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Averting crisis through technology

The once mighty US utilities infrastructure is fast fading. It’s becoming crystal clear that dams, bridges, roads, parks and water supply lines across the country require more upkeep than funding currently allows.

aging-damAccording to the American Society of Civil Engineers, a full 70 per cent of US dams will be more than 50 years old by 2025. In a study conducted by the same organisation, America’s infrastructure scored a D+.

In one of the richest countries on earth, could it really be so bad? Or are the tales of our crumbling infrastructure overblown?

A recent spillway failure at California’s Oroville Dam sheds light on this question while bringing national attention to widespread dam problems. And the situation at Oroville is not uncommon.

In South Carolina, there have been more than 80 dam failures in the past two years alone.

Amazingly, no one was injured in the near-catastrophe at Oroville, but in South Carolina fatalities were unavoidable.

If aging dams are any indicator, we will certainly see more failures looming across other utilities sub-sectors in coming years.

For many Americans, it’s all too easy to ignore the invisible architecture of water pipes, sewage lines, power stations and gas mains that run in and out of our cities, towns and homes.

Many of these services have functioned flawlessly for so long that we now practically take them for granted.

For field service management professionals, an even bigger threat looms in the form of the largest utilities workforce talent shortage in history. Even if municipal investments catch up, we may not be able to staff huge infrastructure projects appropriately.

Below, we outline three ways utilities service organisations can leverage technology to tackle an increased workload with a smaller service staff.

As we struggle to recruit a new generation of utilities workers, we simply cannot avoid using technology to bridge the unavoidable lack of talent.

#1 Embrace the industrial Internet of Things (IoT)

According to an IDC prediction, the IoT marketplace is expected to grow to over $7 trillion by 2020.

Despite the popularity of smart consumer devices like Nest, Amazon Echo and Fitbit, industrial applications of IoT will stand to make even bigger waves in the coming years.

Huge opportunities exist with the industrial internet for streamlining performance optimisation, monitoring, outage management and more.

Savvy utilities service teams stand to significantly reduce man-hours by implementing a smart IoT strategy.

By installing sensors on aging bridges, dams, pipelines and gas meters, teams can bring all of this equipment online for near-constant automation of equipment monitoring.

With an added layer of connectivity, utilities organisations can be more agile, flexible and efficient in the following areas:

  • Outage management
  • Remote maintenance or ‘fine-tuning’
  • Theft prevention
  • Equipment analytics
  • Preventative maintenance

For more on how the IoT is changing field service, check out our recent white paper on this topic. (https://www.clicksoftware.com/blog/how-the-internet-of-things-is-transforming-field-service/)

#2 Launch knowledge centers and digital repositories

As field techs and infrastructure age, there’s great hope and opportunity in using knowledge management best practices. This ensures maintenance brain power stays with the organisation, instead of walking out the door with retiring workers.

Many savvy service organisations are leveraging knowledge centers to capture top technician insights.

They use this knowledge for training new technicians, as well as giving technicians access to this database during working hours.

With greater documentation, troubleshooting tips, and even videos, real-time assistance can significantly improve resolution.

According to Aberdeen, companies that use knowledge management centers have a 14 per cent higher first-time fix rate, among many other benefits.

Whether formalised or not, building digital repositories where staff can access knowledge will be key to facing the utilities infrastructure crisis.

Just imagine what would happen if utilities organisations embraced knowledge management best practices, filled these digital repositories with knowledge from top service engineers, and empowered junior service representatives with access to this knowledge while in the field.

The results would be pretty awesome, to say the least.

#3 Leverage social media to recruit a new generation of workers

According to the latest research, more than 73 per cent of millennials found their last job through social media.

In heavily regulated industries like utilities, many organisations have kept their distance from social media. But as a new generation of workers enters the labour force, it might be time to dust off that old human resources policy and do a bit of a re-write.

On the whole, millennials get a bad rap. Many workers in older generations claim they are selfish, unreasonable and difficult in the workplace. But, research from Deloitte points out several more positive attributes that millennials bring the workforce. These include:

  • They desire to be a part of ‘good causes’ through their workplace
  • They are tech savvy
  • They learn and adapt faster than previous generations

All of these attributes are a perfect fit for the future of utilities. Instead of demonising millennials, maybe we should begin embracing them as the future backbone of utilities service?

Improving our crumbling utilities infrastructure is a noble cause and millennials might be the perfect generation to solve the many challenges we’re facing.

This partner content is brought to you by ClickSoftware. For more information, visit https://www.clicksoftware.com/

This article was first published on the ClickSoftware Blog, https://www.clicksoftware.com/blog/averting-crisis-through-technology-a-tale-of-an-aging-utilities-infrastructure/.

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