Smart Resource Management

Keeping tabs on utility workers’ skills

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Keeping tabs on utility workers’ skills

By Ted Schneider

Deploying technology is a smart, safe way to shorten restoration. For example, at ComEd, managers simulate different field staffing scenarios so they can pivot to meet changing conditions and quickly respond with the right crews. At Alabama Power, mobile damage assessment technology eliminates multiple handoffs of maps and notes between storm coordinators, damage evaluators and field crews. Mobile damage assessment gets the right resources to the right place, which trims costs and compresses restoration time.

Efficiency stems from having well-ordered processes and technology can improve the speed of carrying out good processes. But take stock of your team’s skills, too. Skills are like static electricity — stored energy, ready to go. The key is turning it into kinetic energy.

Utility employees’ storm roles should evolve to take advantage of newly acquired skills, as happened at one Midwestern utility when they found themselves in need of a drone pilot. Imagine managers calling out someone (who normally works as an accountant) to assume his or her storm role as a wire guard. Perhaps since the last time the employee was called out in this capacity, he’s earned an FAA remote pilot certificate. That’s a valuable skill that might expedite restoration if the employee where reassigned as, say, a damage assessor instead. Knowledge of that evolving skill set is something to factor into the real-time demands of the situation.

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Lineman with gaming backgrounds may be able to assist in manning the controls of a bucket truck’s crane.

“We know who in [our] company is licensed to fly drones, not just hobbyists,” said a vice president with a Midwestern electric utility.

The executive went on to say that southern U.S. utilities responding to recent hurricanes recruited contract teams of drone pilots to augment damage assessment. With this in mind, managers should keep tabs on the evolving skills of their contract crews, too. For example, technologies on the market today that can quickly find the right contractor crews could help replace a utility’s myriad handmade spreadsheets, phone calls, texts and emails with real-time data, including a contract crew’s make up, location, availability and contact information. Technology like that gives managers a head start on knowing whom to call in advance of trouble.

There’s an array of technologies on the market today to capture people’s evolving skills. But forward-thinking utility managers are the ones imagining scenarios where newly acquired skills might be applied to long-standing challenges. For instance, what if the government were to lift the line of sight requirement for drone operation? How would that change the damage assessment process? Managers anticipating this change might ask employees who have a gaming background to add that skill to their profiles. If the FAA were to lift the ban, utility mangers could alert non-field employees with gaming prowess that their skills could be applied in obtaining a drone pilot certificate and, consequently, a new storm role.

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Mobile damage assessment gets the right resources to the right place, which trims costs and compresses restoration time.

“I do see us expanding our formal roles to include drone damage assessment and capturing that in our playbook,” said the electric utility executive.

Technology changes, yes. But, more importantly, people use these ever-developing technologies beyond work, at home and recreationally. The know-how gained from mastering the technology around us is something utility managers should keep tabs on to creatively deploy in new ways. UP

The Author: Ted Schneider is the chief technology officer for ARCOS LLC, leading cloud operations, software development and product management. He has also managed software development teams for products in the manufacturing, industrial automation, biomedical, healthcare and HR industries. He earned his master’s and bachelor’s degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

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