company, and some information may not be recoverable if lost.

These methods haven’t always worked in the past and aren’t the best solution for the future. We can do better. ARCOS can help.

How ARCOS Keeps Your Data Secure

ARCOS is cloud-based SaaS, which has many benefits. We continuously upgrade our technology. We are agile as we listen to our customers and act on their feedback. Most important, with cloud-based systems, the information you need is accessible anywhere, anytime. And we encrypt that data so that only those who should see it can see it.

Unlike papers in filing cabinets, with ARCOS, you designate exactly who can access each part of the system. It’s a more precise way to control your data. Most security breaches are due to human error, not a coordinated attack by a malicious force. ARCOS can help reduce these errors.

We work with more than a hundred companies and their company-specific security procedures. This gives us valuable insight into best practices. Our collective experience allows us to recommend security procedures built on that combined knowledge.

ARCOS’s current procedures include running daily scans of our network and all its connections. We have thousands of monitoring points keeping an eye on operations in real-time. We look for openings and vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis. If the system finds something that looks amiss, it locks down until our IT staff can investigate. We also undergo a third-party SOC 2 audit every six months to make sure we’re holding ourselves to high standards. We take the security, availability, and confidentiality of our platform and clients’ data extremely seriously.

Extending Security into the Field

We’ve mentioned that ARCOS allows you to set permissions regarding who can see what information. This extends to ARCOS’s Mobile Workbench and your crews in the field. Because our solutions are cloud-based, the data you load can be accessed anywhere. This makes it very convenient for field crews to access technical specifications, schedules, updates, and other information. They can see it right on their mobile device. Locking down what each user can access when they login ensures they can get everything they need to do their jobs, but not anything else.

The benefits of that are obvious. If a mobile device is stolen or lost, that leaves its data vulnerable. But with ARCOS, your internal ARCOS administrator can shut down that user’s access immediately. And even before access is revoked, only limited data is available.

These guardrails extend to third-party vendors, like contractors. ARCOS’s Resource Assist allows you to seamlessly integrate external crews into your current workflows. But it doesn’t grant them an all-access pass to your systems. You can choose the specifics to share with them regarding your resource request. This reduces your vulnerability and makes the system more secure.

You can also use ARCOS to monitor how well crew members are following your established security procedures. Mobile Workbench allows you to share documents, so you can send instructions directly to the employee to follow. They can communicate back through the Mobile Workbench app what has been done. This allows the back office to check their work and ensure no corners are cut.

We Can Help

ARCOS is serious about cybersecurity. We have a robust, accessible cloud-based system that is protected and precise. You can configure it to give access to data only for those that need it and keep everyone else locked out. We are constantly monitoring our systems and updating them to ensure your solution is working correctly and securely. We extend that functionality into the field.

If you’re ready to learn more about how our solutions can be used to improve your own processes, contact us today.

Mobile Work Order Management Improves Field Safety

By Blog

crew supervisor using ARCOS mobile appUtility field work is hazardous. Power lineman is among the top ten most dangerous jobs in the United States. Each year, dozens die, and thousands are injured. Several factors contribute to this result. Sometimes not enough staff deployed on a job. There may be inadequate training and supervision. Crews may fail to follow safety guidelines. And even if the worker is safe, accidents occur. This leads to incident reports, OSHA penalties and fines, and reputation damage. Anything companies can do to protect their workers is important. Especially if those actions reduce the number of fatalities.

Enter mobile work management systems. Utility software, such as ARCOS’s Mobile Workbench, provides a variety of ways to keep field workers safe on the job. It allows increased visibility to ensure the company’s – and OSHA’s – safety procedures are being followed. It provides a handy way to transfer documentation and additional information in real-time. It allows field workers to report in more regularly. It keeps management appraised of how an emergency response is unfolding. It helps the utility’s actions remain fluid and responsive, even during volatile and rapidly changing conditions.

Mobile Workbench is a powerful system and communications tool. It allows you to manage both work orders and people in the same system. It integrates with your legacy processes so everything is working together in a single place.

Field Visibility Lets You Adjust Your Response in Real-Time

In the past, when a field worker was sent out to handle a work order, the back office had little idea what was going on until the employee reported back the results of their manual inspection. The office had to wait for a phone call or a filed report, after the fact. If something happened, supervisors may not know until minutes or even hours later.

With mobile workforce management software, every aspect of the work can be documented in real-time. If something goes wrong or an employee doesn’t report the next step in the process, the office knows almost immediately. Conditions on the ground can change in an instant. Reporting it in the app allows supervisors to adjust activities on the fly. Those changes can be communicated back to the field instantly. This provides the information necessary to deal with the unexpected, including safety hazards.

The smartphone app helps managers assure that all appropriate safety guidelines are being followed in incident management and response. Processes can be monitored at every stage. Guidance can be asked for and given quickly. Sometimes additional issues will be found while completing a ticket, and further action or resources are needed. In these cases, the employee doesn’t have to hunt for paper manuals or stop work due to lack of training. They can get help and new instructions right away.

This is especially important when resources are stretched thin. With an increase in weather events, companies may not be able to send as large a crew as they’d like to. Dealing with widely varying scenarios requires different skill sets. Crews may not know exactly which skills are necessary until they get to the scene. With a mobile app, if the crew on the ground doesn’t know how to handle something, the office can provide an expert to walk them through. Or they can send blueprints or manuals that give much needed information. Having this real-time connection to people, documents, and images is like having an extra teammate on the crew.

Keeping Crews Safe on the Road

Field workers spend much of their time driving so they’re at higher risk for auto accidents. Worse, these crews are often driving into hazardous conditions. This leads to workplace fatalities. Many of these are avoidable.

During an emergency, vehicles may need to be rerouted. That’s easy to do on a mobile app. The office can send field crews an updated route or instructions. They can direct them around hazards. They can send them to assist another crew that needs help. They can adjust quickly when conditions on the ground change due to an escalating emergency.

Mobile apps also let the office monitor the crews as they drive. They can see when the vehicle stops unexpectedly, and for how long. They can make sure their vehicles are taking the prescribed routes. They can monitor speeds and driving habits. This alerts them if retraining is necessary, or if a different driver should be assigned to the crew. It provides another level of oversight for management. They can ensure crews are abiding by safety procedures and, if not, they can take corrective action more quickly.

Saving Money Through Safe Practices

No one wants to think about a field worker not making it home. With the increased oversight and communication a mobile app can provide, employees are more likely to end their shift intact. This is beneficial to themselves, their loved ones, and the utility they work for.

Work order and damage assessment apps like ARCOS’s Mobile Workbench make resource management more efficient. Utilities can ensure procedures are done right and safely the first time. Thus, the expense of sending additional resources out to respond is avoided. Those with specialized skills can guide the crew on the scene instead of traveling themselves. Giving back- office visibility into the field lets them manage all aspects of the operation. They can ensure crews aren’t wasting time and money.

When safety procedures are followed, OSHA fines and insurance payouts for deaths and injuries are reduced. Besides the human loss, it also costs the company a lot of money as they seek to do right by the team member and their family. Not to mention, the utility must send additional crews to deal with the original incident plus the new situation. They also may have to adjust their workforce to replace the crew member.

We Can Help

ARCOS’s Mobile Workbench can help streamline your operations. It can give you the visibility you need for efficient workforce management and to ensure procedures are followed. It is a robust app for mobile devices that provides back-and-forth communication and document transmission, allowing flexibility in your response. It gives instructions on the ground to keep crews safe. It puts everything a field crew member needs in their pocket while also looking out for their safety. These features keep operations running smoothly while protecting employees and the business.

Contact us for a demo of Mobile Workbench to see how you can use it to make your operations more safe and efficient.

Crew and Contractor Management Software Helps Meet Sustainability and Efficiency Goals

By Blog

A key focus in the utility industry today is switching to sustainable practices while staying efficient. Companies have been moving in this direction for years. Efforts are more important than ever as the planet hits record temperatures. The effects of climate change are already being felt. This makes it harder to keep energy flowing as incidents increase in frequency and strength.

But customers expect utilities to continue to provide uninterrupted service. Businesses must find ways to deliver while keeping operations within a budget and planning for the future. They need to enact processes and methods that will continue to drive profit while making their systems less susceptible to these pressures and challenges.

Utilities are already adjusting to this new reality in many ways. They’re replacing fleets of vehicles with ones that use less energy. They’re generating power from renewable sources. They’re building grids that lose less energy during transmission. And they’re switching to crew and work management software like ARCOS to improve operational efficiency, save money, and increase customer satisfaction.

Much of the energy used by utility providers is expended to manage resources. Moving people and equipment to and from where the work needs to be done is a large part of this. ARCOS’s suite of solutions can help you be more efficient in deployment and operations. Efficient assignments mean fewer hours spent in vehicles and less fuel used. Replacing paper with an electronic system saves trees and lessens material waste. Not to mention, more work can be done with fewer people. This consumes less resources for the company.

Manage Internal Crews AND Contractors in One Place

Crew management is an important aspect of operations. The right teams with the right skills need to get to the incident or maintenance spot as quick as possible. ARCOS can help you do exactly that, routing the closest qualified teams to where they’re needed.

