The change in the jet stream, attributed to climate change, is making it difficult to predict the weather in the future according to meteorologist Nicholas Klingaman of Reading University, so we could have more weather related disasters and unusual weather conditions such as the recent winter and spring, on the horizon.

Whatever your business if you have a distributed infrastructure or customer base that is served by a team of field technicians, this will have an impact on you and your customers. Whether it is the unexpected arrival of poor conditions, the rise in incidents engineers must respond to, or the impact of travel. Customers want instant responses and to be kept informed of progress, but the truth is that the ability to communicate and coordinate external is limited by how well organisations do this internally.

Extreme weather and its impact on communities and customers changes in real-time, and this is one of the secrets of improving an organisation’s ability to respond. Increasing the penetration of real-time intelligent mobility into field service operations will allow organisations to gain clear, real-time visibility into restoration efforts, rapidly make accurate decisions and improve communications to (and between) employees, executives, customers and stakeholders.

The best industry practices will help large businesses better plan for the impact of demanding weather, or indeed other situations that impact your infrastructure, such as power cuts. Taking advantage of the latest smart phone and tablet technology in tandem with a mobile workforce management platform can streamline emergency response and keep management and customers more accurately informed.

By addressing three areas, technicians can be utilised more effectively, deal with more customer incidents per hour and ensure the intensity during the beginning of an emergency situation persists through to the end of service restoration:

  • Define and deploy a strategy for mobile communications in large emergency events in which many crews from other companies under mutual assistance
  • Systemise and automate job assignments and communication according to prescribed policies for assigning and dispatching work, as well as feedback from the field
  • Gain management visibility into the extent of damage (current and expected), workload requirements and status of restoration efforts at crew and asset levels.

Mobile Communication Strategy and Implementation

During large emergency events, visibility is easy when the workers are yours and are using your processes, mobile tools, reporting forms and chains of command. The moment mutual assistance is needed, however, much of that is lost as outside crews attempt to join an existing team mid-crisis.

Consumers expect instant responses, from bank accounts to news and other service providers. The expectation in emergency situations is for even greater immediacy, and if there is only partial and delayed visibility to assisting crews, the internal workforce becomes hampered.

Mutual assistance is complex to implement, and on a technology level in particular presents a number of challenges, but here is a quick but long-lasting fix. An HTML5-compatible mobile application enables any smart device or compatible browser to become a mobile extension of the back office that can provide a standard means for dispatching work and receiving updates no matter from which company a crew originates.

It works offline in areas or periods of no coverage, provides a single source per utility for all field updates and requires minimal setup. This provides a direct means for the host company to send work and instructions and receive status updates on completed jobs, expected time until restoration, capture of working and fatigue hours, all in near real-time to customers, press and regulators.

By deploying device-agnostic mobile solutions and enterprise apps that connect field-workers and executives to back-office systems, everyone in the organisation gains visibility. Field-workers can communicate with one another easily; outage dispatchers can assign jobs quickly based on location and status; executives in the field during emergencies can view up-to-the-minute dashboards to brief stakeholders. All this information can be culled together to update customers via text, phone or a customer-focused smart phone app.

Automated Prioritisation

To efficiently mobilise mutual assistance crews, utilities first must focus on prioritising and automating work order assignments. Automated prioritisation of tasks is critical for the utility industry in general (given the number of aging assets, organisations must work ahead of breakdowns), but is a game changer to disaster response.

It’s not always realistic to take an all-hands-on-deck approach during emergencies, given some previously scheduled jobs might be necessary repairs to ensure no further outages. Given the complexities of assets, employees and tasks, an automated prioritisation of tasks ensures that a reshuffling of employees and jobs is done based on an organised system.

The criteria of safety and critical facilities first and then restoring energy assets in the order of customers impacted has been around for some time and provides clear guidance for the operation. Companies, however, lack specific policies for prioritising emergency jobs among one another.

Likewise, the criteria for crews to pull from an area in support of another vs. those that should stay put and wait for a local problem generally is not defined in a systematic way. These business rules should be applied to all likely emergency situations that could strike an organisation to guide decision-making for resource allocation allowing a more immediate and consistent execution of fieldwork.

Improved Mobile Workforce Optimisation and Scheduling

A concrete process for emergency response should be backed by immediate, automatic decisions about which crews will respond while others continue their work. Workforce management integrated with asset management and ideally outage management enables organisations to forecast and plan for heightened demand, specifically around seasonal weather patterns. This also helps them achieve greater productivity-even during heavy demand-by intelligently scheduling employees and tasks based on physical location, knowledge base and other factors that help complete jobs faster.

The best industry practices will help large organisations better plan for high demand and emergency situations. But taking advantage of the latest smartphone and tablet technology in tandem with a mobile workforce management platform can streamline emergency response and keep management and the public more accurately informed.