Frontline workers are the face of utility organizations. They provide quality service on a daily basis and their collected data fuels corporate decision-making. It’s no secret that they live in a digital world where mobile devices empower them to do field work more efficiently. Despite this digital shift in utility field work, the idea of integrating mobile technology for field staff with other internal systems may appear onerous, especially for already overburdened IT departments.
The problem of and solution for frontline utility digitization
Integrating mobile solutions—like inspection and audit apps—into existing systems of record can be a challenge. Integrating these same mobile apps with the systems of partners, suppliers, and regulatory authorities (without forfeiting safety, security, scalability or other parameters) become additional obstacles. Taken into account the countless other IT asks and it’s clear that technology departments are straining at the seam. Not surprisingly their overwhelming burden often leads to mobile deployments for fieldworkers that take longer than expected, or worse, fail.
To combat this, many utility companies now use easy-to-use low code development platforms. Essentially, the responsibility of producing mobile applications transfers from the central IT department to the process owner. Using low-code application platforms with user-friendly drop and drag formats, like those from ProntoForms, sidesteps extensive internal IT processes to build similar mobile form apps. Deployment is faster, streamlined, and more cost effective.
Take smart meter installations for instance—this marriage of hardware and software involves quite a bit of training. Using a mobile form app to guide new or seasoned technician step-by-step through best practices for smart meter work improves productivity, quality, and consistency of service. And if best practices are followed each and every time, it can result in improved customer and worker satisfaction. With the right tool, operational efficiency feeds into inspection and auditing measures, regulatory compliance, adherence and risk, as well as health and safety.
There’s no arguing that digitization is already transforming the business world. Investment in apps will double from $2.5B to $4.3B from 2018 to 2023. Most importantly, ninety percent of these apps will be business-to-employee apps. In light of this shift, in order to stay competitive, utility companies need to consider their digital transformation journey.
Where is your utility company in the digital transformation journey and what comes next?
The paper-based transition is typically the first and earliest transformation. The goal is to remove the paperwork in any part of your organization—often beginning with individuals working in the field. For the utilities space—a sector that’s heavily regulated and has a high need for documentation—low code apps let you generate information as close to the asset as possible, in other words, from the front lines.
The second step is optimization across workflows. For utilities this extends beyond just smart meter installations to include, for instance, after-recovery. Information is seamlessly transferred between individuals and to various systems as part of an automated process. It provides an audit trail. From a compliance regulatory standpoint you can go back and report against the information being captured. Automating an exchange of information with a clearly defined audit trail of where that information is going also minimizes or eliminates human interaction with data and the potential for error.
The next stage is when an organization becomes data driven. You’re ingesting information not only from fieldworkers but from all different systems: IoT (internet of things) systems, EAM (enterprise asset management) systems, CIS (customer integrated system), TPS (transaction processing system) and so on. All of this information is unified and then processed to a point where you reach operational nirvana.
Operational nirvana is stage four where your investments in technology are actually starting to learn from each other, becoming predictive in their own cycle of continuous improvement.
Of course, there’s always resistance to change. The fastest adoption is when frontline workers or a representative of that frontline group is included in the development process. This is why having an easy-to-build app platform that is accessible to line of business leaders is critical. When workers feel empowered, and when the ease of data capture becomes apparent, like dominoes, a broader move towards digitization will fall into place.
Ready to bring digital transformation to your utilities company? Book a demo with ProntoForms and see how we support all stages of digital transformation.