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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

The Art of Coordinating IT Decision Making to Business Strategy 

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

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

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

 1. Build a Charter of Operations 

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

2. Building the Team with Leads 

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

 3. Review and Reassess 

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

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

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

COVID-19 & Everyday Resource Management 

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The Agile Workforce Management Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Crews Safe with Easy Dissemination of COVID-19 Protocols 

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

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

Automation vs. Manual Callouts

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Time and Cost Savings for Every Utility

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

The Benefits of Automation 

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

Hanging up the Phone and Embracing Technology 

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

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

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

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

Improving the Customer Experience

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Data Collection and Increased Efficiency

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

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

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

But why should the data stop with customer interpersonal analytics? 

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

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

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


The Longview Vision of FEMA Reimbursement and Storm Cost Recovery

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

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

Ways to Learn 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untwisting the Strings 

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

How Tech Can Solve Your Storm Cost Recovery Nightmare

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In September 2017, Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys. This single catastrophic event caused an estimated $50 billion dollars in damage as utilities responded to the nearly 6 million people were without power.  The labor used and the cost of repairs was astronomical. Even a year later, utilities were still working to track crew data for cost-recovery reports tied to the restoration.  

Although a massive storm like Irma is a great example of just how hard it can be to keep up to date with tracking and costs, plenty of other smaller damaging events often leave utilities pressed to come up with the documentation needed for FEMA reimbursementsIt’s a challenge for all utilities, however; some fail to realize that there is a simple, long-term solution for these short-term events. 

Looking to technology for storm cost recovery data and reporting can help to quickly validate the info you need to prepare a cost-analysis report. Without an automated damage assessment equipment for data collection, a utility can take up to 6 months or more to compile data for reporting.  

But when dealing with major outages caused by natural disasters, some utilities are still manually recording and tracking their crewsHaving one source of truth for historical data capture can help with: 

  • Records showing how many meals both internal and external crew members ate per day 
  • Data tied to hotels internal and external crew members stayed in, their vehicles, and their work orders – including descriptions of damage assessments and their GPS coordinates 
  • Data collection at the point of repair, including GPS coordinates 
  • Steps taken by managers before during, and after the restoration 
  • Eliminating the need to bring on consultants who specialize in cost-recovery submissions 

These days, tracking an entire restoration process manually is not only impractical, but is costing your utility more money, time, and resources. Many utilities across North America are turning to automated solutions to track their crews and record data seamlessly and effortlesslyUsing ARCOS solutions like Crew ManagerResource Assist, and Damage Assessment can automate your manual storm cost recovery processes, leading to crystal-clear transparency needed for recovering all restoration costs. With advanced solutions like these, utilities everywhere are saving hundreds of millions of dollars along with cutting the time of storm recovery in half.  

By turning to technology, you can say ‘goodbye’ to swimming in paperwork and searching for data from years past. Check out our recent whitepaper to learn how your utility peers are using ARCOS to simplify their storm cost recovery and FEMA reimbursement challenges, while saving time and money.  

Using the Benefits of 5G and Technology to Better Workforce Management

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As we move quickly through 2021, many things are changing. Warmer weather is finally making an appearance, COVID-19 vaccinations are continuing to roll-out, and your organization probably has a few new major projects underway. All in all, the future is looking bright.

One change that is rapidly becoming a new normal is the introduction of 5G. Most people have heard of it, although many do not realize how large an undertaking 5G really is for telecommunications companies. It may just seem like devices are getting faster, but behind the scenes is a strong workforce that is working hard to make our lives easier.

While front line workers are out in the field installing new hardware to cell towers and upgrading and replacing existing lines and towers, engineers are also upgrading and tweaking the existing software to maximize the speed and reliability of 5G for everyday use. While this is exciting for most, whenever a new project (especially one of this size) is undertaken, it is not a matter of if problems will arise, rather it is when they will arrive.

Having the ability to speed up and automate daily priorities like filling absences, assigning work, and obtaining job status can really impact your day before you even start thinking about the other “big stuff”. But being ready for both planned and unplanned work is of the utmost importance, and one of the best ways to be prepared is to have already have a system in place for filling shifts and finding the right, available people.

So, what does 5G mean for your organization? Whether your crews are out installing and preparing for 5G, or a home office is helping to manage your workforce, you can expect faster communication, better quality of service, higher internet speeds, and longer reach. Sounds great, right? However, what is the point of having such a robust network if its potential is not fully realized? With 5G comes a whole new world of technology at your fingertips, but if you are using those fingertips to manually manage your workforce, some would consider it a waste. That is where ARCOS can help.

