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Utility Resource Management Blog

The latest and greatest thought provoking content from subject matter experts at ARCOS and around the web

Treating Contractors Like Your Own

By Blog

In a blog series aiming to show what the digital utility of the future looks like, contractors are even more important to bring into the conversation than FTEs and the truth is they’ve been left behind in terms of innovation, my topic for today. Why?

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Digital Utility Past, Present, Future

By Blog

It’s a mistake to think that utilities are slow to adopt new technology. Truth be told, we’re all for anything that helps us get the lights back on faster. But just because technology is new doesn’t mean it helps do that. Replacing paper-based processes with a fancy new device that requires 20 extra steps is a non-starter. Line crews will seek the path of least resistance even if that means paper and handwritten reports. Needless to say, end-user adoption is critical.

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Why Callout Customers Should Use Crew Manager

By Blog

Lineman guides crane into position to pick up transformers.ARCOS’s Callout is the gold standard for field crew callout and is used by nearly all of the nation’s largest utilities. This automated callout system helps you build rosters and initiate automatic callouts. It is configurable to the highly specific and complex utility industry variables, including union rules, business procedures, and other work criteria. It meticulously tracks every part of the callout, including response rate. It offers a range of useful pre-built reports. Companies rely on our software to streamline their business and make that one aspect much more efficient.

But Callout isn’t the only tool in ARCOS’s arsenal. If you’re only using Callout, you ought to check out Crew Manager, a workload management tool.

Manage All Your Resources in a Single System

The name tells you that this solution manages your workforce. You can build crews, assign them, and track them as they go about their operations. But it’s actually much more than that.

Crew Manager manages all your resources. This includes vehicles and equipment, as well as personnel and associated expenses. It gives leadership real-time visibility into not just who’s working, but also who is available. It’s a comprehensive dashboard so that you always know where all your resources are and how much money is being spent.

For thirty party contractor or mutual aid crews, there is even lodging functionality in Crew Manager. You can preload hotel rooms you use and assign occupancy. Work with the hotels to get updates from them, as well, so you’ll always know how many rooms you have to work with. You can also track expenses for travel and meals. All in a single solution.

See the Present, Prepare for the Future

Whiteboards and spreadsheets are static and go out-of-date quickly. Crew Manager is crewing software that gives every employee who needs it a look at what’s going on at that very moment. You can also scroll back into the past to track completed jobs. Or go ahead and assign and plan for future dates and times.

Crew Manager is built for setting up future crew planning. You can try a variety of staffing scenarios to game out the best course of action. But even the best thought-out strategies aren’t foolproof. Conditions on the ground can change without warning. Crew Manager lets you react in the moment. You can modify those pre-prepared assignments as needed.

Cheryl Maletich, Vice President of Distribution System Operations at ComEd said, “When a utility has to pair or build crews, there’s another layer of complexity involved. Being able to simulate different staffing scenarios and react in real-time to complex, changing conditions improves the efficiency of the crew management process by an order of magnitude.”

Ease of Use Saves Money and Time

Crew Manager is intuitive and easy-to-use, with minimal training required. This will save you time and allow you to initiate a quicker response. Which in turn leads to briefer outages and greater customer satisfaction. You’ll see larger profitability because of the resources saved. It allows staff to focus on higher-level functions.

The main Crew Manager dashboard is simple, but has great capacity. You can drag and drop your resources based on their current availability. With a few clicks, you choose what you see and how it’s organized. Work can be assigned both automatically or manually, depending on the needs of the moment. Formula functionality allows you to add in many complex criteria for deeper dives.

Crew Manager lets you build all the views you need for each specific purpose or supervisor. Select from many details to get what you need, and all you need. These views can be saved in folders for easy recall as needed. They can be built by any employee you grant access to, and shared among teams or across departments. Security features let you control all access as specifically as you’d like.

This is readily scalable as any good emergency management software should be. You can add new crews, increase the scope of work, and prepare for bigger jobs. All in the same system you use to manage daily operations. After an emergency, you can also scale down with ease. Those no longer performing tasks drop off for a clean view.

Seamless Integration Puts All Operations in One Place

Crew Manager was specifically designed to integrate with Callout. You can fill shifts with Callout and request personnel right through Crew Manager. You can also take the crews you call out and assign them work orders and resources. Callout paired with Crew Manager helps you see who is available, and then deploy them.

Resource Assist brings contractor resources into the ARCOS platform. It allows third-party vendors to load their own personnel, equipment, and other assets and send them right into your ARCOS platform. Crew Manager is useful to manage those, too. You can drop the contractor crews right in among your regular staff. You can track their progress on the same dashboards you’re already using. Or separate them out if you need to; it’s up to you.

Crew Manager also has a powerful API. It gives you access to data from other work and outage management systems. In this way, you’re only using a single ecosystem for all your management needs. This allows you to keep your processes the same if you prefer, but make use of ARCOS’s crew management software to gain accurate insights and overviews of progress.

Comprehensive Reporting Means Ready Proof of Work

Every utility knows that storm costs can be challenging to recover. Crew Manager makes that process so much easier, by providing ways to get your information submitted faster and more completely, returning a bigger reimbursement. A financial manager at a co-op said, “If we had ARCOS, a good chunk of the data needed for FEMA could’ve been downloaded in seconds… ARCOS would’ve cut our cost recovery process in half.”

Automatic, detailed reporting in Crew Manager, just like in Callout, means you can easily verify work performed. This makes invoice reconciliation a snap. You’ll save time filing for reimbursement when the information needed is right at your fingertips. You’ll save money by spending less time pulling this data together. You’ll also get back a greater portion of what you spend when the proof of labor is easy to pull and show to the proper authorities.

All the metrics you need to evaluate your operations are present. Check metrics on specific personnel, or at the crew or location level. You can use this information to increase productivity. Or adapt your processes based on crew performance and preferences.

We Can Help

It’s important to have an agile, powerful software tool at your disposal. Especially with the ever-increasing pace of technology and communication. What solutions you use make a big difference in the efficiency of your organization. It impacts your bottom line.

ARCOS is prepared to help you through all conditions, blue skies and grey. Our comprehensive crew management solution makes your manual processes quicker and easier. It gives you the tools to look at them in ways you’ve never considered. It helps you identify improvements for your organization. You can achieve real-time situational awareness, eliminate the headaches of crew scheduling and response, and run the reporting you need.

If you’re ready to see how ARCOS can help you, contact us for a demo.

Why Public Works Should Digitize

By Blog

Woman working at a computerWorking in the public sector means you must keep the public’s trust. It’s no wonder, then, that public organizations and municipalities have been slower to adopt new technologies than other sectors. New can be risky, and these organizations are held to account by the people they serve. They understandably want to protect that trust.

But digitization has many benefits that serve both the company and the community. The modern world is racing along, and more and more of our daily activities are online. People expect their utilities and other public services to keep pace. So, it’s necessary to consider digital transformation; what that will look like, and how it will enable more efficient, fast, and reliable delivery of energy, water, and other resources.

Remote Work Attracts and Keeps Talent

Digitizing operations allows workers to operate from wherever they are. Some potential hires face constraints that prevent them from working outside the home. Or they may need more flexible hours. Digitizing gives opportunity to that type of prospective employee, increasing the pool of talent a company can draw from.

This type of work appeals to young people, who are more comfortable with technology. One study found that 75% of millennials prefer to work from home. They appreciate freedom, independence, and employer trust. Companies continue to face the challenge of replacing an aging workforce. It will benefit them to attract younger employees by offering the circumstances they want. Keeping those employees happy will help with retention. That saves money on new hire costs.

Remote work also benefits companies in a variety of circumstances. Work can continue uninterrupted in inclement weather. Employees don’t have to brave the elements and hazardous conditions to get to their job. During emergencies, workers can sign into your system and respond faster. They only have to walk a few feet, rather than drive miles to their workstation.

Visibility in the Field Provides More Efficiency, Quicker Response Times

This savings can apply to field workers, as well. If they are deployed from their homes instead of an office, they can respond much quicker. Time spent getting to the central location is eliminated. Utilities can call out whichever qualified technician is closest to the problem. They can send them the information they need en route on their smartphone or tablet. A mobile work order management system can provide specific instructions and diagrams for the job. It can provide swift, secure methods to get extra parts.

Updates can be sent back to the office the same way. This provides supervisors with real-time visibility into the field. Field crews can send mobile inspection photos and updates. Supervisors can quickly identify when experts or additional skills are needed. They can then deploy more resources. Or, possibly have a specialist walk the on-scene crew through the repair process remotely.