That may be easy enough with your own internal crews. But these days, much of the work is done by third-party vendors, so contractors management is vital. ARCOS also has a solution for this: Resource Assist.

Resource Assist is contractor management software. It allows third-party vendors to electronically fill your resource requests. Contractors can pre-build crews and rosters. They send them to you through ARCOS when you need them. This allows you to deploy these additional resources right away, getting the work done faster.

Real-Time Visibility Helps Crews Work Better and Reduces Grievances

Once contractor resources are sent to you via Resource Assist, you’ll be able to manage them right in ARCOS’s Crew Manager. They’re right alongside your own teams. It’s a comprehensive workforce management solution to handle all your needs. It can be used in grey skies or blue.

As Crew Manager users know, you’ll have dashboards you can set up any way you like. This lets you see everyone in the field, what equipment they’re using, and what they’re working on at any given time. The information is accessible in a historical format. You can look back at any point in the past, or see forward based on your already-completed crew planning.

Because you’re managing contractors in ARCOS, all activities are automatically tracked. Reporting is available instantly and in a variety of configurable formats. This ensures you have all the information you need right at your fingertips. It makes reimbursement claims simple. It virtually eliminates grievances and disagreements.

One System Keeps Everyone on the Same Page

ARCOS provides a single source of truth for your operations. The benefits of having all crews, including contractor resources, in the same work order management system are many. It helps keep everyone on the same page. It avoids duplicating work, as well as unnecessary travel time. Teams don’t need to cross train on different crew management systems because everyone is using the same interface. When an employee leaves or transfers, there is less disruption to the staff.

From a sustainability perspective, time and money that was previously spent on those tasks is saved. It leaves room to focus on more complex and higher-level operations. It allows leadership to focus on the big picture. In short, it lets you direct your energies towards the more important parts of your business.

Add to that the sustainability of the work management software itself. ARCOS is constantly updated. This means you won’t have to switch to a newer system in a few years. You’ll already have access to those future features. Staff won’t have to learn all new processes. Instead, you can make slow, gradual enhancements to your existing ones. ARCOS gives you the tools to manage those changes how and when you need them.

We can help

ARCOS has the right workforce and workload management solution for any utility. We can say this because our crewing software is flexible for your needs. It can be configured to work like your existing manual processes, making the transition easy. The benefits begin as soon as you start using it.

Contact us for a demo of Resource Assist and Crew Manager today.

How Co-Ops and Municipalities Are Going Paperless With ARCOS

By Blog

supervisor holding hardhat and looking at computer tablet held by man in green vest and red hard hat.The labor market is tight and companies are trying to improve efficiency. Digitization and automation have long been trends to help with that goal. Now, it’s more important than ever to find a work order management system that is right for your business.

Besides the cost and time savings of replacing paper processes with smart software, employees like it better, too. They have better visibility into operations and how their work impacts larger projects. Updates are made in real-time, reducing time spent waiting around for instruction. Activities are automatically tracked, so they don’t have to worry about filling out tedious reports. Dashboards and work orders can be accessed on a mobile device, which can provide a lot more information than a phone call.

Management also benefits. With a crew management system, they can see what’s going on across the company at all times. This allows them to make strategic decisions concerning crew planning. It allows them to be nimble  and adjust strategy. It also provides proof of what has occurred, both with internal resources and third-party partners. This aides with contractors management.

The ARCOS Utility Platform is more than just mobile workforce management software. It is a suite of solutions that can make the transition away from paper easy. Our system is configurable to your existing processes. Our solutions include an automated callout system to comprehensive crew management. We even help you manage incident management and response. We can fold contractors management right into your regular workflow. And we’re applicable to both back office and field operations.

Crew Manager for Daily Operations…

The City of Ocala’s Electric Utility chose ARCOS to improve their response time. The utility found they could call more workers faster with ARCOS. This let them get incident management started sooner. Quick response led to greater satisfaction for their customers and staff. The city also liked having visibility into operations, both in the moment and after the fact. The reporting and automation of callout rules helped them significantly reduce grievances.

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) has long been a user of ARCOS’s Callout. Bill Rees, Manager of System Operations for SVEC, called it “one of the best pieces of software ever brought into the operations center.” So, when they were ready to automate crew management, they looked at ARCOS again.

ARCOS’s Crew Manager will be immediately impactful for daily operations. They are now able to see everyone who is working, where they were working, and what they are working on at a glance.

…And During an Emergency

During a storm, SVEC’s workforce swells a lot larger. Contractor resources are brought in to help handle the workload. Crew Manager can support them in overseeing fluid crew planning and rosters. It can also help them forecast what their response will look like ahead of time. And when an outage occurs, they can pinpoint who is closest and qualified to deploy to handle it.

