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Traditional field work management relied on paper and radio communications. Crews were scattered across the service territory with little to no access to information and supervisors and dispatchers had limited visibility into the location and availability of technicians and resources. In an era of rotary phones, 1200- baud dial-up modems and single wage earner families, utilities could often dictate the terms of service. While sufficient it wasn’t efficient and often placed the customer second.
The advent of the web, mobile phones, smart devices and two wage earner families has dramatically changed the expectations for when and how service is delivered by utilities. Customers are no longer satisfied with M-F 8 to 5 call centers or service visits; many expect 24x7 on-line services; preferring to engage with the utility on their schedule not one dictated by the utility. No longer is it ok to allow the customer to wait, fearful they will miss the technician, uninformed until service is delivered. A paradigm shift has occurred; today customers want to know exactly when service will occur, so they can meet the technician when they arrive or reschedule an appointment when its more convenient for them. To deliver on-demand services utilities must undergo a transformation to a “Digital Utility”.
The Digital Utility is characterized by the seamless integration of previously disparate solutions into a digital echo system that powers the service delivery platform. The Digital Utility encompasses enabling capabilities that allow for proactive management of all aspects of the business. The transformation starts with a transition from wired to wireless, desktop to handhelds and the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) devices like smart meters. Equally important is the adoption of service channels beyond the traditional call center including the web, mobile apps, interactive voices response systems, chat bots and social media that are available 24x7x365. It’s important to note that enabling these channels alone and in isolation will only exasperate the problem, to truly achieve service excellence requires the utility to create an Omnichannel experience for its customers allowing for a seamless transition between channels to complete transactions.
The second piece of the Digital Utility puzzle is field force automation. Field force automation coupled with fully integrated work, resource and asset management capabilities enables the utility to achieve their Service Excellence goals. Customers can schedule, change and/or cancel service orders or monitor the status of a service requests in real-time, make payments or review usage 24x7x365. Technicians can send real-time status alerts to customers and notify them when they are enroute. Once on-site technicians can quickly review prior service visits and diagnose problems more quickly reducing the time on the job.Dispatchers can visualize trouble calls and field resources in real-time making more informed dispatching decisions delivering service more quickly. Appointments can be monitored to ensure they are kept;all leading to higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Finally, predictive analytics allows the utility to improve operations, reduce costs and deliver new services to customers more quickly. As an example, by utilizing AMI reads utilities can analyze individual customer usage in near-real time and alert customers of usage anomalies thus avoiding high-bill complaints. Utilizing existing asset and work order history and blending that data with other traditional data sources like weather and soil compositions and overlying non-traditional sources like traffic loads or road surface maintenance history helps identify possible trouble spots. Proactively inspecting those areas and performing preventive maintenance if needed, can help avoid service interrupts that lead to customer complaints.
The Digital Utility of the future is the foundation for a new service delivery model that places the customer first.