Much of the process of calling out those employees can be automated once your systems are digitized. Work management software can instantly evaluate many employee attributes. This includes location, skills, qualifications, and availability. A lot of time is spent analyzing these criteria manually. Automating frees up supervisors to focus on solving the problem, rather than preparing to respond to it. Digitizing allows you to be more efficient, productive, and agile in restoring services. It eliminates manual errors and miscommunications with automated, instant updates.

One of our customers restored power 30 to 45 minutes sooner once they implemented ARCOS’s workforce management software. More than 80% of their workforce routinely responded in under two minutes to the automated callout system. Another customer reduced its dispatch time by more than 30%. This improved their CAIDI and SAIDI scores, and also increased customer satisfaction and revenue.

Keeping Customers Happy Supports the Bottom Line

Municipalities that have switched to a digital workforce management solution see upticks in customer satisfaction. This makes sense because quicker response means service is interrupted less, and for a briefer time. The automatic visibility into how operations progress empowers companies to see the situation more fully and be more responsive. They can give them more frequent and accurate updates on what to expect through whatever channels they wish to communicate with those customers.

Having records digitized also allows utilities to provide more information to customers. In 2020, 85% of Americans own a smart phone (according to Pew Research), and that number is only continuing to go up. It makes sense to meet the public where they are. Many utilities have created their own apps or started updating their website frequently so customers can login to see a variety of information that affects them. Customers like this transparency. It helps them feel comfortable with what they’re getting.

In a public works company, you may not have as many competitors to deal with as private sector businesses. But keeping your customers happy means they will feel more loyalty to you. When you have requests that go to the public, they’ll be more supportive of helping you obtain additional resources and upgrades. It’s a win-win scenario.

Save Money by Ditching the Office

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, office space is expensive. There’s the rental cost for the space, compounded with utility use, supplies, furniture, and so much more.

With digitization and remote work, companies need less office space. By letting employees work from home, fewer desks and square footage are required in a central location. In some cases, multiple offices may be closed entirely. Allowing the workforce to operate from their individual dwellings saves the company money.

So, while streamlining manual processes, also consider streamlining the physical space, too. It can definitely help your profit margins.

Cybersecurity Threats Are Real, So Pick an Experienced Software Vendor

An examination of the benefits of digitizing public works would not be complete without addressing cybersecurity. One study found 74% of IT security professionals are concerned about such threats and think it likely they’ll have to deal with incidents.

Overall, though, digital efforts are more secure than paper files. Anyone can walk past a desk or open a filing cabinet and look at a document. With modern work management software, leadership can control exactly who accesses what data. This ensures each employee has access to the information they need, and not to what they don’t.

That’s why it’s so important to use software that you can trust. Choose companies that have been around and know what they’re doing, rather than start-ups that have little public sector experience or shaky funding.

In the security category, ARCOS has a distinct advantage. We’ve worked with more than 200 individual companies. Each have their own security policies, so we have insight into what works and what doesn’t. We’re able to comply with varying security protocols and learn from them. That has allowed us to build the most secure network possible to safeguard your data. We have a variety of checks in place to ensure continual uptime and data security.

The benefits of digitization are numerous. Work is done more efficiently. Employees are happier, supervisors have better visibility, and customers are more satisfied. Plus, the efficiencies save money and contribute to the bottom line because your resources are used wisely and many mistakes are eliminated. It can be done safely and securely.

ARCOS has a suite of workforce management solutions that can help you usher in a digital transformation to keep pace with today’s demands. Contact us today to learn more about our software.

How to Combat Your Ground Crew Shortage

By Blog

Airplace refueling on taxiwayWe’re in the middle of a staff shortage. It impacts many industries, but airlines have certainly been among those hit hard. This has led to a myriad of issues. More flights have been cancelled. We’ve seen a 24% uptick in mishandled luggage. Companies face an inability to cover sick call-offs. One airline even had to have their executive staff help unload suitcases from a plane.

All of this has frustrated customers. There’s also been plenty of bad press, even though these problems are rarely the fault of the airline. Flight delays are costing companies tens of billions of dollars per year. That number has been rising.

There is no easy out to the problem, which has many causes, and is expected to last for some time. But there are things that can be done to lessen its impact. ARCOS’s RosterApps stands ready and willing to help mitigate the ground crew staffing challenge. We want to assist you in getting passengers in the air and your bottom line back on track.

