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5 COVID-19 Best Practices For Your Utility

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Although storm season is upon us, the world has been facing a different type of crisis: The COVID-19 Pandemic. As many businesses shift to a work from home model or temporarily close their doors, utilities and other critical infrastructure companies have continued to work long hours and make sacrifices to keep us safe.

But while functioning under a pandemic, you may find yourself facing a new set of challenges: How do we keep OUR employees safe? By proactively rolling out a COVID-19 Response Plan, Grant County Public Utility quickly changed protocols to better protect their crews and customers.

According to an article published with T&D World, the utility’s response was rapid and extreme:

“In a pandemic, the direct risk isn’t to the infrastructure as it is in a wildfire or natural disaster.  What’s at risk is the availability of the people to get the work done and the ability to keep up under changed processes. Having been hit early with a COVID-19 threat, we’re improvising and learning new protocols, and maybe what we’re learning could help other utilities.”

After recently implementing ARCOS Mobile Workbench, Grant County PUD was able to easily facilitate remote work. With Mobile Workbench, supervisors, customer service, and dispatchers are able to remotely create tickets and distribute them to crews via a mobile device, without ever having to see each other in person. Crews can then update the ticket and mark it complete with the option to add additional notes. This new approach replaced an old fax-based system, and allowed crews in the field and employees at home to communicate within social distancing guidelines.

Besides optimizing new technology, Grant County PUD made other changes to help their operations run smoothly and safely during the pandemic:

  1. Allow non-essential workers to work remotely. Grant County permitted all office personnel to borrow any devices or office equipment that would help them work comfortably from home. They were also able to deliver office chairs, and offer a temporary reimbursement program so employees wouldn’t be burdened with extra costs during the transition.
  2. Bolster your internal communications. It’s important to have a streamlined process for communicating updates with your organization so everyone is in the loop. Consider a weekly email or living document that everyone can bookmark and access with the most up-to-date information.
  3. Socially distance and sanitize. Encourage your workforce to uphold the 6ft+ social distance, or work remotely. Ask that employees wear face-masks, and thoroughly sanitize all work stations and equipment regularly.
  4. Keep safety first. We know that utilities value safety above all. Social distancing, working from home, and proper sanitization are all considered basic safety protocols during this time.
  5. Finally, take a deep breath and be flexible. None of us are able to see what the future holds, or what will even happen a week from now. Be prepared to make changes that are best for your organization, employees, and customers.

To learn more about Grant County Public Utility District’s pandemic best practices, and how they rolled out their plan, check out their article with T&D World

For some quick tips and creative ways to adapt your ARCOS solutions to help you better tackle challenges related to COVID-19 and beyond, visit our COVID-19 resource page.

COVID’s Impact on Managing Operations: Activate your Workforce Automatically During Emergencies

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The recent pandemic has shown us that organizations have to be ready for anything – natural disasters, pandemics, and even cyber-attacks. When the unexpected happens, your demand for staffing, as well as material resources like equipment can change quickly. During events of this magnitude for this pandemic, the amount of time it takes for your company to adjust your resources can be the deciding factor between managing an emergency event smoothly or taking a large hit to your productivity and bottom line due to inefficiencies caused by manual processes. Whether you’re using the Incident Command System or another emergency response structure, the ability to stand up your teams and fill those important roles in your org chart is critical. Fortunately, there are solutions that allow for a real-time view of all of your resources that are truly available (versus what is on the schedule), so that you can make quick decisions based on the type of event you are experiencing.

One of the most important factors during any emergency event is consistent and clear communication. Many times you need to get an emergency message out to your workforce, whether it’s a quick notification to inform your workers that shifts are changing to lower transmission of a virus, that some departments are working remotely, or you may even need to notify specific groups (such as Maintenance) that a piece of equipment needs to be serviced. With an automated solution, you could even send messages to help support the current social distancing measures we’re experiencing, by letting workers know of a new government order or changing work conditions. By automating some of these tedious tasks, you can remove wasted time from critical operations and allow your managers to focus on productivity and safety. 

