Standardization in Utilities

Slash operating costs! Improve effectiveness and safety!

Real-life examples that increase reliability in Utilities processes, predictability in outcomes, and visibility to risk

Scheduling and dispatch. Job cancellations. Fleet management and maintenance. Vegetation management. From end-to-end processes to detailed activities like tool calibration and even recouping unpaid damage claims, the challenges facing today’s utility may appear overwhelming. They certainly seem to be diverse.

But they share a common thread when it comes to surmounting them: Standardization.

Standardized work is easier to digitize, automate, and analyze. Better yet, it’s a surprisingly accessible opportunity, for utilities of virtually any size. And it can yield transformational business improvements in as little as six months.

Standardization also paves the way for advanced analytics and automation; see the “Power Trio” inset.

In this article, we’re going to look at several areas that utilities commonly struggle with—and how The Lab has been able to bring massive benefits to each, using advanced analytics and automation, all built upon a foundation of Knowledge Work Standardization.

 

Vegetation Management Opportunity

Utilities operations and the vegetation-management problem: Moving from “Keeping up with compliance” to AI and “Predicting with X-ray vision”

Vegetation management—to prevent downed lines or ignitions and wildfires—has, historically, been reactive. That’s understandable: How can you know where that next event is going to occur? Field and drone surveys can only accomplish so much.

The Lab recently worked with one of the country’s most progressive utilities to help them in the mundane yet overwhelming chore of compliance reporting for wildfire mitigation, when a massive opportunity presented itself:

This utility needed to complete reams of forms for the state regulator, documenting historical ignitions and outages across their service footprint. This was buried in oceans of data, which needed to be culled to populate the numerous forms required for reporting. Of course, this necessitated a lot of standardization: data, processes, activities.

Data Analytics and AI in Utilities

Operationalizing data to drive change and predict outcomes

But here was the opportunity: What if you could take that data and visualize it? Better yet, what if you could supplement that data with even more data, from external sources like satellite mapping firms and regulatory agencies? Would there be a way to combine all of that data, in one place, and—seemingly impossible request—make it ridiculously easy to understand at a glance?

More data. Yet simpler. Sounds impossible, right?

The Lab constructed, for this client, an all new advanced-analytics visualization. Also known as business intelligence, or BI, this crunched all of the internal and external vegetation-management data into a single visual interface.

It looks like a Google map.

Simple as that. Not only that, but it’s click-able and zoom-able. Simply hovering over the map reveals the exact location of each hot spot, the type of incident, the cause, the resulting outage, the number of customers affected, and the duration.

This empowers field crews and drone surveys to perform more efficient vegetation management, resulting in fewer outages, more satisfied customers, and safer infrastructure.

This is what internal and external vegetation-management data looks like, when visualized via advanced analytics. Think you can see this from spreadsheets or compliance reports?

 

Robotic Process Automation in Utilities

Utilities software bots plug the gaps between disconnected systems – FAST!

By the way, vegetation management doesn’t end with analytics. There are automation opportunities, too. This one utility processes hundreds of vegetation-management work orders and purchase orders each year.

With each order, employees were forced to manually move data and information between three different systems, over and over again. Incidentally, two of these systems were brand-new modern core platforms… that don’t talk to each other.

This situation was worse than it seems. Not only was the utility using paid labor as the “human glue” between un-integrated systems. But this creaky workaround generated a 13-percent downstream order error rate that cost the utility 8,000-plus work hours to resolve, each year. That’s tons of tedious, time-consuming, error-prone drudge-work for highly-paid operations knowledge workers.

The Lab is able to “park a bot” on repetitious activities like these, freeing up capacity, and boosting the entire enterprise’s “operating leverage,” i.e., the ability to handle workload surges (e.g., acquisitions) and reductions (e.g., economic downturns) without the need to staff up, or perform painful layoffs.

For this utility, The Lab was able to identify 150-plus similar robotic-process-automation opportunities, which yielded 50,000-plus hours of annual FTE savings. And bots can be implemented in just a matter of weeks.

Incidentally, The Lab was able to work with this client to quickly install a “suite” of 20 robots remotely, from our U.S. offices in Houston, and chart their course toward successfully implementing an RPA center-of-excellence. Nothing was outsourced or offshored.

Job Cancellation Reduction

Determining root cause and reducing costly order, maintenance, and repair job cancellations—quickly

Given all the departments, teams, and tools, it’s historically hard for utilities to pinpoint why jobs get cancelled. But they do.

The spillover effects, for everything from customer satisfaction to reliability metrics such as system average interruption frequency index (SAIFI), are massive.

At one utility which The Lab worked with, their central repository for logging cancellations only had nine reasons listed in it. Working with 15 different business units and 30 subject-matter experts on the client side, we were able to create an all-new taxonomy of cancellation reasons, with about 20 primary causes, and 75 secondary variations thereof. Surprisingly, we were able to accomplish all this in only a month.

This allowed us to answer key questions from the utility’s leadership:

  • What was the official job cancellation rate across the organization? Now they could establish a baseline and eventual target to begin reducing these costly job cancellations.
  • What was the true financial cost of job cancellations? It was previously impossible to quantify—nor was it readily available, given the diversity of business units involved and plethora of systems employed.

Today, using advanced analytics from The Lab, managers and business-unit leaders alike can easily drill down to find:

  • Insight on enterprise-wide job cancellations by area and district, with progress toward stated goals
  • Total cost of jobs cancelled by area and district
  • Top primary and secondary reasons for job cancellations
  • Detailed information on adherence by area and individual employee

Now it’s easy for them to pinpoint root causes—and conduct investigations with the responsible operational team to mitigate issues. Comparing the insights from historical trends with current data allows them to continually improve, keeping projects on time—and avoiding outages.

Advanced analytics from The Lab provides a live look at cancellation rates, a historic overview of cancellations versus target numbers, and even the specific locations and causes.

As you might’ve guessed, you can further reduce job cancellations with the help of robots. They can be used to speed maintenance and instrumentation orders, creating and closing out work orders, and tons more. At one utility alone, The Lab identified over 100 robot use cases, totaling more than 35,000 hours of annual labor savings.

Other areas that benefit from standardization in utilities

These are just a few examples of how The Lab has helped utilities. To whet your appetite, here are some others:

  • Fleet maintenance. How would you like to have a “Carfax report” for each vehicle in your fleet? Just imagine all the ways that advanced analytics can slash costs, boost uptime, and improve safety.
  • Damage claims. The statue-of-limitations clock is ticking on your ability to collect from outsiders that damage your facilities. Learn how to quickly prioritize outstanding claims, and get back millions of dollars you’re owed. The ROI from an initiative like this alone is reason to contact The Lab today!
  • IT inventory. Your utility owns a lot of computers, and pays for a lot of software. Easily see which items need updating, and make better spending decisions on software and licenses. The result: Reduced costs—and improved security.
  • Tool calibration. Do you know which items in your inventory are up-to-spec and compliant? Do you know which ones are coming due, and how to “balance the line” for efficient scheduling? Accelerate job turnaround time, while improving compliance and safety, with help from The Lab.

Slash those operational costs now

Contact us

If you’re looking to crush operational costs, and increase reliability and safety while improving customer experience, you are in the right place.

To find out how we’ve implemented standardization, bots, and operationalized data-driven process improvement to save utility companies, of all sizes, between $2 million and $20+ million, schedule a screen-sharing demo with The Lab right now. In just 30 minutes, we’ll show you how we’ve helped other utilities—and how we can help you, too, remotely from our offices in Houston!

Simply contact The Lab at (201) 526-1200 or info@thelabconsulting.com today!

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