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The Importance of New Technology for Municipal Utilities and Co-Ops

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It’s no surprise in the fast-paced world of storms, restoration, and unplanned work, that manual processes can slow you down. Sure, you might be used to using whiteboards or paper lists to record important data – but with ARCOS automated Resource Management Platformyou don’t have to. Think of the minutes, or even hours, you can get back along the way, all while standardizing processes and accurately capturing data around your workforce and their work.

Things like duplication of data entry, potential human errors, and paper processes don’t offer one source of truth for involved teamsleadership, and third partiesNot to mention the fact that your systems may not even be able to talk to one another, which takes more manual processes and time to get the job done and be report on it.

Embracing new technology and encouraging systems to talk to each other through a strong API can better help your utility: 

  • Improve schedule details 
  • Decide on common data semantics and improve business processes 
  • Optimize enterprise application interoperability 
  • Enhance benchmarking 
  • And improve efficiency by embracing one source of truth for data and reporting 

If that all sounds great, but you don’t know where to get started, then we have news for you. 

ARCOS is now supporting the MultiSpeak Initiative, a collaboration of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) to offer the MultiSpeak interface as a part of the ARCOS Resource Management Platform. This technology specification is used by municipal and co-operative utilities for standardizing the exchange of data between software systems that handle field work, outage management, and distribution operations. 

The new development will better help utility managers to easily take power outage data from an OMS, create a work order, and assign the work order to the closest available crew with ARCOS Mobile Workbench. 

So, what does this mean for smaller utility organizations or co-ops, and how does it all work 

If, for example, a storm damages hundreds of meters, web services available through MultiSpeak could carry XML formatted data from the utility’s OMS, then launch an automated callout for damage assessors using the ARCOS Damage Assessment solution. 

Once the damage assessors are in the field, they can use their mobile devices and GIS to send data back to the utility via data packets. From there, a callout for repair crews would be launched using the ARCOS Resource Management Platform. (Read more: ARCOS press release)

Check out the “ARCOS Supports Multispeak Tech Spec to Help Utility Munis, Coops” press release to learn more about the ARCOS Resource Management Platform and MultiSpeak, and what it means for your utility. To see how ARCOS Mobile Workbench and the ARCOS Resource Management Platform can help you better manage your workforce and their work while helping with accurate reportingaccess our virtual online meeting and demo on Improving Your Cost Recovery & FEMA Reimbursement Processes. 

Safety and Leak Management: Increasing your Emergency Response Time

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Whether it’s a long-term planned project, or an unplanned emergency in the middle of the night – safety is a commitment that is always evolvingThis year, safety took on a whole new meaning as the utility industry quickly made changes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond usual protocols, utility organizations also embraced workforce social distancing, created “pods” to lessen potential contamination, and embraced remote work opportunities to keep employees and customers healthy and protected.

We know safety is your priority, and manual processes that surround emergency callouts (like phone calls, spreadsheets, and whiteboards) can make it more difficult for individual responders, teams, and crews to get to the trouble quickly – especially when facing COVID-19 challenges. So, how does automating callouts and resource management fit into your safety plan?

Every Minute Matters
During a gas emergency, time is of the essence when finding the closest qualified responders. A slow response risks a potentially dangerous situation, and a consistent poor response time from an organization could attract regulator attention.

When the clock is ticking, automating callout processes can help gas organizations find qualified individuals or crews in a matter of minutes, while automatically applying union rules and company policies. After implementing ARCOS Callout and Scheduling Suite, Columbia Gas (a NiSource company) dispatchers were able to get a response almost immediately, saving an additional four to six minutes on callouts. 

The Goals of an Emergency Callout
Whether it is the middle of the night or halfway through the workday, unplanned emergencies are inevitable. When facing aevent, your organization is working hard to get the right people to gas leaks and odor calls quickly while following union rules and complying with Fatigue Management Policies for employee safety. 

Furthermore, when all of these moving parts are managed manually, there is always room for mistakes that could result in grievances, incorrect overtime payments, and a lack of quality data capture. Automating your resource management with one source of truth can save you time when it comes to both responding and reporting.

