This special interest group covers mobile technologies and approaches that are helping utilities do business today. 


Improving Mobile Workforce Management

image credit: © Suwin Puengsamrong |

Transitioning through the digital-centric changes to come


The last year has been a difficult experience for many with the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdown. Consumers have been on a digital transition, with much greater use of online shopping, food deliveries and teleconferencing. When the pandemic is over, hopefully not long now, it seems likely that many of these trends will continue.

These changes in lifestyle will have an effect on consumer behaviour and utilities should take note of this. This is likely to propel utility sector companies to integrate digital and virtual technologies into their business models. In the near future Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and enterprise analytics are going to be crucial in meeting increased customer expectations of personalization and virtual engagement.

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On the utility side, an increasingly mobile workforce will need to prioritize new solutions. For example, providing monthly home energy reports, or high usage billing alerts. With smart meters and data analytics this can benefit consumers. Local assistance programs can concentrate on low income/low energy use consumers, who will be suffering from the pandemic's economic downturn. It may also have the side effect of helping law enforcement track down basement LED cannabis farms by their unusual energy consumption.

As the demand for energy across the commercial, industrial and retail sectors drops during these uncertain times, more accurate information will help utilities plan for the future. The industry needs AI-powered data, captured and evaluated by the utilities which can predict demand, evening ramp cycles and overall customer interactions.

With effective and accurate software, utilities will be able to dig deeper into the data, and extract insights into which appliance is responsible for particular consumption patterns – for example, heavy washing-machine use on Wednesday evening after sports practice, or television, games console and kitchen appliance use on Sundays when entire families are at leisure. This will feed into demand modelling and prediction for how much energy the grid will need to provide in future. The increase in home working will also shift patterns of electricity use in new ways, which utilities will need to compensate for in their planning.

As these information flows provide additional and precise insight into exactly how much energy each appliance uses, utilities can make more accurate grid upgrade plans. The expansion of smart meter deployments has flowed increased customer data to the utilities, but utilizing that data has always been a challenge for utility management. It will require investments in enterprise analytics platforms which integrate with smart hardware to provide the deep insight into consumer usage needed.

On top of this, managing the digitally mobile workforce will enhance the utility's ability to:

  • Integrate resource planning, scheduling, dispatch, mobile, and business analytics

  • Obtain more detailed street-level mapping and routing

  • Use cost-based optimization that accurately reflects all key business priorities

  • Assign workers according to specific job types, priorities, and resource capabilities

  • Use cloud-based, on-premise, and mobile platforms

  • Upgrade to AI based scheduling, where mobile workers are automatically updated with new tasks optimised for performance.

This will improve competitiveness, reduces costs, avoid many problems and difficulties and de-risk endeavours. Best practice in managing the mobile workforce will have the following advantages:

  • Optimization of resources

  • Real-time visibility for management systems

  • Dynamic scheduling of workforce tasks

  • Superior tracking of performance against plans

  • Improved systems interconnection and communication

  • Reduced operating costs while improving asset life and customer satisfaction

  • Lower travel distance, vehicle emissions, and fewer missed appointments

  • Speedier responses, optimized work tasks and job completions

  • Improved productivity with decreased crew hours and overhead

  • Improved ICT performance

  • Better reporting of work administration, training and performance monitoring

The future involves three factors: the use of greater renewables on the grid, a more mobile workforce with more energy-conscious consumers (or more likely their Internet of Things appliances) and a need for powerful computing usage to ensure that the system works well and is not destabilized by future events, be they extreme weather events like the recent Texas calamity, or more pandemic lockdowns, as we have seen how a rogue virus can affect the whole world. Utilities need to think carefully about this new era and ensure they are ready for it. Using the best practice for a mobile workforce will be part of this process.

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