Outage management was a big selling point for Connexus Energy. So many of the tasks they had to accomplish when responding to an emergency call out could be automated. This allowed them to focus on more complex operations in the field. They loved that field workers could access tickets right on their mobile devices with ARCOS’s damage assessment app. The workers could then send back real-time updates.

There’s a reason so many of these cooperatives and municipalities use ARCOS’s solutions. Our crew management system is flexible for any size operation. It can be used in both blue skies and grey, simultaneously if desired, without having to make big adjustments. It can be easily configured for the specific needs of each company using it.

Schedule a demo for a specific part of our software, or the entire platform. Our Experts will be happy to answer your questions and discuss the benefits of our work order management system with you. Contact us today.

What is Contractors Management

By Blog

If you are in the utility industry these days, you are probably familiar with the process of hiring contractors, or working with contracting organizations, to supplement your internal staff. As you know, hiring contractors gives you the ability to ramp resources up and down as needed, granting you agility.

Selecting a good contractor management system (like ARCOS’s Resource Assist) to manage your contractor workforce is as important as finding qualified resources. Integrating contractors into your typical workflow ensures that they do the job the way you want it done. This allows you maintain processes and culture by making outside employees feel like part of the team. Inconsistent performance leads to risk of reputation and income. Contractor management systems help keep control of these factors so work is done efficiently and correctly. It tracks all the workers’ efforts, guaranteeing complete and accurate reporting. It also provides for the welfare of those contractors coming in. It’s a holistic approach to using third-party workers.

Importance of Contactor Management

Outside companies often aren’t familiar with the way you do things. This can expose them to hazards and makes communication difficult. Efficiency and optimization are major concerns. You already take a lot of care to confirm your own employees are aware of cost and waste. Contractors must be held to the same standard. Otherwise, their poor performance can reflect poorly on your organization. This could lead to waste and the loss of consumer confidence, costing you opportunity and money.

With ARCOS’s suite of solutions, you can take the contractors brought in from Resource Assist and load them right in Crew Manager, alongside your internal crews. In this way, you have a single management system. Your operations are cohesive and streamlined. Grievances are virtually eliminated and you no longer have to worry about inaccurate data entries or mismatched fields.

What are the Key Elements of Contract Management

The key elements of managing independent contractors are selection, training, and oversight. The right external workers must be selected. They must be taught the way you’d like things to be done. You need to keep tabs on their efforts with quantitative data to be sure the work is going well. You’ll want to maintain the same performance standards and efficiency benchmarks you hit internally. For the best results, third-party companies should be provided with honest feedback.

The more parties that are added to a situation, the more complex managing workers becomes. You must put in place a clear hierarchy, including safety professionals, to avoid costly mistakes. You’ll need to lay out responsibilities and expectations to ensure your goals are achieved. Occupational safety concerns and regulations must be respected so your standing in the industry is not tarnished. You’ll also want to invest time in getting to know them and what they expect so that they will feel valued. If you make contractors feel their worth, they are more likely to perform as you would like them to, taking greater ownership of the responsibility placed on them.

Effective contractor management systems, like ARCOS, enact complete control without needing to micromanage. This will make your working goals easier to achieve, resulting in higher productivity and profit.

Thousands of contractors are already using Resource Assist. You can connect with these existing users through your Dashboard, establishing resource sharing links with them in just a few clicks. If your go-to companies aren’t already in Resource Assist, they can add themselves in minutes. Then, they can fill your resource requests in seconds. Once in your system, all the tracking and reporting is automatic.

How to Manage Contractors Effectively

Optimize vendor network. It’s important to find the right contracting firms to partner with. Technical capabilities are important, but so are safety records; contractor mistakes reflect poorly on the partner utility. Steps can be taken ahead of time to research which contractors are most likely to be successful for you. Potential partners can fill out a prequalification form. This will help you make informed decisions. Optimize which companies to continue working with based on experience and practical data to streamline your operations.

  • Automate work order dispatching. When calling in contractors, waste is a concern. An automated system (like ARCOS Callout) can be put in place that knows which workers should be called in any given instance. It ensures those called have the correct skills and are closest to the problem.
  • Implement cost controls. Once a contractor crew is sent out, you need to know if they’re using time and resources wisely. You must also be able to measure effectiveness to know how to manage them. ARCOS’s Mobile Workbench goes into the field, providing an easy-to-use application for your crews and total transparency to your office. Reporting data can be used to identify where efficiency is lacking and improvements can be made. ARCOS has built-in, automated reporting.
  • Ensure contractor compliance. Boundaries must be clearly set so contractors know what is expected of them. You won’t want to keep working with contractors who aren’t doing things the way you want them done. Noncompliance with your established safety program leads to unnecessary risks and business rule violations. To get the right outcomes, even a high performing contractor will need feedback periodically.
  • Initiate periodic data-driven performance reviews. At the end of a project, you’ll want to analyze your contractors’ efforts. It’s vital to know how well they performed the work, how closely they followed your guidelines, and how any incidents that arose were handled. This information shapes whether you will continue to work with the company. Make sure to use data to make objective decisions. Do this on an ongoing basis, as performance metrics do not usually remain static. As mentioned, ARCOS has many pre-built reports. You can also work with our team to design your own.

