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Weathering the Storm: How Resilient Are Your Utilities’ Mobile Devices?

What a week it has been. Record-breaking heat in the Southwest has residents frying eggs on the ground outside and utilities in Arizona, California and Nevada scrambling to meet record breaking power demands without frying systems. On the other side of the country, Tropical Storm Cindy brought down power lines and caused outages in at least six states. That means utility workers have been working overtime to bring systems back online in some of the most unforgiving weather conditions this country has seen in years.

A hallmark of today’s fast-response utility work crews is the use of reliable mobile devices in hand to manage service calls, coordinate preventative actions between plant and field teams, and conduct outage recovery efforts. In contrast, those without rugged devices in the field may find that their primary source of diagnostic and repair-related data fails fast amidst the extreme heat, torrential downpours and unforgiving humidity. When it is 117 F or more outside, a tablet inside a work truck may experience temperatures at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) or greater. Tablets designed FOR utilities keep running even at these extreme temperature, and the best tablets can run at full speed up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). So, when your linemen are working in stifling 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degree Celsius) heat, they won’t have to wait on a cheap mobile device that has throttled its processor to keep from burning up.

Whether the situation is an extreme condition or just a “normal’ day for utilities, the productivity gains of mobile technology are clear. Just last year, McKinsey& Co. noted that “mobile enablement for employees is quickly becoming a powerful productivity-boosting capability.” Specifically, they noted the better management of core work processes such as asset management and dispatch. As an example, they noted that a German energy supplier who “completed a digitization program and now applies a full tool kit to improve the productivity of its maintenance personnel…which increased productive hours by 15 percent.” Simply by giving every employee “a diagnostic tool” that enabled them to “access to reference samples, root-cause analysis, and the range of available replacement parts.”

While such a mobile-centric strategy is critical to every day grid management operations, it becomes mission critical when customer patience is being tested and human health is at risk, such as the case of heatwave-caused outages. Digitization is no longer a luxury, and rugged tablets are no longer an “option.” Both are necessities in today’s utility sector as they are the technology investments proven to:

  • Improve route planning and deliver the most efficient dispatch management tools
  • Allow for real-time collaboration between field teams and experts “if more complex error patterns” are detected during diagnostic testing during outages
  • Facilitate expedited recovery actions to lessen outage periods

Plain and simple, utility field technicians need a mobile computer that can connect quickly to their networked testing equipment so that accuratediagnostic data can be aggregated and fed to decision makers in real-time. If a device fails to capture or communicate data for any reason – a loss of battery power; damage from a drop, dust or water; overheating, or an inefficient wireless signal – then productivity drops and outages drag on far longer than necessary. The consequential financial and consumer confidence losses are hard to recover. That’s why banking on a consumer-grade smartphone or tablet – or even a “business-grade” device – to power utility field operations is too risky for utilities trying to weather the storm(s). If you want to minimize system downtime during unplanned interruptions and maximize your return on your entire mobility investment, you need a device that empowers you to connect with legacy systems and capitalize on new digital technologies simultaneously.

This article has great tips for utilities looking to boost the impact of their digital investments, no matter which type of mobile device may be deployed in the field right now:

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