Utilities are in the business of mobility. And I don’t just mean meter readers, residential installers or even outage response crews that are constantly on the move. Almost every aspect of a utility’s operation requires support away from headquarters. Some of our nation’s most critical energy infrastructure – power lines, pipelines, plants – are in remote or rural locations. And even if a utility’s assets are in more urban locales, they are often high in the sky or below ground. That means that, regardless of locale, the majority of daily operations – including maintenance, diagnostic, and repair workflows – are completed by field workers far away from a traditional office setup or even their vehicle. That frequency of physical mobility can only be supported by full tech mobility as well. And, no, portability is not the same as mobility.
As we head into DistribuTECH next week, there are a few considerations that utilities must take seriously when evaluating their IT strategies and mobile investments…if they want to sustain – or better yet truly improve – operational performance of all assets. In other words: Mobilize the mobile workforce.
Utilities already have a fully mobile workforce in place. They have for years; that’s the nature of the industry. But, do they have the right tools in place to maximize productivity of those mobile workers in extreme field environments. And have they extended all workflows essential to ensuring uptime – or at least minimize downtime – to those mobile devices? For example…
- Giving workers a consumer-grade device – whether laptop or tablet – that shuts down after exposure to a few drops of water certainly isn’t going to cut it in the hands of a utility worker. Bumps, bruises and extreme elements that beat down on the workers and technology alike are part of the job. And a device that can’t handle that quite frankly isn’t right for the job. Purpose-built tablets that can be seen in direct sunlight, won’t crash if they’re buried in snow or overheat in 100+ degree weather will ultimately be a necessary investment for utilities that want to improve productivity, accuracy and timeliness of field operations.
- Rugged devices are mandatory for the utility space given the extreme working conditions. But to re-iterate…so is mobility. A Toughbook laptop that is burdensome to take in/out of a vehicle is basically just a desktop in a vehicle. It may technically be portable, but it’s not mobile and it’s not efficient.
- All critical workflows must extend into the field without compromising data reliability or requiring utilities to overhaul current back-office infrastructure or systems. Whether used for infrastructure inspections, asset management and tracking, or work order automation, mobile technology needs reliable power and real-time communications capabilities. Without requiring a technician to carry a lot of additional equipment to enable those capabilities.
Every aspect of our society depends on the reliability of utilities’ services and when work must get done, outside is just a technicality. Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as I explore the challenges utilities face today and shed light on some ways they can fully mobilize the front-lines without overhauling their current IT systems.