Documentation is Key
Accurate historical data capture can not only help your utility exceed your KPIsbut can also assist with your state mandated response time, and ultimately keeps your teams safe. When compiling information to report to the state and internallyyou’ll need reliable information such as:

  • Resources called 
  • Resources secured 
  • Proof of response 
  • Response timeline 
  • Internal performance benchmarking 
  • Overtime equalization 
  • Mitigation and elimination of grievances 

We know – it’s a lot of information to have on hand. Especially when manual processes are involved. But thankfully, it doesn’t have to be hard.

Filling callout requests quickly by using an automated Resource Management Platform can improve overall emergency service response with centralized lists, and give better visibility into employee working status, all while automatically adhering to company policies and union rules in a single electronic database application. ARCOS can help your organization manage your workforce, their work, and find the right people for the job without having to pick up a phone or consult cluttered whiteboards.

Want to learn more? Check out our case study on NiSource Gas Distribution or see how ARCOS helps Central Hudson Gas & Electric cut response time during an emergency callout. Safety is an everchanging habit, and is becoming increasingly more important as we move through these uncertain times. How will you choose to respond? 

Taking advantage of automated processes in Telecommunication

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Similar to many critical infrastructure organizations, telecommunications companies have had to adjust and change the way they manage operations, workload management and workforce optimization due to COVID-19.  

Welcome to the new normal. No one saw it coming, but now even simple tasks must be weighed with the risk of transmission and the goal to maximize efficiency of operations. 

Having the ability to speed up and automate daily operations priorities like absence management, workload management and social distancing requirements due to the current pandemic are major challenges, before you even start thinking about all the other “big stuff”. Accounting for all your workers, while incorporating sick days, vacation days, union rules and company regulations can give even the best schedulers headaches. Making sure you have the right workers in the right place, at the right time is the key to efficiency – and getting work done.  

When a cell tower needs repaired or you’re behind on rolling out 5G infrastructure, you’re under pressure to get a crew on site yesterday. Your crews and supervisors might be drowning in spreadsheets, emails and whiteboards in order to find out where they need to be and what equipment they need – talk about a tremendous loss in productivityIt would be great to have a solution that diminishes response time to unplanned events and acquires the right people for the right job automatically.  

An automated resource management platform IS that something.  With automation and real-time data for decision-making, emergency response time can be cut down to a minimum along with the stress of crew management and job status updates throughout the dayReource Management platform like ARCOS can help you acquire additional workforce according to your business rulespair them with work and equipment, and get them out the door – without any tedious phone calls or emails It can make mountains of work seem like small bumps in the road and allow workers and managers alike to focus on the big picture, rather than menial tasks. 

You are not alone in your struggles, and ARCOS has helped over 230 critical infrastructure companies manage their resources efficiently. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as we can help with your staff planning, shift management, and workload management – just to name a few. With our technology dispatch and crew management headaches become a thing of the past. Even in the new normal we can help you work smarter, not harder.  

How you could use federal funding for Resource Management

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Over the last few months, municipal utilities have faced challenges like they’ve never seen before. Every day you’re having to fill unplanned absences, get the right workers to the right job at the right time, and manage overtime hours – not to mention implement policies to reduce transmission and keep your workers safe. This leads to daily operations and work management being an extremely complex affair, with many manual, disparate processes that reduce efficiency 

Automating these manual processes and being able to fill absences due to illness or quarantine, deliver work to crews remotely, and manage crews in the field can save you a LOT of time and money during workload and workforce management. 

Sounds great, right? Now comes the hard part, finding the money to pay for it. How do you procure funding? Some of you may even be experiencing a budget shortfall due to the ramifications of the current COVID pandemic. The good news is that there are options. In 2020, to help deal with the fallout of the COVID pandemic, the federal government has created the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to help many businesses (including municipal utilities) convert their operations to remote work where possible and to help communities respond safelySome public works organizations and municipal utilities are applying for funding through the CARES act for resource and work management systems like ARCOS. 

In CARES Act, the government explains that there are several conditions that will make your company eligible for funding from the government. Specifically, “Expenses of actions to facilitate with COVID-19 related public health measures such as; Expenses to improve telework capabilities for public employees to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.”  