To learn more about ARCOS click here.

Selecting the right system is important. The software you select should provide for all of the above and be easy to use. You’ll want one with strong customer support. You’ll also need buy-in from all the stakeholders. Without solid participation, even the most perfectly implemented solution will not work.

ARCOS’sResource Assist makes it simple to add contractors into your workflow. Callout is designed to quickly call the right workers with the right skills. Crew Manager lets you manage them alongside your full-time staff. Mobile Workbench gives you real-time visibility into the field. All are part of our integrated suite of resource management solutions.

FAQs

  • What are the basic principles of contractor management?
    • Contractor management involves the business of managing independent contractors or third-party workers. As an extension of your company, they should be accountable for the same safety standards and business needs as your traditional employees. Contractor management software such as ARCOS’s Resource Assist provides a framework for communicating with the third-party vendors and their workers. This allows you to make informed decisions and adjust your process as needed.
  • What are the benefits of contractor management?
    • Contractor management is beneficial because by using contractors, you can supplement your internal staff as needed. This means you can keep your payroll flexible, expanding or contracting it as needed. It also means you can seek external skillsets for tasks that aren’t performed routinely. It allows you to be an agile company, leading to greater efficiency and cost control. ARCOS offers a contractor management system integrated with the rest of our suite of solutions.
  • How to become a certified contract manager?
    • There are many different programs which offer contract manager certifications. . Most will require you to, at minimum, complete coursework and pass an exam. Others may require ongoing, continued education to maintain certification. The certification you will want to earn will depend on the type of work you may wish to do. For instance, if you want to work with the federal government, you’ll want to get a FAC-C certification, which has several levels based on experience. We recommend connecting with a local authority for more information and further guidance.
  • What is the purpose of contractor management?
    • The purpose of contractor management is to ensure compliance with your needs and rules. You want to monitor and qualify the external workforce as you do your internal one. It allows you to apply full visibility into their actions in order to mitigate risk. To avoid time consuming oversight, systems like ARCOS automate continuous monitoring and reporting.

The Importance of User Support

By Blog

Candid picture of a man with a beard and glasses smiling while on a telephoneHow often have you gotten stuck while using software? You either didn’t know what to do next or weren’t sure if the system you were using had the capability you were looking for. Even experienced users, working with well-designed interfaces, need help now and then. It’s vital that any company you work with provides a strong support team. It is arguably the most important offering a technology company can supply.

Yet so many companies thwart users with complex phone trees and long wait periods. You’re busy and you don’t have time to navigate confusing processes to speak to someone. You shouldn’t have to jump through such hoops.

If you haven’t had the need to reach out to ARCOS yet, you’re missing out on one of the best in the business. Unlike many companies, our team isn’t a hassle to reach.

The ARCOS Support Team

For most ARCOS Resource Management platform users, the first step when seeking support will be to contact your internal team or ARCOS admin. This is your company’s designated support staff. These employees are usually experts or power users and are familiar with your specific configuration. If they can’t solve a user’s problem, they should reach out to ARCOS for additional support via the OSCAR portal, or give us a call.

ARCOS has a support team available for those designated users 24/7/365 (and we’re easy to get ahold of!). No matter the time of day, regardless of your time zone, you’ll get a response within 10 minutes. They will work diligently to get you an answer and resolve the problem. Also, they can educate you on features you may not be familiar with.

The ARCOS Support team is staffed by experts, divided into tiers. The front line can usually find the answer. If not, they will get a more specialized colleague involved to track down a solution. We work together, relying on one another. No matter who you are communicating with, you get the breadth of knowledge from the entire team.

The OSCAR Portal

As mentioned, the easiest way for a company’s admin to communicate with ARCOS Support is through the OSCAR portal. It is an electronic ticketing communication system. Users will not only be able to see their own tickets, but also tickets from others in their organization. This makes it easy to work as a team on your end. It also helps when staff members are absent or otherwise unavailable.

But the OSCAR portal is not only a sophisticated ticketing system. It is also an invaluable reference tool. The ARCOS Support team is currently building a knowledge base. We’re also creating an online, community for our clients. This will allow you to find the answers even faster on your own. You’ll be able to work with users from other companies. Sharing ideas across organizations will improve everyone’s efficiency. You will also be able to learn tips and tricks that may improve your process in ways you had not considered.

Good user support is not just thorough and easy to get a hold of; it is empowering. That is what ARCOS does. In addition to providing a solid support foundation, we enable you to be an expert of your configuration yourself. And we will always respond when you need us.

If your company isn’t using ARCOS yet, talk to us to see how we can help.

Lifecycle Management Best Practices

By Blog

Lifecycle diagramIn any company, there are many aspects of the business that undergo a lifecycle. Whether it be a specific resource, process, or set of data, there’s a flow to its usefulness. A lifecycle may unfold naturally, with little oversight into how it progresses. If you’re not paying attention, application of an element can continue past the end of its useful lifecycle. There could be better ways of doing things, but they aren’t even investigated.

That’s why it’s important to have a Lifecycle Management plan. Tracking lifecycles keeps products up-to-date and processes efficient. Then, you’ll know when adjustments should be made, and when a product or process should be updated or retired.

The Steps of Lifecycle Management

  1. Establish goals. All plans should start with identifying what you hope to accomplish. You may not know exactly what goals are realistic with the resources you have, especially if trying to map out a new milestone. But you can make an educated guess based on experience and be ready to adjust it as needed. Either way, you need to set a benchmark.
  2. Determine resources needed. What do you need to achieve your goals? Resources include tools, supplies, and vehicles. They also comprise people hours, employee skillsets, and processes to manage those resources.
  3. Create an action plan. Now that you know what you want to do and what you need to do it, determine how you’re going to do it. Not everything will always run smoothly. Make sure to include backup plans and substitution proposals. You need to be ready to be flexible to complete your goals. It’s a good idea to involve those doing the work at this stage. This will ensure your plan, goals, and resource estimates are realistic. It’s better to know before you actually enact the proposal if it has a good chance of succeeding.
  4. Set up quality assurance. How will you know if the goals are accomplished? How will you test if they were completed to the best of your team’s abilities? You won’t be sure you’ve succeeded unless you’re ready to analyze the results once the job is done.
  5. Enact the plan. Now you’re ready to get to work. Start the process, send out the teams and resources, and track how it progresses. Make adjustments as necessary. You may even have to scrap the whole thing at this stage and go back to step one. That’s OK. It’s all part of Lifecycle Management.
  6. Analyze how it went. This is the time where quality assurance kicks into gear. It may happen simultaneously with the plan being enacted or it may occur after everything is complete. There may be places where too many or too few resources were provided. Tasks may take longer or shorter than you expected. Crews in the field may have suggestions to improve the process. Make sure your response is right-sized. Also confirm as few resources were used as possible without compromising quality.
  7. Update or retire the plan. Even if everything goes well, there’s almost always room for improvement. This is where you make adjustments for the next time. Even if the new approach works well, it’s unwise to take for granted that it always will. So even with established processes, you’ll want to repeat steps six and seven on a regular basis. This will ensure your plans don’t outlive their usefulness.

After the Plan

It would be hard to follow these steps every single day for every task that you do. That’s not the point of the process. Lifecycle Management ensures you’re always tracking costs, expenses, and efficiency. Sticking to a routine cadence of progress reports and evaluation will do that. Use these steps to make an overall strategy. Enact Lifecycle Management on smaller scales periodically and continuously.

As you complete each cycle through the above steps, make sure to discuss what you’ve learned. The lessons can often be applied not only to the task at hand, but other processes, as well. View the business as a whole to make sure budgets and processes are efficient and effective. There may even be the opportunity to combine many processes into a single one.

As important, always celebrate your wins. Your teams work hard, and they deserve to hear about the company’s accomplishments. It increases morale when crew members can see the effect their work is having on the company’s goals. They need to know how they contribute. It also helps with team buy-in on new changes when everyone gets to witness the effects.

ARCOS’ automated tracking and reporting lends itself nicely to Lifecycle Management plans. Contact us today to learn how we can fit into your strategy. We’ll get you started with our Resource Management solutions.

The Real Eye of the Hurricane Part 2: Reporting for Storm Cost Reimbursement

By Blog

A stack of semi-disorganized papersA huge challenge related to storm recovery is recouping your costs from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies. In an emergency, your focus is on dealing with the immediate damage. Later you go back and worry about filling out the forms. The reconciliation process usually takes months, or even years, with detailed reporting mandatory in all aspects. As a result, much of the money spent on storm response is never recovered because of inaccurate or inadequate reporting.

ARCOS can help you find everything you need to successfully get reimbursed and speed up the process. Our built-in and custom reports are available in real-time with a variety of ways to organize the data. We provide a single source of truth for all operations, storing everything in one place so you can find what you need with just a few clicks.

