The Ingredients for a Better 2020

image credit: Photo 150114817 © Leonid Yastremskiy - Dreamstime
Jim Nowak's picture
Senior Director of Operational Services ARCOS LLC

James D. Nowak, Senior Director of Operational Services, joined ARCOS in July 2014 after retiring from AEP after 37 years of service. As Senior Director of Operational Services, Nowak assists...

  • Member since 2018
  • 6 items added with 15,797 views
  • Jan 31, 2020

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

Let’s say you’re making apple pie for a family get together. Grandma’s classic recipe was always the best and you’re following her hand-written notes to a “t”. You know all the ingredients are in the cupboard which is lucky since budget issues have kept you from the store. But now, the whole family is coming - even the ones who never show. Suddenly, you need more fixings - while the amount of required pie keeps growing and growing.

Utilities are finding themselves in a very similar situation. As a utility, you have a finite set number of resources. Your cupboard is full of people, trucks, specialized equipment and even utility service providers. But when the workload increases with new customers, additional maintenance work, regulatory compliance orders, planned incidents, and weather-related and other disruptive events, budget and resource restrictions can hamper a utility’s ability to respond, restore and report. During weather-related incidents most utilities will rely on their mutual assistance processes but that comes with a price. So what can you do with the same amount of resources? 

We decided to take a look at a few current 2020 trends that are working to help utilities keep resources constant by ensuring that they aren’t spread too thin while having the added benefit of improving customer relations through technology.

Making Smaller Pies

The latest trend is to use technology to do more with less. By integrating proven existing systems, utilities are addressing the situational needs of their business. Improving the allocation of finite resources to the infinite amount of work coming in, products like a WMS or OMS can tag-team with a utility’s resource management system. This allows supervisors to efficiently handle the morning shuffle, huge events, or match employees’ skills to the job with greater efficiency. The integration of tools also allows for better reporting and a faster way to get to a single source of truth.

Using More of What’s Already There

Another trend is to avoid the dusting off of tools and technology utilities use in emergencies by utilizing solutions for both blue-sky and event driven processes. Many are discovering they already have technology in place that features a full range of functionality for blue sky and event situations. There’s also the benefit of knowing the system when an event strikes and not having to refresh one’s memory. Using a tool in all skies is not only desirable, but a 2020 necessity.

Taking It to the Streets

A third trend is they’re making it mobile. Utilities are assessing what work needs accomplished while in the field. In this world of instant information, why tether yourself to a desktop and radio? Delayed restoration and work efforts can happen and give customers a chance to vent on social media. The quicker meters are back up and attributed to a mobile solution, the better. Mobile puts control of response and restoration efforts into the palm of the supervisor and field employee hands. From assessing damage and issuing work to calling out and manning crews, mobile platforms are a vital piece of a utility’s shift management pie.

Technology has assisted in closing the loop that helps management and leadership staff crews, schedule and assign work, track resources, and report more accurately. 2020 will be a big year for utilities to bring all their processes and technology together to continue improving and empowering their employees. One thing is certain, we will see utilities continue to raise the bar, improve quality of life for all employees and allow them to work smarter and report real time through mobile technology.

Jim Nowak's picture
Thank Jim for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member


Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 24, 2020

One thing is certain, we will see utilities continue to raise the bar, improve quality of life for all employees and allow them to work smarter and report real time through mobile technology.

Can you expand on the improved quality of life for employees-- is it just through a more manageable work load? Or is the technology somehow helping with work/life balance for employees?

Jim Nowak's picture
Jim Nowak on Feb 5, 2020

Matt, sorry for the slow response, been on the road for a few weeks and trying to catch up.
In response to your question:
Mobile technology improves the employees quality of life in both areas you mentioned. The first and what I feel is the most important is work/life balance. Over my career, I’ve seen dedicated employees tether themselves to their job and end up missing important times in their family’s life. It could as simple as a child’s sporting event or class play to a state playoff or acceptance of an academic award. As technology improved over the years, the ability to cut the line and attend such events slowly improved. I remember what a great thing a pager was and how it permitted a person to extend their office. First it was the ability to get a page - then step out of a function and go to their truck and make a call or drive to the office. Now with Mobile technology, the employee can respond to a request via mobile tech until it is absolutely necessary for them to leave. This has not only helped supervisors, but first responders and employees who are up next on a callout roster. I realize mobile technology doesn’t stop or do the work, however; it does allow employees to cut the tether and remain active in the day to day life.
As for workload, mobile technology adds a new way of handling workloads. In the past, an employee may have several stacks of work packets, construction standards, maps, etc. Through mobile technology, these are now electronically at the workers fingertips. It’s a boon to have the ability to quickly pull up a construction standard, map the fastest and safest travel routes, pull up GIS information and the list goes on. I once saw a picture of a line mechanic standing next to a stack of books, work packets, etc., that were approximately 5 feet high and in one had he had a mobile device. As I read the article, it noted that all those reference and work documents were now stored on the tiny machine. This allow the employees to quickly look up information, review work packets and communicate with the home office. Mobile devices have reduced the time it takes to complete a job while also providing real-time updates that can be used to communicate to customers, and aid supervision with accurate in the field infrastructure updates.
In summary, I feel mobile technology improves work/life balance and adds efficiencies to our work processes.
Thanks for your feedback and I hope my response helps answer your question.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 5, 2020

Really insightful-- thanks so much for taking the time to respond with such a thorough response, Jim. 

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »