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The Future of Fieldwork

Posted to Wipro in the Digital Utility Group
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Praveen Agrawal's picture
Practice Partner Wipro

Praveen is a subject matter expert in Work & Asset Management domain. Praveen is a recognized force in the industry, with knowledge levels spanning across functions and industries. He has...

  • Member since 2014
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  • Nov 29, 2021
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In an earlier article in Wipro’s Energy 2020 series, we described how the combination of strengthening long-term energy transition trends, collapsing oil prices, and the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving permanent changes to both energy consumer mindsets and energy companies’ operations.

The Energy 2020 context presents the perfect opportunity for companies to reimagine vital elements of their operating model – including the front and back office, asset operations, supply chain and more – to build resilience and adaptability for the demands of a different energy future.

Efficient delivery of fieldwork is one such critical part of the operations that is ripe for reinvention, and the focus of this article.

Reimagining fieldwork to amplify outcomes

At most energy companies, the labor cost of field operations typically represents upwards of 60% of the overall asset maintenance spend. At some water and gas utilities, this proportion gets as high as 80%.  Field operations are thus seen as a key domain for efficiency improvements. Furthermore, the effectiveness of fieldwork and the expertise of the field force have a direct bearing on the quality of asset upkeep, customer satisfaction and regulatory compliance.

The sustained adoption of advanced solutions for work scheduling, dispatch, routing and field mobility has enabled companies to elevate their work management capabilities and outcomes significantly.  However, new demands continue to emerge, and many familiar bugbears remain unresolved, such as suboptimal usage of crews, repeated truck rolls to finish jobs, not having access to the right data while on site, and more. The absence of reliable industry benchmarks on workforce utilization also hinders optimization goalsetting and methods.

Our earlier article described four forces that will propel energy companies to refashion their operating models: accelerated digitalization, the increasing unpredictability and impact of intense disruptions, changing customer mindsets, and a sustained energy transition. Any strategy deployed to respond to these trends will need to embrace fieldwork as a critical element along with opportunities to amplify outcomes.

How should an energy company set about roadmapping this change?  We recommend a structured three-part framework.  Start with a clear visualization of your desired outcomes.  Redefine the operating model using a human-centric design mindset to discover opportunities for differentiated capabilities.  Develop a roadmap to evolve the data and digital enablers to support the operating model.

1)     Start by visualizing your future fieldwork outcomes

Energy companies have rightly focused on worker safety, asset safety and reliability, cost of maintenance, and customer satisfaction as primary fieldwork outcomes. In addition to these key objectives, other outcomes are also gaining focus. These are driven by employee preferences, changing worker demographics, digital-enabled efficiency opportunities, and changes in operational needs.  While specific priorities will necessarily vary across companies, we see five outcomes as key drivers for the future of fieldwork (See Figure 1).

The Future of Fieldwork

Figure 1: Target outcomes of reimagined fieldwork

 

  • Safety and health:  In addition to safe driving and safe operations onsite – areas where companies have achieved sustained improvements through investments in work protocols, training and technology – newer demands are emerging.  For example, the pandemic-influenced changes such as social distancing, personal protection and health monitoring requirements will affect how crew members work together, crew sizes and job schedules, and potentially require additional health and safety protocols and assurance to customers for work at their premises.  The ability to attract a new generation of younger field technicians to replace retiring workers will also depend on their perception of occupational safety risks and mitigations in the energy industry.
  • Expertise of the workforce: Enabling field worker expertise will happen at three levels and in ways that will be dramatically different from traditional definitions of expertise and methods of training.  At the core, a greater degree of cross-skilling across a variety of asset and work types will become the norm in the pursuit of a more versatile workforce.  The learning experience will increasingly be characterized by on-demand learning for a wider range of competency needs, remote learning that minimizes the need for co-located groups, and immersive learning that more closely emulates real-world situations. The second level of expertise will be artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted capability marked by natural language AI interactions that deliver insights and assistance at the point of work delivery.  The field worker’s third level of expertise will include the extended ecosystem of peers and experts made accessible in real-time through digitalized collaborative environments. The maturity and versatility of technologies such as AI, mixed reality and hands-free, voice-enabled, head-up displays will allow companies to concurrently evolve all three levels of expertise.
  • Efficacy of work:  Energy companies will look for ways to improve both efficiency (driven by cost and productivity) as well as effectiveness (driven by quality and accuracy) of work. Predictive analytics will optimize operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, while remote capabilities such as IoT and computer vision hold the potential to cut down field visits, which will also offer the collateral benefit of reducing opportunities for vehicle accidents. In the field, a combination of AI, mixed reality and real-time collaboration will enable work to be completed faster and more accurately. Changes in customer mindsets engendered during the pandemic lockdowns – including a reinforced empathy for essential service providers such as utilities and a deepening do-it-yourself (DIY) mindset – will present opportunities to promote customer-assisted work such as low-risk visual inspections and imaging of faulty or damaged assets.
  • Experience at work:  The digitalized lifestyle experience that employees are used to – accelerated lately through greater consumption of digital learning, leisure, telemedicine and other services during the pandemic-driven shutdowns – is far removed from the experience they have at work, in both the field and office. Digital ways of working and experiences will transform employee engagement and productivity, and offer a better proposition to attract the next generation of workers. 
  • Elastic work management:  The increasingly unpredictable and high-impact events such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires and the recent pandemic have emphasized the need for energy companies to continue to invest in building operational resilience.  Elasticity of work management – the ability to respond to changing priorities while maintaining safety and service standards – will be key to achieving this goal.  It will require the capability to maintain comprehensive situational awareness during a disruptive event, predict fieldwork needs early, swiftly re-prioritize and reschedule O&M and capital work, quickly deploy targeted technology (such as drones and remote monitoring tools) to support situation management, and workforce versatility to keep step with the changes.  These capabilities will need to be backed by adaptive budgeting and re-planning of both CapEx and OpEx work cycles.

