Today, utilities already use a variety of mobile solutions for various activities, like work order management, filling in data such as meter identification at a changeout, work hour reporting, safety and quality reporting, and even managing the surveillance cameras at substations. On top of those, there are the services for the utility customers, for example, for checking their consumption data or reporting an outage. Also - and quite importantly - many of our customers have their field crews bring the network to the field in tablets or smartphones with Utility To Go, using it, for example, in network planning, maintenance including component inspections, and operations both by in-house technicians and contractors.
The possibility for real-time data management brings welcomed changes to utility processes, since accessing or entering information is no longer dependent on where you are. Anders Svensson, Operating Engineer at Eskilstuna, describes: “For example, you have technicians go out, they need to know what the switching and feed-in is like, and having that on mobile gives the ability to start the work out there without needing help from the office.” The same applies for any work that is carried out in the field. Heikki Pirnes, Site Manager at Infratek Finland Oy, contractor for Elenia, points out: “For example at commissioning, if the technicians can directly fill in the data in the field, so many phases and people in between can be left out. And if there are changes, the technician will know immediately that that’s not where the cable goes, it’s here, and it can be fixed in real time. After all, the person who does the work has the best knowledge on the progress and what has been done, and so this serves the overall process incredibly well.”
In the Utilities’ Words: What Makes a Good Mobile Solution?
“It will become simpler for users to work with mobile solutions,” reflects Eskil Tirén, Maintenance Engineer at Jämtkraft, Sweden. “One no longer needs to be trained to use the various functionalities. Instead, everyone will be able to pick up a mobile device and use the solutions easily.”
And it only gets easier with device independency. Utilities today have their linemen use smartphones, tablets and even laptops out in the field, but the trend is settling more towards the tablet. “Tablets have a good-sized screen for map-based applications where you need to see a little larger area at a glance,” Heikki explains, and Tuomas Kupila, Process Coordinator for Fault Repair at Elenia continues: “I believe there is an increasing demand for mobile systems in the future, but they must be built with a clear focus to get the full benefit out of them. They mustn’t be too complicated to use, but instead, usability is a core issue there. And now, Utility To Go is a great example of what kind of a reception you get from the field crews with a light, easy-to-use application.”
“After all, the person who does the work has the best knowledge on the progress and what has been done.”
Heikki Pirnes, contractor Infratek Finland Oy
However, the utilities acknowledge the fact that introducing new technology isn’t all smooth and easy, and the mobile readiness of the employees varies from digital natives to those who’d rather stick with the pen and paper. “One challenge is finding time in the organization for all of the personnel to become familiar with mobile,” Anders mentions, and continues: “We need to be able to create a clear big picture on what the mobile solutions are used for because it has positive effects in the long run.”
Luckily, the mindset towards going mobile is turning to the positive. Jarno smiles: “In fact, some of our technicians refuse to work with anything else anymore. Instead, they want these solutions to be developed further.” At Nivos, mobile has been seen as something that helps your work, not as yet another system to be taken in. The utility has also made an effort to communicate the positive change that the mobility brings about. “We’ve even had deployment projects where, starting out with a pilot group, those who weren’t in that group felt unequal for not getting the new solution right away,” Jarno adds.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Where there are efforts ongoing in each and every utility towards a mobile tomorrow, the field is still left scattered with customized integrations to build up an entity. “You need to look at the entire work process that we have in the utility, and build a complete solution for mobile field work,” reflects Eskil. In addition, working with the electricity networks evidently means facing harsh weather conditions, storms and other unpredictable challenges. Eskil continues: “We have many areas outside normal connections, so the mobile solutions must also work properly offline.”
“I see a lot of potential in streamlining processes so that laborious steps can be left out,” Tuomas describes. “And to get the most out of it, it’s possible that we must start our thinking from a whole different angle, looking both at passing the baton between people and the data flows from, say, one IT system to another. Today, there’s still often manual work involved. So looking at the entire process, where it actually starts and how to get till the end, some steps may not be needed, or their order or other interrelationships may change.” Along with that, a lot of the managerial work can be eliminated, too, as with a good overall system, you no longer need a person to guide the daily operations. Everybody knows what the principles are to be followed.
“Take Utility To Go as an example. I’ve really liked the new version from the first day, it’s excellent. There’s potential to really go far and beyond with it.”
Anders Svensson, Eskilstuna
Especially for a utility that’s facing a change from paper and Excel to mobile solutions of today, the change may seem immense. However, Jan Rondeel, CIO at Skagerak Nett, suggests another approach: “When we look at expanding and mobility, we have to change the way we think internally as well, because sometimes we want to have all the functionality before we start doing anything. But starting to think mobile, you have to think a bit more agile, maybe first giving the field worker the overview of the grid in a mobile solution and then adding functionality, so we start getting benefits early.”
Whether your utility is an early adopter or still considering getting the tablets out there, we all know it’s coming, and we all want to make the best out of it. My bet is our best shot is at doing it together like we always have.
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A Trimblean for 10+ years with a never-ending hunger for knowledge from a less technical viewpoint to the most technical of matters.