Let`s Keep the Expert in Expertise
Rightsizing. Downsizing. (Some call it “dumbsizing.”) Whatever label you put on it, one thing is for certain: Expertise is flowing out the door of many, if not most, utilities at an unprecedented pace. If you examine the actual definition of the word, I think most of you would agree expertise is overused in our daily vernacular to the point that the true power of the word has been diminished (downsized?).
When we say that someone has the expertise to fulfill a particular task, what we are really saying, more often than not, is that the person has the requisite knowledge and experience. Yet, knowledge and experience alone don`t necessarily equate to expertise. Indeed, not everyone who has a little bit of knowledge and experience in a given field qualifies as an expert … unless you`re a consultant, of course!
We have both real and alleged experts throughout the utility industry, but I would dare say that the ratio is not evenly balanced. On the contrary, once you eliminate those who claim to be experts but aren`t; those performing jobs that require expertise they don`t really possess; and the ones who are experts in something that no one really cares about anymore (if they ever did), what you have left is very much a minority.
Having said all of this, the fact is that there remains a significant number of people out there who are bona fide experts. Yet in some ways, the utility industry seems to be hell-bent on weeding them out! If that trend continues, there will surely be a price to pay.
Perhaps not tomorrow or next week or even next year, but because one of the key ingredients in achieving true expert status is tenure (maybe we should invent a new term: Expertenure?!), there will eventually be an impact.
OK, time out. I acknowledge that a double dose of organizational streamlining was sorely needed throughout the utility industry and that some utilities had accumulated enough “dead wood” over the years to fuel a fire of biblical proportions. Moreover, many of the true experts have made lasting contributions that will continue to pay dividends long after their sponsors disappear from the daily scene. But where does this leave us? Well, maybe not in as bad shape as it might seem.
Fortunately, we have the technology to keep some (most?) of this valuable expertise from disappearing altogether. We`ve all heard the term “expert systems,” but this is another one that has taken quite a lot of abuse right along with “artificial intelligence.” (I won`t get into that semantics free-for-all in this editorial, but let it suffice to say that what these terms really mean is at the very least, more gray than black or white.)
What is important is that there are some very good expert system solutions emerging in the marketplace that are coming on board not a moment too soon. So whether your problem is responding to alarms (“Which circuit was it that Fred always used to trip out when this happened?”) or teaching a new operator the ropes (“I sure wish Bill had documented these shut-down procedures before he retired last year!”), there are solutions available to capture the real expertise that has been developed over these many years before it`s too late. Seek out and use these new tools. Don`t pass up the opportunity to keep the expert in your expertise!
Michael A. Marullo is managing director and CEO of cfar international, a global automation marketing and technology consulting firm. Questions or comments may be directed to P.O. Box 641177, Kenner, LA 70064-1177; phone: (504) 733-5504; fax: (504) 733-0754 or firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).