 

2)     Redefine your operating model for fieldwork

The second part of the framework is the reimagining of your operating model for fieldwork.

Most energy companies have evolved a robust core capability for work management enabled by sophisticated field service, mobility and GIS solutions. This industrialized core provides the substrate upon which companies can now build the differentiating operational capabilities that will deliver a greater proportion of the higher order outcomes mentioned above.

We recommend a structured service design methodology to define these differentiated capabilities. The key step is a methodical discovery of opportunities for differentiated capabilities, specific to your operations and business context, which will align your future operating model to the target outcomes.

The following inputs will help in this analysis.

  • The Energy 2020 opportunity themes framework described in our earlier article offers a useful starting point to explore the macro drivers and opportunity themes for your future operating model.
  • Several adjacent industries such as oil & gas, mining and logistics are also operationalizing digital fieldwork capabilities. Wipro is partnering with companies in these sectors to transform engineering and fieldwork outcomes through redesigned processes and digital enablement using AI-assisted work, hands-free displays, voice-enabled workflows and IoT.  Outside-in innovation that draws learning from these and other industries is a key input to your opportunity analysis.
  • A comprehensive current state analysis of your field operations will also be a vital input.  This should include your KPI performance trends, learning from your operational responses and resilience in recent disruptive events, and user pain points across processes, data and systems.

Importantly, for the most impactful opportunity analysis, these inputs should be used within a service design methodology that defines the key operations and customer personas, their journey maps, and persona-centric process and interaction designs. This approach will deliver a comprehensive roadmap to evolve to a target operating model (See Figure 2).

The Future of Fieldwork

Figure 2: A structured methodology to define the future operating model for fieldwork

 

3)     Define and roadmap the digital and data enablers

The third part of the framework is the development of a roadmap to build the necessary data and digital enablers that will underpin the delivery of your differentiated fieldwork capabilities.

While the specifics of a redefined operating model for work management will be different for each company, the field operations domain, in general, will be a key consumer of a range of digital capabilities such as AI, analytics, IoT, advanced mobility and mixed reality.  As such, the future requirements of this part of the energy organization will be a key determinant in the evolution of the overall enterprise digital strategy.

Subsequent articles in Wipro’s Energy 2020 series will specifically discuss enterprise digital strategies for energy companies. It is worth highlighting here key guiding principles to maximize the benefit from your digital enablers, especially where digital solutions are coupled with significant changes to user experience and ways-of-working.

  • Platformization of digital enablers and methodologies across the enterprise is preferable to point solutions
  • Evolutionary approaches drive more predictable adoption and benefits delivery compared to big bang rollouts
  • The digital roadmap must be aligned to the operating model roadmap
  • A design that is user journey-centric and a development methodology that engages users through the entire process are essential to successful outcomes

A different future of fieldwork

The Energy 2020 transition offers a compelling opportunity for companies to reimagine their operating model for a different future of fieldwork. Enterprises that view this exercise as a strategic reinvention for a future-fit operating model, not just as an opportunity for a tactical injection of technology, will be exemplars for the industry.

 

Who we are

Wipro Limited is a leading global information technology, consulting, and business process services company. We harness the power of cognitive computing, hyper-automation, robotics, cloud, analytics, and emerging technologies to help our clients adapt to the digital world and make them successful. 

Growing interest in sustainable energy sources, microgrids, and distributed energy, enhanced customer-centricity, and ever-changing regulations demand new business models from the energy and utility sector.

As a leading service provider across the utility value chain, with a strong commitment to building a net-zero global economy, Wipro is helping enterprises reinvent themselves to deliver superior business performance and more sustainable outcomes. With more than 4,500 professionals working across power, gas, and water utilities, we are a trusted partner to more than 75 utility customers globally.

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Praveen Agrawal's picture
Thank Praveen for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 29, 2021

Given the changes in the fieldwork for utilities, what sorts of skillsets do you think will be sought out by new field workers that weren't considered for the legacy professionals doing such work? 

on Dec 8, 2021

Very well Articulated and described. While field operations is indeed a key efficiency improvement parameter, I feel that Managing the field services via field service management solutions can play an important role in improving the field operations efficiency. It allows utilities to manage the work (field operations) and field resources more efficiently and effectively to achieve business objectives and goals.

on Dec 8, 2021

The article aptly emphasizes the need for digitalization and digitization to enhance field force efficiency, which is a must for any utility to survive and improve efficiency . For that matter, many utilities have done remarkable move in that direction. The biggest challenge would be to convince field force to adopt change. Their acceptability is inversely proportional to the age of field force. Yes, if a Utility gives emphasis on training of their field force , it could bear some fruits in changing their mindset, as we enhance their skill sets and empower them to accept change positively.

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