Making sure your telecommunications company has the right workers in the right place, at the right time, is the key to doing more with less. With these new 5G advancements, the ARCOS platform can help you gain efficiency and leave the whiteboard and dial phone where they belong: in the past. Industry leaders in critical infrastructure all over North America are using ARCOS to prepare for any situation with a quicker response time, advanced tracking, crew management and reporting (while also saving money). All your hard work on installing 5G can also benefit your own team and mobile workforce’s communication. Allow ARCOS and the power of the 5G you are creating to work together and build a faster, smarter, and more efficient work environment for all.

Work Management for 2050 and Beyond 

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A recent study published by AGU Advances has made the startling conclusion that reaching zero net carbon emissions by 2050 is not only surprisingly feasible, but affordable. According to the research, carbon neutrality can be achieved by rebuilding the energy infrastructure with a primary focus on renewables. While that proposition is nothing new, the study claims that it could come at a net cost of about $1 per person per day.  

What does this mean for the utility industry?  

The 2015 Paris Agreement set the net zero emissions global goal, and now with the United States re-entering the accord, a blueprint on how to achieve this objective may have just presented itself. Utilities have already made huge strides in reducing their carbon footprint, and most have built emission reduction into their future strategies. But truth be told, it is a heavy lift which will take lots of labor, resource changes, and almost a complete overhaul of current systems and the thought processes of many.  

How do we get there? 

It starts with organization and working backward from the goal. Think of it like constructing a tree from the top  you start with what touches the sun, and then branch out as you go down. The end goal will be a carbon neutral infrastructure that only needs maintenance, but the branches below consist of constructing transmission and pipelines for cardon dioxide and hydrogen gas and increasing solar and wind capabilities for energy harvesting. Below that is transforming fleet vehicles into a zero-emission convoy. And finally, you reach the root of it all, constructing new buildings containing the latest energy producing hardware based on sound, strict energy efficiency and no-loss generation principals. To make the whole of each branch, leaves or needles hang off each. Think of these as the jobs and work that will lead to what the branch will become. While this is a generalization and can seem daunting, when this visual representation is used with the correct tools and solutions like the ARCOS suite, the destined carbon neutral finale of 2050 is easy to reach and put into practice.  

Making ARCOS a part of your sustainable future 

ARCOS can help get you there by giving the jobs and work that must be done structure with one systemResourcecrewcontractor, and work management within a single platform is possible and can keep utilities advancing toward the zero-emissions goalARCOis also paperless, allowing organizations to truly embrace the dedication they have to the carbon reduction cause. And reporting is never an issue as any move made is logged, creating one source of truth for internal stakeholders, regulators, and government entities.  

The world is changing and so is the utility industry. With thought, pre-planningstrategy and software in place, we can get anywhere together. Start here to learn more.  

Why Emergencies Need Incident Management Apps

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Emergency & Incident Management Solutions

The surprises never end. The unexpected has become the expected, like Texas having a winter weather emergency. What else will come our way? In short, it’s impossible to know. Although we can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, being prepared can ensure that you are ready for anything. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” It’s why Incident Management has suddenly appeared as a priority on many operation’s radars. The race is on to magically create something to conquer sudden turmoil fast, but that’s not the way to produce a successful implementation or adoption by workplace peers and management teams.   

The fact is, emergency response management isn’t simply a thing that is quickly conjured into existence. It takes the right team, tools, and leadership to work in these uncertain times. It also takes time to put strategies in place when time isn’t a luxury you possess. Also, when an emergency blitzes in and decimates day-to-day plans, there is no “one-size-fits-all” response because no two scenarios are ever the same. Adaptability and scalability solutions are key for a rewarding situational incident management endgame.   

So, the big question is, how does this all come together? The essential need for a speedy response has shown that manual processes will not cut it. Reliable automation is necessary for aiding a fast turnaround during any event. Workforce and emergency management have both evolved past whiteboards, sticky notes, and manual phone calls that cause confusion, mistakes, and are demonstratable time-wasters. The future is here, and with it comes advanced ways to make sure you can respond as quickly as possible. Automating your systems can not only optimize your workforce but will also allow for uncompromised emergency management and record response times.    