ARCOS Resource Management fits nicely into those categories with the following features: 

Facilitating and Improving Telework Capabilities 

  • Mobile Work Ticket Delivery & Job Status 
  • Real-Time Availability of Resources 
  • Virtualizing Safety Briefings and Mass Communications 

Complying with COVID-19 Public Health Precautions 

  • Tracking & Monitoring PPE  
  • Crew Contact Tracing 
  • Alternative Crew Structures to Reduce Transmission 

If you are feeling the pinch from the pandemic and are looking for a way to help you keep your employees safe , the ARCOS platform can help – and you could even get help paying for it. To learn more about the CARES Act, please go to the following link:  

How to Bring Processes and Work Together While Keeping a Distance

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The strangeness of 2020 is well documented and has affected everyone. The pandemic has caused a reevaluation and re-imagining of how we do business, including discovering who can work remotely and the instituting of safety protocols on how close crews can get on a job site. Even a transformation in team members’ rotation has taken place, so illness won’t reduce response and restoration times, and instant contact tracing is easily achievable and retrievable. We’ve had a lot on our plates.  

However, work doesn’t take a break. It’s infinite and keeps growing and growing – and when your finite resources have stipulations and qualifications assigned to them thanks to COVID-19, efficient workload management seems more distant than standing 6 feet away from your friends and family. It’s also incredibly tricky when that work is siloed in multiple systems that create gaps by not communicating with one another. How can anything get accomplished when everything is so far away?

Redefine work management processes with ARCOS Mobile Workbench. 

ARCOS Mobile Workbench is a solution that creatively automates and streamlines your ability to manage people, equipment, job orders, work tickets, and work all in one system. It brings together the disparate data from outage, work management, aging GIS, and EAMS systems, all into one centralized app with an easy-to-follow GUI. This allows utilities to fully visualize operations while social distancing by helping dispatch center traffic remain sparse and eliminating paperwork. It also gives operations a single source of historical truth for reporting, work completion, and knowing what crews were where and when. 

ARCOS Mobile Workbench is working like a charm for Grant County Public Utility District in the state of Washington. Grant PUD uses the solution to efficiently assign work to crews by skill set and who is closest to the trouble. Workbench is integrated with Grant PUD’s geographical information system and became a simple way to manage field order assignments, track work progress, and collect work details in real-time. Using the app via a smartphone, crews can accept available work, self-assign new work, or put a job in their queue. While in the field, they can perform damage assessment, write up new work orders, and closeout jobs. 

March 2020 showed all of us how helpful technology can be in maintaining safety while efficiently managing workloads. Work management processes are being updated to evolve with the times. It’s a necessity for systems to work together while crews, dispatchers, and managers remain safely socially distanced. ARCOS Mobile Workbench brings a solution to the table that ties everything together.  Contact us to learn more. 

A Successful Implementation Doesn’t Stop at Go Live

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After you’ve implemented your new technology solution and rolled it out to all your workgroups, you might think that the project is done. The tech is available and working, so what else is there? However, a successful implementation doesn’t just stop at Go Live – especially when new enhancements and best practices are always evolving. How do you get the most out of your investment? 

The Continued Road to Success
Try thinking of your new product as a journey instead of a launching point. It’s important to ensure that you have a solid adoption strategy and can keep your pulse on new features and necessary training moving forward. Furthermore, having a strong communications and rollout strategy can help you better track your success, from Go Live and beyond, to share with stakeholders and other involved parties. 

A productive and profitable lifecycle of a newly implemented change can benefit your organization in many ways, both immediately and for years to come. A few key items that can help guarantee a great ROI with your solution are:  

  • A plan (and steps for follow-up) for user adoption and getting employees on board with the change 
  • Training documentation that is up to date, accompanied with an ongoing training plan to account for new features and onboarding new team members 
  • A dedicated person who is responsible for updated your organization on new features and enhancements 
  • A periodic check-in to assess how your solution is doing as time goes on, and make sure all employees continue to be up to speed 

While some companies may have a dedicated person or team overseeing the life of your new investment, many do not have the resources or the time for a full-time project manager. The unfortunate reality is: Without a well-organized and executed plan, many benefits of new technology could fall flat. 

But don’t worry – ARCOS can help. 

