Utility resource management puts employees’ evolving skills in play

By May 23, 2018Blog

Deploying technology is a smart, safe way to shorten restoration. Here are a few examples. At ComEd, managers simulate different field staffing scenarios, so they can pivot to meet changing conditions and quickly respond with the right crews. At Alabama Power, mobile damage assessment technology eliminates multiple handoffs of maps and notes between storm coordinators, damage evaluators and field crews. Mobile damage assessment gets the right resources to the right place, which trims costs and compresses restoration time.

Efficiency stems from having well-ordered processes. And technology can improve the speed of carrying out good processes.

But take stock of your team’s skills, too. Skills are like static electricity – stored energy, ready to go. The key is turning the static into kinetic energy.

Here’s an example: Utility employees’ storm roles should evolve to take advantage of newly acquired skills such as drone pilot. Imagine managers calling out someone (who normally works as an accountant) to assume his or her storm role as a wire guard. Since the last time the employee was called out in this capacity, the worker happened to earn an FAA remote pilot certificate. That’s a valuable skill that might expedite restoration if the employee were reassigned as, say, a damage assessor. And knowledge of that evolving skill set is something to factor into the real-time demands of the situation.

“We have talked about that, and we know who in our company is licensed to fly drones, not just hobbyists,” said a vice president with a Midwestern electric utility.

The executive went on to say that southern U.S. utilities responding to recent hurricanes recruited contract teams of drone pilots to augment damage assessment. With this in mind, managers should keep tabs on the evolving skills of their contract crews, too. Tools like ARCOS Resource Assist replaces a utility’s myriad handmade spreadsheets, phone calls, texts and emails with real-time data including a contract crew’s make-up, location, availability and contact information. RA gives managers a head start on knowing whom to call in advance of trouble.

There are an array of technologies to capture people’s evolving skills. Forward-thinking utility managers are the ones imagining scenarios where newly acquired skills might be applied to long-standing challenges. For instance, what if the government lifts the line of sight requirement for drone operation? How would that change the damage assessment process? Managers anticipating this change might ask employees who have a gaming background to add that skill to their profiles. If the FAA lifts the ban, utility managers could alert non-field employees with gaming prowess that their skills could be applied in obtaining a drone pilot certificate and, consequently, a new storm role.
“I do see us expanding our formal roles to include drone damage assessment and capturing that in our playbook,” added the Midwestern electric executive.

Technology changes, yes. But, more importantly, people use these ever-developing technologies beyond work, at home and recreationally. The know-how gained from mastering the technology around us is something utility managers should keep tabs on and conjure up how to deploy in new ways.