A power plant.

While many utility providers are still relying on manual processes for important functions such as outage management and customer communication, the limitations of this model are starting to show. Too much reliance on legacy systems such as paper maps and communication by radio can reduce the precision of an outage response, while a lack of automation in customer care can lead to an increased burden on staff members in the contact center, preventing them from performing other duties.

The answer to these problems is relatively simple: Utilities should embrace purpose-built software to sharpen their responses, whether they are dealing with day-to-day operations or high-pressure events such as outages. Outage management systems (OMS) are often the central piece of technology advances because, as the Digital Utility Group noted, power failure response is usually the point where consumers and utility organizations interact most directly. This calls for both more effective internal data use and customer communications.

Fortunately for utilities, modern OMS technology has come a long way in recent years. The value of these solutions takes many forms, most of which are focused on the general concept of increasing efficiency, both within offices and when dealing with customers.

5 positive effects of utility software

While the impact of an OMS or related technology deployment can take many forms, the following five areas are helpful starting points for utilities wondering what these solutions will accomplish for them.

1. Increased efficiency detecting the source of outages

The connection between an OMS and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is a potential source of value for any utility. As Green Tech Media explained, providers such as Commonwealth Edison have seen great results from their early smart meter deployments, discovering that it is highly efficient to send digital pings to customers’ meters and detect the locations of problems. Not only does precise location data make it much faster to dispatch lineman crews, this level of precision keeps those field teams safer. Personnel no longer have to travel through potentially dangerous conditions in search of a problem spot.

2. Less labor-intensive outage responses in the contact center

Especially at utilities with few employees, staff members have to pull double or triple duty, providing a number of services. One of these duties is responding to customer calls. When an OMS is integrated with interactive voice response (IVR) technology, many calls can be fielded by the automated system. This leaves the personnel free to respond to the most urgent calls or perform other value-adding work in the office. The IVR can also send out messages when power is being restored, saving the time and effort of creating that outgoing communication.

3. An automated way for utilities to handle everyday tasks

IVR isn’t just useful during emergencies. There are plenty of everyday interactions between utilities and their customers that can be streamlined by these deployments. For example, IVR can send out alerts of planned downtime via phone, email or text to ensure members don’t need to call in and report the outages. Advanced IVR tools also allow customers to call in for bill processing and payment, detecting who is on the line through caller ID technology and enabling them to perform account management tasks without speaking to an operator.

4. More effective internal recordkeeping with less paperwork

When field crews complete work, they have to ensure they log their actions with the office, closing out the work ticket. In legacy models, this involves paperwork. With digital systems accessible from smart devices, on the other hand, they can make their notes directly from the site of the job. This ensures the data gets logged more quickly and lowers the risk of human error, as there’s no delay between doing the job and reporting it. Such a remote approach to work orders and tickets even helps utilities heed safe social distancing practices, as they don’t need workers to come into the office as often.

5. Remote access to essential systems

Using modern, cloud-based technology to power a utility enables staff to log on from wherever they are and make contributions. Whether this means calling in personnel for off-hours customer service, communicating with field personnel or even enabling a fully off-site office due to adverse weather or COVID-19 shutdowns, the ability to log into systems from afar is an efficiency-boosting feature. The era of managing costly and resource-intensive on-site systems that could only be accessed from the office can end with an upgrade to cutting-edge OMS, IVR and other utility management system software.

No reason to delay an upgrade

Any electricity, data or water utility can find potential use cases for modern computer systems. The increased efficiency of using these solutions takes several forms, but there is a common thread linking all these effects. The more streamlined and effective workflows made possible by up-to-date system software allows these organizations to perform management tasks and customer service interactions with a higher degree of accuracy and speed, boosting satisfaction among staff and clients alike.

View our success stories to see how any type of utility can future-proof operations through an intelligent application of technology.

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