ARCOS Managed Services
ARCOS Managed Services can work with your team to better evaluate the success, health, and ROI of your ARCOS solution. The Managed Services offerings create a variety of opportunities, from seasoned project manager who can manage your teams and build out project plans, to regular onsite or remote trainings, documentation, communication plans, and a high-level strategy to help engage a new generation of workers as your more mature workers retire.

Let an ARCOS expert help your organization maximize your investment for success. To learn more, check out our latest ARCOS Managed Services online meeting on-demand! 

Taking the Uncertainty Out of Disaster Management

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For water and public works companies operating during these uncertain times, there are many things on the horizon that don’t include the current pandemic. When you are tasked with keeping people’s homes and businesses able to run with clean, potable water – the pressure can be immense, especially in times of emergency or disaster. You’ve already had to face what’s being called “The New Normal” with this current pandemic, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Want to know why? Natural disaster season is here. 

Before the last few years, natural disasters like hurricanes, fires and flooding were fewer and far between, making it easier to respond to and restore service and clean water; however, with the increasing amount and intensity of high impact weather or fire events, water and gas utilities have been affected a little more each year. During this time of year, water and public works companies face a myriad of challenges. Whether its responding quickly to damage or a broken main, making sure people’s water is still safe to drink after a weather event, or simply trying to get enough tradesmen into the field with the right qualifications to help maintain infrastructure that is badly in need of replacement, these problems only get compounded as the events increase. The national weather service has predicted over 20 named storms for this year’s storm season – and that doesn’t include potential fires and earthquakes. We want you to be able to breathe freely knowing you have the tools you need to respond to anything that may arise – especially since you’re operating under social distancing restrictions and pandemic response regulations. 

During this season, there’s so much to manage and it seems there is so little time to manage it. Here’s how the ARCOS Resource Management platform can help with some common situations. It will: 

  • Allow you to dispatch the correct skilled workers to the correct jobs all with automation 
  • Enable you to quickly respond to demand changes on staff due to storms 
  • Communicate quickly with your entire team to make announcements or ensure their safety 
  • Capture all work done in the field completely and in a holistic way that will allow you to use ARCOS’ powerful reporting tools 
  • Have full visibility to all people, equipment and crews currently dispatched to the field 

I know, I know – this is only scratching the surface of what you face daily, but we are here for you. We can help you get a leg up on your Incident Management activation, provide you with powerful crew management tools to help remote work, and even help you manage your contractors and crews. 

At ARCOS, we’ve worked with many of your peers who understand a day in the life of your operations. For further reading, check out our Storm Restoration page on the ARCOS website for specifics on how we can help every aspect of your operations. 

How to Optimize your Labor Costs in the New Normal

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There are many challenges facing critical infrastructure companies during these strange times. Whether its trying to accomplish more work with less people to respond to demand, fill open shifts after a positive test from the current pandemic, or even just communicate instantly with your entire staff – the need to simplify and optimize operations has become apparent during these uncertain times. When it comes to optimizing your labor cost, critical infrastructure companies must juggle many things from shift coverage on short notice to maintaining compliance with union and workplace regulations, or even maintaining productivity levels through unplanned events. 

So, how do you make these decisions to manage your workforceThe first priority – having all the information you need in real-time and historical look-back. Having visibility into all parts of your organization is paramount and can be the difference between lean, efficient operations and a complicated, tedious situation. By harnessing the power of automation and digitizationyou could eliminate many manual processes. As an example, imagine a world where your employees would have the ability to trade and swap shifts on their own, within established business guidelines, without having to get a supervisor involved. Not only that, but you could open new non-standard shifts and fill them with a bid process in accordance with union or business rules without ever having to email or pick up the phone. That means less grievances, less headaches and less money out of your pocket. 

Lastly, when trying to optimize your labor costs, communication is of critical importance and can save you from wasting precious time and remove hours of manual process that may end up costing you. 

ARCOS can help make the difference between an agile, flexible morning to maintain service levels and having to manage inefficiencies with labor that will affect your bottom line. Saving operating costs by reducing the amount of supervisor time for more important tasks, maintaining minimum staffing levels automatically and ensuring the safety of your workforce is of the utmost priority. Helping your workforce feel safe, in direct communication with supervisors, and in control of their schedules will not only keep them focused and productive, but it will also later help you with retention, and attract new skilled labor. 

