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Best Practices for a World That No Longer Exists

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Photo 168212185 © Chakrapong Worathat | Dreamstime.com
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
  • 133 items added with 182,209 views
  • Feb 23, 2022
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Author Adam Grant recently posted, “Many ‘best practices’ were created for a world that no longer exists.” He’s got a point --  the world changed. As a result, utilities must update their habits. How else can they remain relevant to their workforce and customers?

The term ‘best practice’ is usually misused and tossed about with no justification at all. For example, my former coworker Carl habitually branded his favorite points as ‘best practice’ -- and most people bought it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better term for a game of buzzword bingo!

An actual ‘best practice’ results from a rigorous comparison of practices and their value – very rarely done indeed. Carl pushed the things he was most comfortable with -- methods he liked. Our familiar ‘beloved practices’ aren’t necessarily best – particularly as things change.

As an industry, utilities have been working with paper and spreadsheets for a long time. We’re accustomed to it – it works. So why mess with it, right? Grant’s Instagram post went on to affirm “the routines that once moved you forward often become the ruts that hold you back.” So don’t be held back by the familiar workplace ruts.

Today, we have choices to get out of those familiar grooves:

Hunt down physical documents

Or

Instant access to real-time information

Copy numbers into secluded spreadsheets

Or

Centralized data with built-in analytics

Rinse-and-repeat last year’s plan

Or

Forecast what’s ahead with innovative tools

Rely on information silos

Or

Practice collaboration

 
Tenured employees often resist change and new methods. In contrast, the newer workforce expects to do everything on their phone. So scanning a QR code menu at a restaurant is not an irritant to them. Instead, it’s a gateway to improvements like faster ordering.

At most utilities, it used to be almost impossible to work from home. Leadership was generally against it, regardless of the job classification. In hindsight, that was very limiting.  After the pandemic began, we reconsidered remote work in a new way. Productivity often rose -- satisfaction increased -- office costs decreased. Wise leaders quickly recognized that they would never return to the same familiar habits.

We cleared the hurdle of doing more things from a computer. We put digitally connected tools to greater use. Here are real examples of solid new practices from leading utilities that help address widespread issues.

Improving contractor workflows

Reducing distribution losses

Streamlining meter installations

Optimizing joint use pole attachments

Speeding storm response

Improving safety tailboards

Building a foundation for asset management

The former work environment has changed substantially. The workforce is ready for better practices -- ways of working differently and more innovative. Cleaner ways to capture essential information in real-time are within reach. Straightforward tools reveal what that data means. Social media-style apps deliver insights to everyone that needs them.

Read more about how utilities are working better here.

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Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Feb 25, 2022

As usual Pat Hohl provides wonderful and practical insight into the business of running a utility. Best practice is perhaps the most overused and least understood phrase in the business world. As Pat points out best practice is often misunderstood to mean, "favorite practice" or the practice that is the most practiced (please excuse my double use of the word practice). Just because, people have done things a certain way for decades doesn't mean it's the best way. In fact, for older industries, it is often not only not the best way, but perhaps the least effective way. Maybe we should coin the term, most comfortable practice. I've been involved in a very rigorous best practice study of utility operation. The study examined the various ways a utility performed maintenance. It then ranked each practice based on the outcomes - that is which practice was the most efficient and produced the best results. That practice then was deemed best practice. Doing this, the study argued, would improve the company KPIs. We have seen that digital, location-based, accurate, timely, and accessible data positively improves performance - lowering costs, improving reliability and resistance, and enhancing customer experience.  Thanks, Pat for another great and stimulating piece.

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on Feb 25, 2022

My auto-correct feature substituted resistance for resiliency in the second to last sentence. Please excuse the error.

Joshua Aldridge's picture
Joshua Aldridge on Aug 24, 2022

Nailed it! "Most Comfortable" practice is probably the perfect summary of how many operate. Can you share the study you mentioned? I would love to read it. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Feb 25, 2022

I love this post. It's a great reminder for any industry or role that you are in. Change is hard in general. But add the fact that many of us are now wearing multiple hats and doing more with less; change can seem daunting indeed. It is tough enough just to keep up with your workload, but add-on implementing a whole new way of doing things, that is just crazy talk! I mean, after all, I am one person, and there are only so many hours in the day :).   How do we help those feeling like this see the light through the clouds and realize that this change will be worth it in the long term?  

Paul Gwaltney's picture
Paul Gwaltney on Mar 21, 2022

Good article and great points.  Are you aware of any utilities that have embraced the changes without looking back?  I'm curious to see if there are innovative utilities taking the lead with these changes. 

Pat  Hohl's picture
Pat Hohl on Mar 22, 2022

Thank you, Paul.  The items listed above are clickable links to real utility stories. I hope you find them inspiring. 

Improving contractor workflows
Reducing distribution losses
Streamlining meter installations
Optimizing joint use pole attachments
Speeding storm response
Improving safety tailboards
Building a foundation for asset management

Joshua Aldridge's picture
Joshua Aldridge on Aug 24, 2022

Incredible...so many things that needed to be said! This is "gospel" level accuracy in my opinion. When we consider that service territory demand changes on a near monthly basis, it is genuinely mind boggling that we believe we can maintain a "best practice" for a decade or more. There is so much that is spot on here, top to bottom, it's almost overwhelming. Thank you! 

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