Public utilities can face any number of challenges from service uptime to compliance with federal and state regulations. The long-standing and perennial nature of many utility companies brings with it an extra wrinkle of challenge: labor intensive and antiquated work processes that have yet to leverage modern technology to drive the next wave of gains in worker productivity.
A large Midwestern Utility Provider was facing a combination of challenges in meeting compliance requirements with antiquated, paper-based processes and inspection systems. Not only were inspection and validation processes time consuming and prone to human error, the cost of printing and housing physical binders of records was skyrocketing. They found themselves spending nearly a half a million dollars a year in paper and printing alone.
The Utility Provider consulted with WWT Asynchrony Labs to identify ways to leverage technology to improve the productivity of their workers and reduce costs. Many opportunities presented themselves that could extend backend legacy systems to more mobilized field operations teams.
To establish the foundation for workforce mobility, Asynchrony Labs helped the Utility Provider develop a comprehensive Mobile Center of Innovation (MCOI) that established development standards and best practices. The MCOI gave leaders of enterprise architecture, infrastructure, IT security and its standards committee a consistent framework from which they could collaborate and make decisions.
Key to gaining buy-in from these stakeholders was an ideation session facilitated by Asynchrony Labs. Visual and interactive exercises and agile games allowed the Utility Provider to explore the art of the possible, think outside the box and draw on innovations from other industries. At the end of each session, stakeholders were able to identify opportunities that would result in the biggest gains in worker productivity. With common development standards, best practices and clear business outcomes in mind, the Utility Provider was ready to develop applications for its mobile workforce.
Asynchrony Labs led the UX/design and development of an iPad app to replace the organization’s 3,000-page procedure binders. To effectively deliver an application that the Utility Provider’s workers would actually use, usability design experts from Asynchrony Labs took to the field. They were able to, for instance, observe how a field worker uses an iPad with gloves on while working on substations, or the flexibility needed to adjust the order of procedures to complete indoor or outdoor quality checks depending on weather conditions or user preferences.
To speed quality assurance checks, Asynchrony Labs built business logic into the application. When a user doesn’t complete a process in the audit procedure, he or she gets a notification that certain steps need to be completed before moving on. By contrast, with the paper system, skipped steps would only be apparent after the audit was finished, which required combing through paper-based information to find out where the check went wrong.
This first app is part of a broader, strategic business transformation effort for the Utility Provider, which includes agile team development, native and hybrid mobile application development, and broader ideation sessions and application prototypes.
The initial set of procedures identified in the phase 1 release for the process inspection app is complete, and the Utility Provider is already seeing immense gains in worker efficiency across every role involved in the process, from planners and engineers to back-office clerical employees and supervisors.
After all inspection procedures are transitioned to the mobile app, the anticipated hard dollar savings the Utility Provider expects to achieve is between $3-5 million annually. Antiquated, resource-heavy processes will be streamlined and modernized, saving time, effort and considerable cost.