During a pandemic like we are facing today, or other unexpected emergencies, real-time information is critical. With full situational awareness into your workforce availability and resources, decision-makers can assess, respond and handle unexpected circumstances quickly. Automation of some of these manual processes and having a single source of truth for all of your resources can help maintain production or service levels when it counts – not to mention prevent loss of revenue due to workforce gaps or equipment issues. 

Are you seeing the theme here? What do companies need to manage their workforce and operations at their maximum potential during emergencies? Information and automation of manual, disparate processes. That’s why the ARCOS platform will also act as a centralized, cloud-based location to scale resources up and down according to your emergency plan and business rules, provide real-time information and communicate instantly when it counts. With ARCOS’ robust API, you can even pull in data from legacy systems such as payroll, human resources, asset management or work management systems in order to ensure you have the full picture of your operations. Once the smoke clears and business as usual resumes, you can do a full historical look back so you’ll be prepared for the next emergency. Whether it’s daily operations or the next unprecedented event, ARCOS will keep you and everyone in your organization on the same page.

COVID-19 and its Impact on Operations: Managing Shifts in a Time of Crisis

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During unprecedented emergencies, managing the shifts of your employee resources can be challenging. Right now you might be dealing with unexpected absences due to illness, quarantine and even PTO to cover childcare needs. It’s equally important not only to empower your employees to be able to manage their schedule, but also to innovate by developing creative shifts to keep people safe and lower the chance of transmission. If you could automate some of these historically manual processes, 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 up new non-standard shifts and fill them in accordance with union or business rules without ever having to email or pick up the phone.

If there’s one thing that COVID-19 will do, it’s going to help us all improve our business continuity and emergency preparedness, as well as highlight some of the inefficiencies we all have in our organizations, especially for shift management and workforce availability. You’ve had to create new processes, procedures, and even new ways of scheduling and managing shifts to help comply with social distancing and keep workers from transmitting illness to one another. You may have also had a large part of your administrative staff working remote for the first time. Trying to gather information about who’s working, next up for overtime, on sick leave, has requested a shift trade, etc. can be extremely difficult if you have disparate processes or systems in place to track your data and availability. Using an automated system like ARCOS can provide a single source of truth and full situational awareness during both business as usual and an unexpected emergency situation. By having this situational awareness, you can manage all of your shifts efficiently within your business rules, and automatically notify all employees and scale your workforce up and down depending on your needs. Using a system like this every day, no matter what the situation, will help you build trust with your employees, executives and regulators because you know where your resources are at all times, every day, during daily operations or emergencies.

Our solutions can help make the difference between an informed, quick response to a crisis or having to manage inefficiencies that will affect your bottom line. Saving operating costs by reducing the amount of supervisor time, maintaining minimum staffing levels and ensuring the maximum safety of your workforce seems like a win-win. Helping your workforce feel safe and in control of their schedules during an emergency will not only keep them focused and productive, but it will also later help you with retention and to attract new skilled labor. With automation, you can improve your organization and consistently handle the next big emergency.

5 Ways to Leverage Your Current Systems with New Tech – Getting More Mileage (and Money) Out of Your Current Systems

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Unfortunately, legacy systems don’t always communicate like you need them to. But after all of the time, training, costs, and effort going into installing your trusty tech, you want to make sure you’re maximizing your current investments through updated systems that can help your work management and outage management integrate better, keeping your organization on track. Think about it this way: New tech can actually help you get more money out of your previous investments.

Here are five ways new technology can help bolster your current investments:

