Insights from The Lab

Six Ways to Improve Your Utility’s Operations, Quality, and Service

Strategic goals such as grid resilience, sustainability, and digitization all start with standardization.

Every utility today faces a raft of strategic challenges. Whether yours include improving grid reliability and resilience, advancing your clean-energy agenda, driving toward a smarter grid, increased sustainability, or digital transformation, all of these strategic drivers have one underlying requirement in common: Standardization.

That’s because you can have the loftiest objectives, but you can’t achieve any of them if your daily operations are snarled, if reliability is suffering, or if customer service is marred by excessive rework and job cancellations.

Even the most progressive, cutting-edge utilities can always find room for improvement. That’s exactly what happened when one of the most respected gas-and-electric utilities in the country worked with The Lab; we helped them with an end-to-end, utility-wide standardization discovery-and-implementation effort that resulted in both quick and long-term wins for employees, customers, and the company.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of six categories of meaningful, sustainable benefits that were realized. As you review these, weigh them against your utility’s current way of doing things; might you be able to reap similar benefits?

This might seem like a mundane category, but it checks the “Reliability” box in a big way. Specifically, any Gas Operations unit is only as good as the tools it brings to the field.

The tools require calibration. Yet few utilities look for—or discover—ways to improve this process. As a result, crews in the field could have trouble getting the (properly-calibrated) tools they need, or even end up using tools which have passed their calibration schedules.

Working with The Lab, this utility was able to map the process, and find the opportunities to eliminate waste and rework. Since the baseline reading was first implemented, the utility’s Gas Operations tools are now 94 percent compliant.

Not only does this create a safer work environment, but it gives crews the tools they need to get the job done, properly and without delay.

This utility, like so many others, had an aging fleet, leading to daily breakdowns and safety concerns. While a recently-approved budget had earmarked funds for new vehicles, their arrival was still 12 to 18 months in the future, and help was needed right now.

Working with The Lab, the fleet team developed a tool that’s kind of like a “Carfax” report, showing each vehicle’s history of maintenance, repairs, and costs of labor and parts.

The new tool allows the organization to understand the true cost of the vehicle over its lifetime. More importantly, it gives garages insight to schedule preventative maintenance and keep the fleet safely maintained and operating at the highest possible utilization rates.

Vegetation management is a compliance headache for any utility; for regions prone to wildfire, it’s a lot more than a headache—it’s a massive safety concern.

With wildfire mitigation and the safety of its employees and customers as its chief concern, this utility sought to address all these issues at once. Interestingly, the initiative began as a basic labor-saving exercise to eliminate hours of manual quarterly reporting to the state’s utility commission. But soon, it grew into one of the most valuable tools developed during The Lab’s engagement with this utility.

Working with The Lab, the team developed a tool to allow historical data on ignitions and outages—picture a “hot spot map”—to be shared with field crews conducting vegetation management or drone flyovers.

The data is geo-tagged across the utility’s service footprint, with clusters of data points that empower management to focus efforts in wildfire mitigation. All of this effort leads to fewer outages, more satisfied customers, and most importantly, a safer infrastructure.

Canceled jobs had been an ongoing issue for this utility, with roughly one in four jobs failing to be completed on the scheduled date.

At a glance, the enterprise couldn’t pinpoint the department responsible, the reason for the canceled job, or the cost to the utility for the cancellation.

Today, however, departments have a tool, developed in concert with The Lab, which shines a spotlight on all of these key indicators. The tool has empowered the organization to investigate the data, and it’s helping different departments to make better business decisions, all with the goal of reducing cancellations across the enterprise.

Now, more projects than ever are on-schedule. The cost of rework is down. And the power stays on for customers.

This one is kind of like the gas-tool-calibration issue: IT asset management tends to fly under the radar across the enterprise, but the cost, service, and compliance issues are huge. And with many systems and departments purchasing hardware and software assets, centralizing this information can be challenging.

Again, working with The Lab, this utility’s internal-improvement team developed a tool which provides the organization with the insights to identify:

• Who is assigned the various assets
• Whether those assets are being used.
• If the assets have passed their lifecycle.
• If they are operating on the most up- to-date versions of software and systems.

With this newfound visibility, the utility’s Asset Management team now has the information it needs to reclaim, upgrade, redeploy, and/or salvage the different assets—keeping the network safe and the utility’s third-party contracts lean.

It’s another “massive under-the-radar opportunity”: Collecting on damages owed to the utility. (Think, for example, of a car damaging a power pole.)

At this utility, the Damage Claims department was a new team, charged with processing and collecting third-party damages to the utility’s assets. This work used to be done at a different business unit, and so the transition also transferred a large backlog to the new team.

Working with The Lab, the Damage Claims team now has visibility of where all claims are in the process, from creating a claim to eventually collecting money for damages.

Since this work started, the team was collecting $0.70 per dollar and has already jumped to $0.75 per dollar, or roughly $300k in increased collections. Their eventual target is to collect $0.85 per dollar.

This success is driven by the team’s understanding of which claims not to pursue due to age and/or low dollar amount—and instead focusing on claims closer to the incident date and with higher dollars.

Book your demo and get standardization benefits for your utility

The best way to appreciate how you can find and fix all of these “above” and “below the radar” issues is to get more details from The Lab. We invite you to schedule your free, no-obligation 30-minute screen-sharing demo. You’ll learn more about our patented process for Knowledge Work Standardization®, which has been helping utilities nationwide for nearly 30 years You’ll see how we do all this from our U.S. offices in Houston, with nothing outsourced or offshored. And you’ll get all your questions answered by our friendly experts. Simply call (201) 526-1200 or email info@thelabconsulting.com to book your demo today!

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