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Planning and Scheduling for Utilities: A Modern Approach

Sharon Parker's picture
Senior Marketing Manager IFS

Marketing communications manager with 15+ years' experience with workforce management/automation software specific to the energy and water utility industries.

  • Member since 2020
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  • Dec 7, 2021
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Utilities are responsible for a long list of deliverables and outcomes. From the maintenance of massive transformers and power lines down to the fuel consumption and carbon emissions of field service vehicles…and everything in between.

Layer on customer service calls, weather events, and worker safety, and it's easy to see why planning and scheduling are critical components to the operation's overall success.

While the utility maintains ongoing oversight, so do the regulators, keeping watch and ensuring service and maintenance happen promptly. Staying on top of all these moving pieces means the utility must plan, prioritize work, schedule activities, and align the right workers, skillsets, and equipment with each job.

Taking a modern approach to planning and scheduling introduces greater efficiencies to protect—and even grow—the bottom line.

Planning & scheduling today

Over the past decade, we have seen some remarkable advances within the industry. For example, distributed energy generation, microgrids, augmented reality, geographical information systems, and even automated worker health checks. Yet many organizations remain rooted in the past, relying on manual spreadsheets, paper maps, and Gantt charts to carry the utility forward.

This lack of efficiency comes at a cost, and usually at the expense of work taking place in the field. In fact, most field crews expect that between 30 - 50%* of their scheduled work will contain flaws that require resolution before the work can begin. An additional 10 - 15%* of jobs in the field are expected to stall due to oversights in the initial planning.

Engineers and designers are also impacted, often pulled from their work to help solve these problems and ensure the job is executed correctly. Some engineers estimate they spend as little as 25%* of their time doing engineering work due to these distractions.

The challenges of planning & scheduling

When the tools at hand are limited to spreadsheets, maps, and charts, it's no surprise that the result is also limited. For many utilities, planning and scheduling is a one-dimensional, linear activity that applies a timeline to the desired outcome based on available workers, equipment, and other components.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The limitations of this model are twofold. First, success is defined as completing the work on time and within budget. But what if a different resource line-up or timeline could achieve a better result? Due to a lack of technology, resources, and time, most planners cannot explore options that may achieve the same (or an even better) outcome more efficiently.

Secondly, when a plan is considered final, it becomes relatively static. If disruptions arise, the project stalls until the designers and engineers can devise a workaround. As we face climate change, global pandemics, disrupted supply chains, and other modern-day challenges, these disruptions will only increase.

Unable to predict, forecast, and optimize in real-time, the result is a reactive (and chaotic) environment. Work schedules do not align, assets fail, and—in many instances, established SLAs are missed. In worst-case scenarios, the business is unable to meet regulatory requirements for utility-owned assets and worker safety.

A modern approach

The best plans are built based on a broad view of the overall operation, extending beyond timelines and resources to consider business value and outcomes. By integrating business strategy into how we plan and schedule, we can ensure every result supports the objectives of the business.

Planning and scheduling optimization technology provides active interconnectivity between planning, scheduling, and execution. This bi-directional flow of information ensures the plan continually optimizes in real-time based on events happening in the field and elsewhere.

This technology involves four essential steps:

  1. Weigh the options
  2. Quantify the return
  3. Achieve continuous optimization
  4. Integrate with workforce technology

Combining planning and scheduling technology with a utility’s mobile workforce management system allows organizations to understand how longer-term decisions trickle down to the day-to-day operations. With these insights, the utility is in control, quickly responding to demands in the field, reducing overall costs, and increasing efficiencies.

Learn more about planning and scheduling for utilities at https://info.ifs.com/MWM-PSO.html

* Western Energy Institute: Planning, Scheduling & Execution

Sharon Parker's picture
Thank Sharon for the Post!
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