  1. Improving schedule details across the board. Using an integration strategy to connect your systems will provide indisputable visibility for managers, stakeholders and employees, and allows crews to be scheduled more efficiently when you can see the full picture.
  2. Creating one source of truth. When data is manually pulled from one system and then entered into another, things can get a little jumbled. Some information could go missing, and there is always the risk of human error. Newer systems can automate these processes by feeding data with an API, saving time and potential miscommunications.
  3. Improving efficiency with the ability to use the same systems for both blue sky and events. If everyone is familiar with your legacy systems and the new tech, time can be saved by eliminating the need for training, and knowing that all of your information is automatically up-to-date.
  4. Enhancing benchmarking by having better, quicker access to reporting metrics. Supervisors can easily extract data to confirm that crews are consistently being productive across your work centers.
  5. Helping cross the finish line during the last mile stretch. Even if your project has been carefully planned for weeks, an issue could pop-up the day of, turning everything on its head. For example, during the morning kick-off of your next large project, you may only have four out of five crew members available due to illness or an emergency. What do you do now? Do you move ahead with the four crew members you have or reschedule for another day? Having full access to all your systems can help your organization make educated decisions under pressure.

From out in the field to the home office, ARCOS Resource Management helps utilities better manage work and people together, be it blue sky or a major event. And when your systems are able to talk to each other and efficiently share information you can trust, planning, proficiency, and reporting all become a lot easier. Learn more about ARCOS solutions at https://www.arcos-inc.com/solutions/

In the Blink of an Eye – Scalable Resource Management

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When it comes to daily planning during blue-sky operations, the tricky part is not laying out the workday, knowing what to do, or launching projects ahead of time. Instead, the challenge lies within the inevitable pop-up of unplanned events – you know, when Jim has to call off due to an emergency, or Sarah has a last-minute doctor appointment. 

With a schedule that’s already full of inspections, maintenance, and infrastructure repair jobs, managing both people and work for regular daily operations and spontaneous situations can quickly become a time-consuming, restoration-delaying, never-seem-to-make-any-headway mess.

To better cover your bases and accommodate last-minute changes, companies need to have a scalable system in place that eliminates the build-up of manual processes surrounding unplanned events big or small. It’s an essential measure preventing crew changes from flowing backward thanks to unexpected assignments. And ultimately, the forward momentum created by efficiently maximized finite resources will better ramp-up and tackle the amount of infinite work. 

When all real-time cards are visible on the table (work orders, available crews, and more), it’s a cinch to make quick, informed decisions that both save time and improve customer service. Automating processes such as callout, crew management, roster exchanges, and work tickets lead to a faster response due to the right people completing the jobs that their skills speak to the most. This resource alignment allows crews to move on to the next queued up order more swiftly. 

ARCOS’ solutions are perfect for the process. Products like Mobile Workbench can:

  • Report on the location, status of equipment, and crew makeup via mobile technology 
  • Integrate with ARCOS Callout, Crew Manager, and Mobile Workbench to change your business with an increase in operational efficiency
  • Help make reporting and reimbursement a snap by capturing data from one source of truth
  • Provide valuable insight into the past with historical data capture, so tomorrow’s plans can draw from a basis of exact and accurate real-world knowledge

Municipals and cooperatives alike can benefit immensely from having a flexible work management solution. Mobile Workbench compresses the amount of time it takes to assign, distribute, and manage work conducted in the field. 

There is a smarter, better way to make your business more efficient. Learn more about how to automate your day-to-day blue sky operations and emergency needs with ARCOS Mobile Workbench. Click here.

ARCOS Congratulates Many Partners on Top Airlines of 2019 List

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The holidays. Summertime. Spring break. What do all of these things have in common? Oh yeah, busy travel times! In fact, holiday travel records were broken at the end of 2019, with 115.6 million Americans traveling between December 21st and January 1st, 2020, according to AAA.

The same article mentions that amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, air travel saw a 4.9% growth, with over 6 million Americans expected to fly around the holidays. That’s the most the industry has seen since 2003. (AAA Newsroom)

Each new year brings new rankings and lists, with everything from “2019’s Best Films and TV Shows” to “The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines of 2019” – a yearly piece with The Wall Street Journal. This year, ARCOS is proud that many of our airline industry partners landed top spots on the list.

According to the article:

 “Airlines say 2019 had stronger everyday storms and more congestion on air-traffic routes and big airports than 2019. They expect things to get even worse this year.” 

How is your airline keeping up? Top-ranked airlines on the scorecard face unpredictable storms and increasing amounts of travelers by automating their ground shift management and filling trips with solutions like ARCOS RosterApps and Ascend – helping airlines to get planes into the air more efficiently.

Despite all of the challenges, from weather to more travelers taking to the skies, ARCOS partners have even seen improvement with KPIs like:

  • On-time arrival rates
  • Number of cancellations
  • Number of delayed flights
  • Number of late or lost bags, and more

This can be accomplished by engaging your employees, administrators, and schedulers with tech that gives full visibility into open shifts and trips, all while automatically applying your company’s rules and policies. And yes, that means eliminating the manual processes that often lead to human errors and grievances.

Want to learn more? Check out our airline solutions, or download our whitepaper on how ARCOS RosterApps increases the efficiency of airline ground support.

Save your Sanity while Managing Shift Bidding & Swapping

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Many large corporations have started to realize the complexity required to maintain shift management swapping, trading and bidding processes. If you have a shift-based workforce with specialized skills and strict business rules or union agreements, shift management inefficiencies can be costing you big time.

If you’re struggling with filling unplanned gaps in shifts, finding people to meet overtime needs, or keeping your employees happy with their schedules, technology exists to help. Specifically, new shift management solutions can address filling shifts but also shift bidding and even shift trading processes.

What’s the Problem?

Far too many companies are still attempting to handle this process with Excel spreadsheets, phone calls, paper requests and whiteboards. This process becomes even more daunting when you’re also dealing with filling last minute gaps in the schedule. Recently, we took a poll of several critical infrastructure companies. Nearly 80% fill their shifts manually with phone calls.  Additionally, 40% of those companies report that they lose valuable time trying to get the correct skilled employees into the correct shifts. When you look at the overall picture here, it’s a recipe for inefficiency that can cost you big time.

What Can You Do?

It is time to digitize and automate the shift management process.

Automation will… 

  • Ensure business rules, union contracts, and company policies are followed without error in a consistent and fair approach 
  • Cut administration costs and enable employee self-service; greatly improve employee morale, which can reduce turnover
  • Dramatically reduce errors in payroll associated with overtime and shift swapping
  • Free up managers and supervisors so they can focus on leading their employees, not handling administrative tasks

ARCOS has the leading solutions for critical infrastructure companies trying to manage their workforce and increase productivity of managers and supervisors. Too good to be true? Don’t just take our word for it, check out how we helped our customer Piedmont Airlines streamline their shift management processes. 

An Interview about Cyber Security, SOC 2, and AWS with Ted Schneider, ARCOS Chief Technology Officer

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Ted Schneider, ARCOS chief technology officer,  knows a thing or two about cyber security. In addition to being interviewed by Forbes and contributing articles to Energy Central, Ted manages the technology team responsible for ARCOS cloud operations, software development and product management. Schneider also oversees development of the product strategy plan, software road map, and user experience. During his career, he has managed teams who have developed software for the manufacturing, industrial automation, biomedical, healthcare, and HR industries all with a keen eye on keeping data secure. He has been a technology leader, executive, or product owner for leading companies like Taleo (now Oracle), Eaton, Rockwell Automation and GE Healthcare. He holds a bachelor’s degree and graduate degree studies from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. 

We thought we would pick his brain about cyber security, ARCOS’ recent SOC 2 compliance testing and passing and AWS.

Cyber security is an unending theme that is in the foreground of our digital age. Ted, ARCOS takes the security of utilities, airlines, and critical infrastructure industries very seriously and recently completed a SOC 2 audit. What is SOC 2? Did ARCOS pass certification? You have to be compliant. What does that mean?

Security is an evolving practice. There used to be perimeter-based security, which meant you built fences within your fences and moved them around. Now the idea is that the security practices are where you are. So, what SOC 2 ensures is the people that are accessing server areas in the moment have a need to be in those environments and there isn’t just a simple fence gate letting people in or out or letting them wander about. It’s more discreet in each piece of functionality that is served. The audit guarantees that only the people who need access to a small concise piece of information are allowed to obtain only that.

Listen to Ted’s answer about SOC 2 below.