The benefits of the ARCOS platform can take your operations from slow, inefficient, and costly, to a well-oiled machine. 

How Airlines are Tackling Summer Travel and COVID-19 Challenges with ARCOS

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This year, summer vacations are looking a little different amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Family travel plans continue to change or take on new traditions (road trip, anyone?) as we all work to maintain social distancing and be as sanitary as possible. Back in April, airline traffic was the lowest it has been since 1994. So, what do things look like now as we head into the heart of summer – AKA the busiest travel season for the airline industry? 

According to Forbes: more people are flying againAlthough at lower rates than normal, major airlines are continuing to add flights, and are expected to offer even more flights throughout July. Passengers now have more domestic flight options across the United States, with Florida proving to be a popular destination as Disney World re-opens.

As larger groups of travelers start to fill airports, many airline staff could still be taking unexpected time off to face COVID-19 challenges. Critical infrastructure industries throughout the world are quickly adapting and evolving to make last-minute changes and allow for remote work. But some are finding that it’s hard to be innovative and accommodating when weighed down with manual paper processes and dealing with a lack of visibility into employee schedules and shift management.

How is your airline keeping up? We know that stacks of paper lists, grievances due to human errors, and lines of employees waiting to swap shifts or request PTO may be your unfortunate reality. Thankfully – it doesn‘have to be this way. Your peers are using the ARCOS Resource Management platform to help manage daily operations and IROPS during the pandemic with one source of truth, and the ability to:

  • Empower employees to manage their own schedules, including: shift swapping, trading, bidding, and PTO – directly from their smartphones, while automatically adhering to your company policies and union rules 
  • Handle unplanned absences automatically, reducing administrative time 
  • Access a cloud-based solution with 99.99% uptime for emergency response, shift management and mass communication from anywhere, on any electronic device 
  • Send mass notifications to workforce about changing schedules, new shifts, or updated work locations or procedures 
  • Provide situational awareness to all levels of management and stakeholders, like who is working, which shifts are affected, and more 

Learn more about automating your shift management to keep up with unplanned changes during the COVID-19 pandemic with our latest on-demand webinar and demo of ARCOS RosterAppsEmployees, managers, and supervisors can start gaining more time and control today, leading to efficient operations that are ready to handle the increase in summer flights. 

Reversing the Status Quo with Resource Management

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No one knows what challenges tomorrow will bring. COVID-19 surges, natural disasters, and aging infrastructure surprises all attest to this simple fact. As storm season approaches, flooding and other events that cause damage to the water infrastructure are seemingly increasing. Spending time updating crew whiteboards and attempting to compile multiple spreadsheets can be a daunting and tedious task, however these headaches can be a thing of the past. Both decrease efficiency and when efficiency is low, more money is spent, and less work gets done – a situation where no one benefits. But you’re under constant pressure to do more with less, so the key is to figure out where you can automate some of those manual processes.

Streamlining operations and work during these situations can result in more wrench time and higher efficiency for priority projects. The key to maximizing efficiency and diminishing destruction is quick response and clean execution. When a water main breaks what you need are skilled men and women on the job as fast as possible. Rather than wasting time with manual preliminary tasks, wouldn’t it be nice to focus on the important things like safety and priority work? Organizing crews and work in the morning, sorting through vacation requests and union rules daily can get complicated quickly. As the old saying goes, ‘the grind never stops.’ Let’s put an end to the status quo by working smarter, not harder.

With automated systems, the time it takes to recognize and respond to a problem can be more than cut in half. Getting crews assembled with the right skill sets along with assets like trucks and equipment, and information about the job in a quick and organized manner (all while being recorded for historical look-back) makes a world of difference. Technology and automation are your best friends during stressful situations and allow workers and managers to focus less on menial tasks and more on productivity and safety.

With the ARCOS Resource Management platform, all of this is achievable. ARCOS solutions have helped water companies across the country manage the disasters that come their way every day. Whether it is caused by a natural disaster, water main break, or simple day to day operations, automation can make your life so much easier. The powerful tools we provide will ensure that you’re using your time as efficiently as possible and getting the job done right.