The Cloud in the Field is Taking Utilities by Storm

By Jerry Dolinsky, Verisae

On-premise vs. the cloud is the dilemma utilities face when upgrading their field service solutions. Historically, utilities have invested in on-premise IT infrastructures, including field service management solutions, treating them as capital expenses similar to other infrastructures such as plants and distribution lines.

Using the cloud for field service solutions, however, might be a better fit in today’s rapidly changing utility environment. For example, storing data in the cloud allows companies to shift technical responsibilities away from themselves to their vendor and take advantage of a platform that scales to many users and many organizations.

Competitive Landscape

This is the era of the empowered customer. Gone are the days when utility customers had only one energy provider option. Customers have more options now than ever before for heating and lighting their homes, such as gas, traditional electric service providers and rooftop solar power. They can seek alternatives to traditional local, regional and national utilities.

This new, competitive landscape makes service (and the technology behind it) a critical differentiator for utilities eager to attract and retain customers. Service can no longer be delivered at minimal satisfaction levels. Customers now expect the latest technology and a higher level of service. They have little patience for companies that are slow to adapt.

To meet customer expectations, utilities must ensure their field teams have the skills, information and tools to resolve customer problems quickly. Best-in-class organizations provide their service technicians with mobile tools to access real-time data to do their jobs. This same data also gives management important intelligence regarding equipment performance, customer needs and service resources to enable better planning.

Weighing the Options

For industries that traditionally maintain on-premise IT infrastructures, it can be a challenge to evolve technology and maintain reliability over time. An on-premise solution alone is no longer viewed by the best-in-class service organizations as the only path to a scalable and adaptable infrastructure. The benefits of a cloud technology infrastructure allow utilities to be nimble and contain costs involved in investing in the latest technologies.

According to a survey by the Aberdeen Group of best-in-class service organizations, 47 percent prefer a cloud or cloud/on-premise hybrid field service solution, while just 17 percent still prefer to wholly host their own infrastructure.

These service organizations are finding that a cloud or cloud hybrid infrastructure provides:

“- Software that is always current and adaptable to changing needs

“- The ability to quickly and easily scale the field service footprint across a growing network

“- Technology that gives technicians real-time access to information to fix problems

For utilities, old objections to cloud IT infrastructure are falling away in favor of reasons to adopt it: speed, versatility, scalability, mobility and more. The advantages of the cloud are becoming increasingly important for utilities looking to improve service planning, as well as keep customers smiling, in three key areas:

1. Having the right workforce in place. A successful utility service organization needs technicians with the right skills in the right locations to perform the work. The challenge is anticipating customer needs and trying to align them with the expected workforce. Too few people cause service to suffer. Too many people cost the business.

2. Scheduling the workforce in an optimal manner. Efficiency and customer service are both important business objectives, but they can be at odds. Does a utility send a certain technician who is 30 miles away because that technician knows the customer? That would provide excellent customer service, but sending a technician who is located nearby could be more efficient. How a service team defines “optimal,” helps determine the right scheduling balance.

3. Being ready to handle exceptions. In field service, exceptions can happen at any time. The right workforce can be in place with work scheduled in an optimal manner to meet business objectives, but then a technician gets stuck in traffic. So much for the day’s plan. Dispatchers need to be ready and able to deal with exceptions and shift jobs between technicians.

Service planning is complex. Crucial to success is having the most up-to-date field service technology that can be updated, expanded and adapted so that a service organization can be smarter about service and continuously make adjustments to improve customer satisfaction.

Following are some lessons from best-in-class service organizations for adopting cloud field service technology:

Look beyond the cost to find the true value. As your organization grows into new markets, the ability to scale the technology infrastructure and field service capabilities will be a strength. Cloud infrastructure is highly adaptable to meeting the demands of a growing customer base and expanded footprint. It allows quick scaling without compromising the security of data or the infrastructure.

Give your field team the tools and flexibility to deliver results. The cloud enables you to support your field team with the right tools and the latest technology capabilities. You can push updates to their devices as needed, ensuring technicians have the tools to do their jobs while avoiding long, costly and drawn-out software upgrades.

Mobility is at the heart of solving problems in real-time. Mobile devices are in most of the field teams’ hands, enabling them to collaborate with others. With cloud infrastructure, service organizations can store more customer and equipment data without increasing technology costs.

Get IT on board for service excellence to meet customer demand. Service success and profitability demand that IT give field technicians the tools they need to resolve customer problems. A combative relationship between the two groups can only hurt the customer experience.

Put the business in control with easy-to-use tools and technology infrastructure. Your field team is often in remote locations or off the grid. Without providing them easy-to-use tools to deliver service excellence, as well as a dependable technology infrastructure that can adapt to changes, the field team is destined to fail.

The service landscape will continue to evolve as industries like utilities, which historically had little to no competition, now deal with competitive factors and a more congested environment. Empowered customers demand much more from service organizations, and not stepping up will lead to lost revenue. Cloud infrastructure offers utilities scalability, nimbleness and quick innovation to help improve service excellence.

Jerry Dolinsky is CEO and president of Verisae, a provider of SaaS solutions that connect the maintenance and service network globally to manage asset and equipment maintenance, energy usage, mobile workforces, environmental sustainability and compliance for companies in the utilities, telecommunications, retail and service management industries.

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