So, to be compliant, kind of going backwards with your question there, is that we need to go through a third-party audit. We have a major firm that comes in and audits all of our different controls. SOC is “service organization controls” – and we are type two, which is a deeper audit than just the basics. And we did pass, and we have no qualifications on our passing the audit. What it does for the organizations that we serve, it ensures them that we are consistently following all of our organization’s standard operating procedures, our processes, and all the security practices that go with that as well. And that is confirmed each year, that we have documented, and we continually meet those practices every day.

Why is compliance so important?

It’s important in a couple of ways. Generally, our customers will give us an RFI or an RFQ around what we do for security or what we do for our controls. You know, back in the day, a client would send in their own audit team that would come in and interview ARCOS and check all of our standard operating procedures manually. Now through SOC 2, a company can fast track that whole process, and be ensured that during the procurement process, ARCOS is complaint and exceeds their security needs. We have roughly a 67-page report that shows them SOC compliance by all the different controls that are measured. They no longer have to spread their resources thin by sending anyone to interview dozens of ARCOS team members. They can confidently check off their own criteria by reviewing a single document.

Listen to Ted putting questions to rest. 

In many cases simply having the SOC  2 type compliance almost puts the question at rest immediately and allows the customer to move on to, is the solution a good fit and can we serve them best with that solution?

The product itself that we sell and offer to our customers as a solution must also be compliant in the fact that it has all the access controls, it has all the parameters and has all the configuration points and it does all the password management, a single sign on, et cetera, that comply with our customer’s standard operating procedures as well.

Are there other ways that ARCOS protects customer data?

Listen to Ted describe the other ways. 

There are many other ways. Some of the things that may or may not be part of the SOC compliance, but more so concerns of the customer is encryption. We definitely encrypt at rest. We encrypt in transit. Do we limit the access by our employees? Our employees do not access any of the customer’s data and only during support instances do the customer support people use the application to try to take care of any customer configurations that may be needed. So there’s other things outside of that. In addition to buying some of the best of breed products, as Oracle is our database, we use Oracle’s security operations to ensure that a company like Oracle is also behind us with security.

We have thousands of monitoring points. They measure real time. We measure up-time, every 30 seconds from around the world. And we do have at least four major touch-points from different products that we use for monitoring our own application. In addition to, we’ve built in our own alerts and monitoring system in the product to ensure we have a hardened system that can self-detect. We even have capability to do some self-healing within the product as well.  On top of that, we have regular patch management and updates that are monitored on our servers and for any situations that could occur on them.

Listen to Ted talk about ARCOS’ dedication to security. 

Security is an everyday practice at ARCOS and with the team that we have here serving all the technology out to the customers, it’s more than just putting things in place such as technology and products to ensure that or being audited. It’s in our thoughts every day. Security has to be every step you take along the way of serving the customer with the solution. And it needs to be thought through. Is it a secure practice? Am I doing the right thing that protects the people and the people’s data to ensure that it is very, very secure and at the same time not losing any speed or performance while doing it because the security can affect that as well.

Can you explain how ARCOS works in the cloud with AWS (Amazon Web Services)?

AWS is a very strong partner with ARCOS and our platform is housed within the AWS infrastructure in multiple regions and locations. We not only have redundancy within the tiers, but redundancy within the regions and locales. ARCOS uses approximately ten different products within AWS that helps us, but the security in and of itself is above and beyond what a normal in-house, on-premise, IT organization would be adhering to because it serves a worldwide network. All the different AWS security features and functions are available to us in addition to our SOC compliances.

Have you ever personally helped a Nigerian Prince or bought $2,000 worth of gift cards for your CEO when you received his email asking for them?

(laughing) I have not responded to any rogue emails that appear to be from our CEO or any other person in the company that are requesting gift cards. And in addition to that, while I’ve helped a lot of people, I may have helped a Nigerian Prince somewhere along the way in my life, but I’m not sure exactly how I did that, whether it was opening a door or helping them carrying a bag. I have no idea. (laughing)

Get Ahead of the Curve by Empowering Employees with Tech

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Consider this – everyday, digital transformation is happening all around us. Technology puts our world in a constant state of change and forces critical infrastructure industries to quickly automate another manual process in their operations.  Gallup Research shows that in the working world, millennials are quickly outnumbering generation x-ers and baby boomers. Within the next two years, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of millennials. Companies face the challenge of attracting and developing this powerful contingent that has different priorities and values than previous generations. In industries where skilled employees are retiring in droves every year, technology is the key to engaging new generations of employees.

