Jacklyn Ulban of Unitil: Profile of an Energy Central Innovation Champion
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- Apr 4, 2020 5:00 pm GMTMar 20, 2020 9:06 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-03 - Innovation in Power, click here for more
Earlier this year, Energy Central sent out a call for nominations for those who are leading the way in innovation in the electric power industry. The response was overwhelming, with over 100 submissions. A committee of Energy Central experts reviewed through all the submissions and helped us to identify and select five Champions in Innovation. For more details on this process, follow this link.
Jacklyn Ulban is a Manager of Business Resilience & Compliance at Unitil, and her industry peers nominated her for this distinction thanks to her prominent role in overseeing the implementation and rollout of iRestore’s exclusive First Responder mobile app across her utility’s service territory. As only the second utility to license this app, Jacklyn had to apply lots of creative thinking and innovative problem solving to ensure that her service area’s first responders would have eyes-on-the-scene with the precise location from community first responders while also enabling Unitil to prioritize their emergency restoration work.
In the following Innovation Champion profile, you’ll hear from Jacklyn in her own words about the challenges she faced implementing this project, her approach to innovation, and more. At the end, please help us in congratulating her by leaving a note or question in the comments section below.
Getting Started in the Utility Sector:
"Prior to joining the energy sector at Unitil, I served in the Navy aboard two different aircraft carriers throughout my service. The military really instilled a want to help others when things get bad which pulled me towards the emergency management field. I joined Unitil in 2009 right after they experienced one of the worst ice storms in their history. They were making changes to their emergency response procedures and I was very happy to join the team as a technical writer to help push those initiatives forward. After several years of learning the business and writing its emergency response procedures, we identified an opportunity to enhance our communication and coordination processes with our municipal officials to better serve our customers most importantly when it comes to public safety response.”
Motivation for Implementing the iRestore Program
“The main goal of utilizing the First Responder app was that we wanted to close the gap even further between the Company and its municipal officials during emergency events. Typically, Municipal Officials are notified of emergencies first and the incident may or may not involve local utility coordination. The iRestore app enhances communications between the utility and its municipal first responders in the field by providing a user-friendly mobile solution to report electrical related incidents directly from the field to the utility. It allows for pin-pointing the incident location and adding photos and other information that helps the utility quickly determine the appropriate resources needed to respond. Unitil was the second adopter, following National Grid, and has received positive feedback about the application from its municipal responders.”
Embracing Innovation in Emergency Response
“I do think that the industry has put tremendous efforts into enhancing emergency response through various channels and means, however there is never a one size fits all approach as each utility is guided by their regulatory and customer environments. As technology and our system begin to evolve, I believe as an industry we also need to continue to evolve by leveraging new technologies such as the First Responder App. Every day new and different threats are emerging and so must our response approach to them.”
Overcoming Challenges with iRestore Implementation
“Initial challenges had to do with user adoption and the change to internal processes. Anytime you initiate a new process or change into your business, there is going to be some challenges with adoption and understanding. However, once we got the right stakeholders in the room it was easy to plan out how the new process would complement our normal procedures. Some challenges externally were related to telecommunications service and availability of mobile devices to the municipal departments, however those were mostly out of our control and have mostly been addressed at this point.”
Obstacles in Technology vs. Obstacles in Education & Outreach
“Although they were different processes, they both had about the same amount of effort which was minimal. The application is easy to initiate for the Company with a little internal planning on how it compliments your existing processes. The application itself it ready to go and very user-friendly so minimal training was needed for end users. Once the end users began using the application, the benefits were realized, and many municipal officials would take it amongst themselves to use the application without Company involvement.”
Engaging the Stakeholders
“Initially we asked one of our key municipal officials to pilot the app with us and provide feedback on the process which proved invaluable to the success of the program. We routinely work with many of our municipal officials and meet regularly throughout the year on emergency response coordination. We took those opportunities to introduce the new applications to a wider audience, then followed up via email to all of our end users with instructions and information. We had put together slides and handouts however much of the program was very self-explanatory and easily understood.”
Lessons Learned for Large-Scale Projects
“The process was mostly the same, however it was expedited do to not having to configure the software which saved considerable time. The application has only had positive benefits for the Company and its relationship with municipal officials and believe more technological endeavors like this should be pursued. I think the industry is already providing great opportunities through special industry groups and conferences but could help coordinate more information for each utility to find the best possible solutions for their Company based on their individual landscape and culture.”
On the Future of Utility Innovation
“Innovation will definitely be coming in technology and advancements related to grid modernization and resiliency. Although we have many great tools for managing our resources and assets, the need to continuously monitor our infrastructure and energy flows in a secure way still has many improvements to make. This would be projects related to grid resiliency, monitoring and more advanced automatic control systems.”
Energy Central thanks Jacklyn Ulban for her valued contributions to the utility industry and for her leadership in the area of innovation. Please leave a note of thanks, ask a question, or just your two cents in the comments below. To see the other Energy Central Innovation Champions, see the rest of the Special Issue on Innovation in the Electric Power Industry.