Asset Management Innovation in the Age of Digital Transformation for Utilities

Without a digital strategy, companies can find themselves in a difficult spot when it comes to offering the right prices, serving their customers well, using their resources efficiently, optimizing their assets or winning bids from competitors.

Digital transformation has developed into a necessary feature for businesses, implying a complete integration of digital technology in business processes and operations. For utilities which provide essential services like water, electricity and gas, this becomes all the more important since their field staff is always on the move and assets are more prone to wear-and-tear owing to the constant demand-supply dynamics. Without a digital strategy, companies can find themselves in a difficult spot when it comes to offering the right prices, serving their customers well, using their resources efficiently, optimizing their assets or winning bids from competitors. Having said that, let us explore the benefits of digital transformation for field services and asset management and the best way forward.  

Field services can understand and serve customers better

Businesses are already collecting huge volumes of data. The problem lies in the way it is done – in a siloed, manual fashion. And the bigger problem lies in the way the data is interpreted and used for making important business decisions. Newer technologies like RFID, IoT help collect and make sense of huge volumes of data. The data thus collected can be put to good use through appropriate analytics and by integrating digitization in all aspects of a business. Of course, it is necessary to incorporate data encryption methods to ensure data confidentiality.

When it comes to field services, digital transformation helps have an automated, stronger resource management process in place through consolidation of resources and reduction of vendor overlap. Digital transformation integrates all functions and enables process innovation and overall efficiencies through access to one view of data across the organization. The field staff can get better customer insights and have a deeper understanding of past transactions and issues resolved. Digital transformation provides the foundation for a digital culture which is critical for sustainability of the business.

A well-integrated workforce management platform for utilities can help field crew guide each other with the right information and tips to help deal with issues more diligently. Field staff can also assign tasks and leverage route optimization to serve customers swiftly. At times, some specific skills might be required to fix certain issues. Imagine checking with every person regarding their knowledge and availability before assigning someone to a high-end task. That’s a lot of time and resources wasted! With digital transformation, this can be automated and better streamlined.

In respect of field services, quick reactions to service calls and reallocation of service personnel improve the efficiencies further.  By transforming the various aspects through digitization, companies can improve the response times and thereby improve customer service. Even in the case of managing and paying their employees, companies can digitize their operations to take care of bills, receipts, transactions, training requirements etc. through a centralized dashboard with all the information at their fingertips. This means no paperwork, lesser data entry and zero manual intervention.

Digitally powered asset management strategy can lead to a longer asset life

For a utility company, its assets are one of the most important elements of business. When assets are spread across geographies with some even being underground, managing assets from one centralized location becomes a challenge. Imagine trying to understand where and how your assets are performing when you have hundreds of locations and thousands of assets to manage! With digital transformation, this task becomes a lot easier since you have up-to-date data and historical information regarding all the assets in one place. Companies can leverage insights from a robust asset management software for utilities to figure out the right time when an asset might need an inspection through preventative and predictive maintenance. The field staff can also simply take pictures of assets to let their team members know what issues specific assets are facing in real time, for a quicker resolution.

Digitally managing assets means indexing every asset and keeping all the digital records related to the assets on an ongoing basis, throughout their lifecycle. Most importantly, it helps companies take the right decisions regarding repairs and replacements of their assets before they become faults or failures, leading to an unnecessary increase in costs and time.

Roadblocks to digital transformation

Once we realise the importance of digitization, we also need to understand the intricacies in its implementation. According to one McKinsey & Co report (2017), digitization is having the same radical impact on business as technological innovations of the past. However, only about 20 % of companies worldwide have embraced the digital era. The low percentage of adoption is mainly due to the difficulties and roadblocks on the digital path. Employee attitude, resistance to change and not knowing where to start are some of the key reasons. With the right digital transformation partner, this process becomes a lot smoother. No one can complete their digital transformation journey in a few days. It requires a well thought out strategy and a thorough understanding of existing systems to get started on the right path and pace.

What is in it for the utility industry?

For a water, gas or energy utility company, efficiency is primarily affected by service contracts, customization, field crew availability and asset health. Manual record keeping suffers from a lack of dependability, quality, and consistency and introduces inefficiencies at almost every step. On the other hand, digitization improves the accuracy in these specific features, which then leads to improvements in performance, ultimately leading to reduction in costs. Though digitization could be a major exercise with high initial costs, the benefits in terms of higher profits, lower risks, and strategic advantages outweigh the investments and justify the efforts.

In a nutshell, companies can look to get the following benefits:

  1. Improved use of data, otherwise embedded deep in service contracts and work orders
  2. Real-time information about field employee availability, assets, customer requirements, historical transactions, and equipment positioning
  3. Possible identification of new business opportunities

While we explore digital transformation and find reasons for digitizing business operations, companies that have achieved success in digitization have already started thinking about digital reinvention which is a step ahead of digital transformation, being all about reimagining business processes. In businesses, opportunities knock at our doors through technological advances. In such situations, do we want to be left behind? Definitely, something to think about.

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