How Businesses Are Responding

Almost half of millennials say they have the newest and greatest technology items, while Boomers come in at one quarter, half the size of the millennial bloc. Engaging your workforce via technology is one of the best ways to attract new employees and ensure your workers feel connected to the work being done – not to mention provide flexibility around their work/life balance. Today’s workforce is looking for both stability and flexibility. They want to work, but they want to work shifts on their terms. Critical infrastructure industries will need to be able to provide this flexibility in order to attract a vibrant workforce – and do so in a manner that is efficient, safe and cost effective.

As this landscape of workers continues to change, digital and mobile technologies will be at the cutting edge of employee engagement. 42% of Millennials use real-time messaging at work, 42% use social media and 32% use work storage or sharing applications. The bottom line is, when you invest in technology – you invest in your employees. Just because a company has done something a certain way “forever,” doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.

The Role Technology Plays

Companies like ARCOS are helping critical infrastructure companies stay ahead of the curve of innovation by automating manual processes and providing mobility to field and plant technicians, as well as supervisors – all within regulations and business rules. ARCOS can help your organization take those tedious processes like paper note keeping, spreadsheets, whiteboards and manual phone calls. Digitizing shift management by automating the filling of shifts and managing complicated processes like shift bidding and swapping can help empower employees and give them guided autonomy and flexibility.

In a recent survey of critical infrastructure companies, we asked about the top challenges that these industries are facing. Here’s what they said: 

  • 80% are being weighed down by manually handling processes that can be automated to save both time and money
  • 40% are worried about the age demographics of their employees shifting
  • 30% of companies are worried about falling behind technologically

Let us help you. Learn more about how ARCOS can help your bottom line while engaging your workforce with our shift management solutions. Don’t just take our word for it, read more to see how we helped Piedmont Airlines dramatically improve their key performance indicators significantly. Learn more from our Ground Crew Support Scheduling white paper

Reclaim your Time by Eliminating Inefficient Operations

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Each year, companies are being pressured to do more with less. There is an infinite amount of work to do, but always a finite amount of resources to use. Being able to pick up the slack from unproductive, painful, manual processes can be a game-changer when it comes to your bottom line. Luckily, you’re not on your own and ARCOS can help.

So, What’s The Problem?

In a recent survey, we asked companies in the critical infrastructure space to think about their processes and tell us where they’re losing the most productivity time. We asked them to rank processes on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most time-consuming. 

Our responders shared that they ranked creating schedules and following through on reporting as a 9.9 out of 10 difficulty. Whether it’s trying to get specialized employees into rigid shift structures according to your business or union rules, or spending time trying to figure out who the eligible employees are that can fill empty shifts, ARCOS works as your personal shift management assistant.

Another interesting response to our survey had to do with what tasks cause management to struggle at critical infrastructure companies, and honestly – we weren’t surprised by the result. 60% of the folks that took the survey listed managing work, reporting and productive time as their biggest struggle. 40% of those also lose valuable time getting the correct workers, with the correct skills, into the correct shifts, in the correct order. Automating this manual process could change the way managers and supervisors structure their day, leaving more time to focus on priorities and production.

How Can We Help?

With ARCOS, the manual, time-consuming processes described above can be a thing of the past. All the time spent with handwritten notes, spreadsheets, whiteboards, and manual phone calls and texts can be reduced and, in most cases, eliminated. With ARCOS shift management, you can complete processes that take several hours a day and shrink them down to mere minutes. The technology now exists that will enable you to spend more time on value added activities than emails and phone calls – here’s how Shift Management solutions from ARCOS  helped Duke Energy overhaul their plant operations and drastically help their day to day operations.