Software companies like ARCOS have helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of individuals by automating processes and speeding up response and restoration intervals in any situation. Solutions like ARCOS CalloutCrew Manager, and Mobile Workbench terminate manual callouts during emergencies and daily operations, all while being able to track and manage crews remotely, even from your mobile device.  

In this chaos we live in, it is important to be able to safely communicate and manage the work environment while social distancing too. There is no better way than using proven technology to get the job done for you. Start by evening adaptability and the ability to scale crews or Incident Command Systems up or down to meet a current crisis’s requirements with solutions like ARCOS Incident ManagerARCOS has also helped companies bolster COVID-19 response. 

While emergencies will never end, you can put a stop to scrambling, worry, and inefficiency. High tech solutions are available right now to allow organizations to perform one clickable action and solve any incident management issue that the universe can throw at them.   

Vaccines & Workforce Management

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3 Tips on Keeping Employees Healthy


COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out, and while this is excellent news, it still does not eliminate the question of how utilities are keeping workforces healthy and safe from potential infections. Being a pro-active industry, process and procedure as viewed through the looking glass of employee health has been honed and honed again to make sure power companies are managing their coronavirus response right. And while utilities are ecstatic to see the distribution of the vaccines, they are still cautious when it comes to dealing with this deadly virus.    

During the beginning of the pandemic, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) estimated that as many as 40% of an electric companies’ staff could become sick, quarantined, or forced to take PTO to care for ill family members. It was an alarming statistic and one of the few early warning signs that spurred the industry into action. Many ideas that were tossed about on how to keep crews healthy while maintaining high service levels have worked well, but some were quickly discarded or over-hauled after causing slowdowns or problems in reporting. After a year of trial and error, these three tips have risen to the top for utilities across the globe. 

1. Be Open to Hybrid Operating Models 

Utility employees are everywhere – out in the community, inspecting infrastructure, visiting customer’s homes, grouped in the same teams, working in call centers, and managing from centralized commands. Initially, that model remained intact, but it became clear that it was not feasible for the new reality COVID-19 created. What if one crew member tested positive? Quarantining the rest of the crew would not allow the completion of incoming jobs. What if an infection happened in the call center or centralized command? The call center would be down, or the operations team wiped out for at least two weeks. 

Many utilities are allowing customer call representatives to work from home. Even operation managers are now working remotely using specialized solutions from companies like ARCOS. And pods have been created for work crews. Instead of building crews out of first responders, teams made up of pre-determined units are assigned work orders. This eliminates the worry of mixing team members and exposing a larger group to a possible positive coronavirus test.  

Being open to hybrid operating models is an essential part of keeping employees healthy.  

2. Find New Ways to Distribute Work 

The morning shuffle used to require an “all-hands-on-deck” check-in meeting. Not any longer. Most utilities are choosing to make these informative gatherings a remote affair. The technology exists to turn in-person meetings that assign work and sort out resource challenges into a virtual engagement.  

Automation can not only assign crews, but work tickets and teams can accept jobs on their mobile devices in the field. This ends the risk of anyone accidentally infecting another due to being required to be in the same place simultaneously. Theoretically, organizations with voluntary permission from employees could check off if a crew member has been given the vaccine and make it part of their skillset, producing a safer environment for all and granting a manager the ability to put together inoculated work teams.  

Technology can help distribute work and foster a healthier workplace. 

3. Keep Communicating and Constantly Review Policies 

Utilities have always taken a “safety-first” approach to their culture and operations. Now, “healthy-first” is being added. It is more than taking temperatures and recording them in a database. Leaders are consulting with everyone in their organizations, top to bottom, to identify where processes may be failing or need strengthening to ensure requirements such as keeping a six-foot distance between employees can stay implemented. They also share the information and policies that are working with other utilities in the industry.  

Complete weekly and monthly walk-throughs of every policy and procedure are being performed, pinpointing improvements in previous working methods focused on maintaining employees health. Safety Management Systems and Incident Command Structures are being reviewed, revised, and instituted, as necessary. COVID-19 has compelled the industry to leave no stone unturned so crews can always remain safe, healthy, and strong.  

Everyone from the chain of command to the field operative must continuously be vocal and in an open conversation to keep organizations healthy.  

Vaccines are a fantastic leap forward and a welcome sign that maybe, just maybe, the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is getting brighter and a tad bit closer. Let us hope so and continue to share what is working to keep workforce management on track.  

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