Utility companies managing vast networks of locations, staff and supplies have the unenviable task of keeping the lights on regardless of what Mother Nature chooses to throw at them. It is a sector that is often taken for granted, with many people only really taking notice when something goes wrong or bills increase.
With utility companies literally fighting the elements, keeping everything on an even keel is challenging. Add onto that the fact many in the sector utilise subcontractors to carry out engineering and maintenance, and it leaves these companies largely operating in a vacuum, reacting to events when they occur.
According to a recent OFWAT report, 90% of maintenance work is reactive and 33% of downtime losses are a result of unplanned maintenance, which is 50% more expensive than planned maintenance.
These are huge figures in a sector that is traditionally run on very tight margins. It is a situation that is not sustainable, especially in the face of mounting consumer and political opposition to increasing bills.
Instead, more and more companies are pursuing a proactive system. At the heart of this transition is the proliferation of connected devices and sophisticated software. Companies are beginning to gain access to asset data and interpretive software to move the decision process to a central resource that can help to forecast and prevent.
While much has been made of big data for several years now, companies are finally beginning to confront the enormous opportunities it presents. The key for this new proactive approach is in the data collection and the interpretation of that data.
More and more staff are asked to supply data when jobs are attended, worked on, and completed. This is then fed into the central interpretive software. Engineers using their own smart devices can log data as they go along, provide progress reports, and order in supplies while completing the task.
It helps utility companies to have more visibility over the way subcontracted work is completed, so that they can anticipate problems with maximum clarity
The remote locations utility companies maintain will host the installation of more smart objects. These devices will be able to track a multitude of factors that indicate the overall functionality of the facility.
Initially, these smart objects will observe environmental factors, but this could increase to incorporate more advanced data too. These kinds of devices are already popping up in homes with the rollout of smart metres.
Yet, this proactive approach should not just address the maintenance of infrastructure and the effectiveness of staff. Big utility companies also need to consider the security and sustainability of supplies, maintenance of customer service levels, and environmental mandates. Not to mention the volatility geopolitical issues can present.
This new approach is a developing science, so unfortunately there is no silver bullet companies can introduce and immediately reduce the volume of reactive work it undertakes. However, given the speed at which smart technology and big data interpretation is developing, the prevalence of reactive responses will soon start to drop.
It will be a virtuous circle as more preventative work will naturally reduce the amount of reactive situations companies need to manage. The cumulative effect will be less pressure on operating margins, fewer charges and ultimately a better customer experience.
Sourced from Tim Faulkner, VP EMEA, ClickSoftware