Power lines in the hills.

Outage management is a time-sensitive process, and every minute your power, water, internet or waste water utility wastes during a crisis can lead to a damaged reputation with your customers. Any and all improvements to your response can make a real positive impact. But what can you do? Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best for your purposes. For example, it's surprising how much value comes from a refresh of your back-office technology.

Legacy approaches to outage management can be siloed and fractured. In offices that have not performed an upgrade in years, detection and communication systems tend to be disparate and disconnected. It's hard to coordinate a response to an outage when systems are in this state. It simply takes too much time and effort on behalf of the office staff to map the problem, coordinate restoration efforts and communicate with customers.

A consolidated outage management approach is the antidote to this sprawl, and a quick infusion of modern outage management system (OMS) technology is the way to achieve this level of performance.

Consolidated outage management vs. functional silos

Making progress in the way your utility manages outages is a natural part of organizational evolution. Modernization initiatives such as the smart grid tend to come alongside OMS implementation, according to the latest Research and Markets overview of the industry. This is especially prominent at public utility providers, tasked with managing sprawling and aging grids. Bringing that infrastructure into the 21st century means embracing the internet of things (IoT), with more sensors and more automation everywhere.

Amid this wave of modernization, there is a golden opportunity to integrate back-office processes that have traditionally been stuck in silos. The OMS that collects data directly from the smart grid and relays that information can be connected directly to the interactive voice response (IVR) tool used to deal directly with customers. Using the incoming data to inform the response to customer questions and concerns is a great way to save time for your team and help them focus on value-adding work getting the grid back up and running.

The integration of OMS and IVR isn't the only process associated with consolidating your outage management. You can also bring mobile applications into the mix, both customer-facing information portals and internal tools that will help you communicate with your field crews. The same data powers all these IT systems, ensuring that everyone, customer and employee alike, is dealing with the same information in real time.

Where once there were many different solutions, there is now a single network, allowing everyone to work more closely together. This new level of consolidation will be especially noticeable for utilities that are still using legacy processes of the pen-and-paper variety. Providers serving relatively small customer bases may have traditionally coordinated their efforts with maps on the wall, landline call centers and walkie-talkies. As populations and expectations for fast service grow, it's best to wipe the slate clean and deliver a modern, heavily integrated and digital take on outage management.

Cogwheels signifying integrated software.Outage management is at its best when all relevant systems work together.

Advantages of a modern outage management style

It's easy to see the difference between the new and the legacy models when you consider the workflows around outage management. To triangulate the location of a service outage, provide up-to-date information to a customer or communicate real-time status updates with other workers, employees using the old system would have to manually check information and input it into a new system or relay it over the phone.

In a new, consolidated outage management approach, the data is already where it's needed. A customer calling in about an outage from a known trouble spot may receive an automated response from the IVR providing up-to-date information and allowing them to share more details, all with minimal input from staff members. Those team members, sharing data among themselves, don't have to enter the figures manually, which reduces the risk of human error and saves time.

The speed and ease with which you can answer customers' questions may prove the most transformative and impactful effect of consolidated outage management. Keeping residents happy with their service has been a vexing problem for the utility sector in recent years.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index Energy Utilities Report has shown two straight years of declines in perception. People are unhappy, with the perception being that the grid is in bad shape and utilities are having trouble responding to service outages. Better, more responsive notification and alert capabilities, and communication in general, is a way to let your customers know that you are a capable organization that is aware of problems as they are occurring and able to fix them.

Less is more when it comes to systems personnel have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Integrating every part of your outage management and communications infrastructure into a consolidated and unified platform is a modern way to run a back office, and it frees your people up to help customers better than ever before.

To find out how utilities have benefited from the latest in OMS technology, check out our success stories.

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