Happier Employees, Fewer Delays

Employees are more likely to show up for their shift if they have some ownership in the process. ARCOS’s RosterApps has self-service functionality for shift bidding and trading. It even allows for partial shift split scheduling. In this way, employees can take control of their schedule, and adjust it as needed.

ARCOS is configurable for all your workplace and union agreement rules, as well as applicable laws and seniority. This lets you set up the software to take all necessary criteria into account for shifts and bids. There’s a bigger spotlight on labor right now and staff are pushing back on company rules. RosterApps can help you make those adjustments with each new change of policy or circumstance.

RosterApps replaces manual, time-intensive shift scheduling with a quick, accurate automated process. That, in turn, reduces issues and grievances. Employees are only able to bid for the shifts they are actually eligible for. It also tracks work time to make sure they aren’t assigned too many consecutive hours or days. These rules apply to shift trades and coverage, too, so you don’t have to worry about someone trading into a shift they aren’t qualified for.

Employees love being able to manage their work schedules themselves. They won’t have to wait in line or fill out paper requests. They can access RosterApps right from their smartphones. Approvals and change notifications can be sent by automatic text and emails.

Employee satisfaction with the system leads to greater retention and fewer grievances. In this environment, that means fewer shifts missed and flights cancelled. Which contributes to greater customer satisfaction and more profit for the airline.

Full, Controlled Visibility

Supervisors can use RosterApps to set bids, approve trades, and track employee actions. The menus and screens are intuitive and user-friendly. RosterApps eliminates paper, spreadsheets, and fax machines. That makes for a more efficient and resource-friendly operation. It also frees up time spent on those cumbersome tasks. This allows you to focus on larger strategy initiatives and customer satisfaction.

It also provides a consistent process. We know many airlines operate multiple locations with separate scheduling processes. By centralizing your ground crew shift scheduling and bringing everyone on the same page, you gain consistency and efficiency across the board. It’s easier for areas to cover for others, and cross training is standardized.

Every action taken in the system is automatically logged. This applies to supervisors as well as employees. That makes for comprehensive reporting. Whether you have a question about a specific employee or paycheck, or want to analyze workforce trends, you can make use of the dozens of built-in reports that come standard in RosterApps. ARCOS is also happy to work with you to build custom reports.

RosterApps also has security features that allow you to control exactly who sees what. So managers can be set to only view their own departments, while executives can have visibility into the whole company. This helps leaders make informed business decisions. Your data lives in the cloud, and is accessible from anywhere at all times.

Integration Made Easy

ARCOS’s RosterApps can easily be used as stand-alone scheduling software. However, it also has the capability to integrate into your existing system via API. This maximizes your existing investments, allowing you to not only keep, but extend the value of existing time and attendance software you’ve already invested in. We can take the data from those systems and load them into RosterApps, making it easier to view, manipulate, and update all shift scheduling and timekeeping information. There are different options depending on how much you want to rely on ARCOS versus your other software.

Because RosterApps is not on-premise, it contains web-based security protocols specific to what you need. You won’t have install, update, or maintain any equipment, either; it’s all built into the software, and updated automatically. New updates are rolled out based in feedback from you, with the system constantly improved upon in small ways to avoid disruption of service.

Keep Your Profit

Profits are falling with the current challenges. Crew costs are the second biggest expense on airlines, after fuel. And when the crew isn’t working well and flights are cancelled, those profits shrink.

RosterApps gives your team the oversight to spot problems well before they arise. Ground crews can be rebalanced or reassigned if too many people are scheduled for a certain task, or if an area isn’t being covered. This prevents money loss if those problems are allowed to unfold unchecked.

The benefits of all of the above go right to your ROI. More satisfaction and more shifts filled mean more money for your company. Employee retention means fewer resources spent on training and onboarding. Customer satisfaction results in fewer refunds and more tickets sold.

One airline that adopted RosterApps said, “Since launching ARCOS RosterApps, I’ve never heard someone say it’s too complicated.” High praise for a system that does so much, handling all your ground crew scheduling needs.

ARCOS’s RosterApps is a powerful tool that employees and management love. It empowers everyone to take ownership of their own area, and provides the oversight needed to keep business running smoothly. It saves you money by automating manual processes and helping spot problems before they occur. It’s configurable to your specific needs and legacy software.

Contact us to get a demo of RosterApps to see how it can help your airline with today’s toughest challenges.

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.

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