Automation Makes Easy

Previously, tracking resources was a difficult and cumbersome process. It was often done on spreadsheets, updated with phone calls, faxes, and scribbled notes in the margins. Or on a whiteboard, which would eventually be erased. Documentation from contractors may not match your own records. And when there was conflicting info, it was hard to know who was right. Notes could be missed, updates not made, and then the reporting becomes incomplete.

With a Resource Management Solution like ARCOS, everything is tracked automatically. Once configured, you don’t have to do anything to enable or maintain tracking. All you have to do is use the software to manage all your resources. This eliminates many of the inconsistencies and, with a trained staff, virtually gets rid of human error.

Flexible and Efficient for Your Needs

ARCOS isn’t just one solution; it’s a suite of solutions that work together.

Crew Manager tracks crews and equipment in the field with very little effort. Resources can be assigned ahead of time or adjusted in the moment, depending on your needs. Hotels and meals can even be assigned and calculated. It’s cloud-based, so you can access it from anywhere. It keeps a running historical record of who was where and what work was accomplished. Combined with Mobile Workbench, field employees have the access they need to keep the back office updated on their activities, tied to GPS coordinates.

Resource Assist enables you to fold contractor crews right into your existing process. Contractors load their resources easily into their own portal. Then, you can bring them over to your Crew Manager with a few clicks. This seamless mixing of internal and external resources makes tracking extremely easy, as there’s only a single place to go to find all the information you need.

Incident Manager contains everything you need to handle emergencies. ARCOS makes it simple to set up a plan structure, ready to ramp up or down as the situation progresses. You can put a leadership framework on place, activate only who you need, and have the whole organizational chart available at a glance. You can set it up ahead of time for a variety of situations. During the event, Incident Manager has the same real-time, comprehensive tracking that exists in the rest of ARCOS.

The result is clear. Spreadsheets, whiteboards, and manual processes can be replaced by one electronic system that tracks everything. You can quickly access this historical documentation to find the data needed for reimbursement. You’ll be able to submit more quickly and often more completely. This gives FEMA and other organizations what they need to get you paid rapidly. Many of our partners report they cut their storm cost recovery time in half with ARCOS. The cost saved on Aspirin is just a bonus.

Read our whitepaper on how we link contractors with utilities. Then contact ARCOS to learn more about increasing your storm recovery efficiency.

Why Your Homegrown Systems Aren’t Working

By Blog

Frustrated businessman with hand on foreheadThere seem to be many benefits to creating homegrown systems for your process needs… at least at first. You control the development and construct it exactly to your specifications. You may save costs up front. Each member of the team can weigh in on what they need and how to do it best, being on-site and involved. Unfortunately, only hindsight is 20/20 and problems tend to build up over time. And, of course, the older the system, the more challenges you’re likely to run into. These trends are seen across the board with almost all homegrown systems. Let’s look at the drawbacks to building your work management solution in-house.

Building the System

It’s easy to identify a process that isn’t working and focus on that as the basis for your development. Then, you identify another process. And another. Homegrown systems tend to be a series of work solutions built independently, rather than a comprehensive solution that interacts and functions as a single source of truth. By creating silos of development initially, it becomes difficult to synthesize data and trends over the various systems. It’s also challenging to make them interact with one another.

Even within a single silo, processes continue to change, mandating further enhancements. Instead of redoing the system from the ground up each time, additional layers of complexity are added to account for new business needs or technological advancements. Eventually, this becomes an exceedingly long script of code, inefficient and unwieldly. New layers may not play well with old ones. Identifying exactly where things are conflicting and how to resolve that conflict is time intensive. Troubleshooting becomes a massive undertaking.

Once built, it’s hard to keep it maintained and updated. A homegrown system will likely lack many features that are standard in most modern software, making them less useful. Your internal developers are focused on other projects, as well, rather than being experts in the specific way you need them to be.

The alternative of just building and forgetting, rather than continuing to develop, is just as bad. Over time, the way the software is used is bound to change. The old system becomes used for a purpose other than what it was built for. It’s not a good fit.

Personnel Turnover

As the homegrown system gets larger and more complex, it’s more important than ever for those building, supporting, and using it to have knowledge of how it works. Unfortunately, people don’t stay in one position forever. They are promoted, retire, or leave for other reasons. New hires are often intimidated by a complex homegrown system which takes a long time to learn. Documentation is rarely complete, necessitating a lot of investigation, trial, and error to fix or improve anything. Legacy and institutional knowledge is lost.

This makes it hard to attract and train new talent. Potential recruits can go elsewhere and use standardized tools that are easy to understand and with outside technical support. They often chose to do so to avoid the frustration of working with an unwieldy internally built system. And as turnover happens multiple times, needed updates and repairs fall further down the priority list and take longer to implement.

Reporting

Another challenge faced with homegrown systems is getting accurate and useful reporting. Often, data must be obtained from an IT department, which has many other tasks on their plate. This frequently leads to long wait times.

Once the data is obtained, it is usually delivered in a raw format or single spreadsheet dump, rather than in an interactive dashboard that you can easily customize. If the information needs to be compared to a whole separate data set, pulled at a different time, it’s not always easily done. This makes finding inefficiencies, as well as completing any outside reporting required by business rules or law, difficult.

ARCOS’ suite of solutions can help you avoid all these issues. It’s built by a team of experts who are constantly updating and streamlining the software. We listen to your needs, and release frequent updates based on customer feedback. At the same time, many aspects of our systems are configurable in a large variety of ways, so you can still get exactly what you want. You can change those criteria as needed.

What’s more, we have a full-time staff of professionals dedicated to helping you make the solutions work for you. If they’re not, we can help you implement the necessary changes to get there. This will not only save you time and internal resources, but also make your operations more efficient.

Find out more by contacting us today.

Resources, Restoration, and Remote Work

By Blog

Two linemen working on a poleA lot has changed in the past few years. Many workers have gone remote and are not regularly going into the office. It has become harder to hire, train, and retain strong talent as the Great Resignation has seen many Americans change jobs. More turnover is expected in the utility industry in the next five to eight years. At the same time, major storms have also struck more frequently, leading to longer and more widespread outages. All of these present a challenge to utility companies.

Thankfully, the challenges are not insurmountable. A variety of advancements are making these hurdles easier to get past and setting companies up for future success. Utilities must increase efficiency and speed of restoration with fewer resources to maintain service as it’s been, let alone improve it. ARCOS has solutions to help you do just that, setting you up for success.

Hardening the System

ARCOS’ own Jim Nowak retired as manager of emergency restoration planning for AEP (American Electric Power) in 2014 with thirty-seven years’ experience. He recently reflected upon these very issues in PowerGrid International. He noted that many utilities, including Florida Power & Light, have been working to harden their systems. They’re upgrading them to better withstand severe weather events.

Upgrades like this are important, but costly. Further complicating the situation, some parts of systems do get hardened and don’t break down during events. This can lead to a false sense of security; consumers don’t want to shell out the hundreds of billions of dollars it would take to truly make utilities in the United States ready to face major storms if they don’t see the problem affecting them. So, while these are ongoing efforts, they aren’t going to be fully implemented in the near future.

Better Resource Management

A more cost-effective solution, at least for now, is making the resources you already have work more efficiently. One way to do this is through automation. Automated callouts have been used for some time to get responders in the field when disasters strike. More can now be done ahead of time to target these repairs more precisely. Specialized crews can be set up to easily activate with a few clicks. Multiple scenarios can be mapped out to quickly scale the response up or down as needed. Data can be analyzed from past situations so that labor and equipment resources are staged in the most appropriate places for them to be mobilized.

None of this prevents an outage, but it does help to restore power more quickly when outages occur. It also helps shore up the weakest link in a much cheaper way than rebuilding systems to not go down in the first place. The public is more accepting of outages when they don’t last as long. This helps utility companies provide service while waiting on those long-term upgrades to slowly be put in place.

Work From Wherever

Many utility employees can’t work from home, as their tasks take place in the field. There are still ways to decentralize the office to make operations run more smoothly. Many utilities have created take-home kits for staff members to ramp up from where they live. Not only does this allow workers to perform their jobs where they are most comfortable, it also saves time. When an event occurs, employees can almost instantly begin to respond instead of needing to drive to an office first. Without needing to allow for travel time, it’s easier to rotate staff in and out of deployment when they are already in their own living space.

Now, this may not be appropriate for every aspect of the operation. Some tasks must be performed on secure networks, which aren’t easily accessed remotely. But smaller satellite branches may also be an option, closer to where workers live than a central office. So even if the employees need to travel, they may spend less time doing so. This improves efficiency and increases job satisfaction, allowing greater flexibility for employees.

Whether it is automating response or shifting where people work, these advancements allow more work to get done with less. This will help utilities better withstand labor shortages and mass retirements. It also makes the jobs more attractive to potential employees, which reinforces the same.

ARCOS’ suite of resource management solutions can help you prepare for, and respond to, emergencies. Our Incident Manager, in particular, can take off much of the pressure from emergencies if properly set up ahead of time. And when the storms hit, we can help you callout crews, manage your resources, and even give you real-time visibility into the field.

Contact us to get started so you’re ready before the next emergency hits.