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In recent months, utilities have discovered the value of flexible working models beyond the standard 9-to-5 in-office style. Often, this wasn't by choice.

With COVID-19 and the related lockdowns forcing companies of all kinds to keep employees away from their facilities, organizations considered what they could do to stay open and functional when unexpected conditions strike. This has even affected utilities, tasked with the essential job of literally keeping the lights on in a crisis.

If your utility organization hasn't yet been tested to its limits flexibility-wise, count yourself fortunate — and take this time to strategize how you could become more adaptable in the future.

All hands on deck, from home

The revolutionary potential of web-based software is the difference-maker when it comes to modernizing utility office operations. Team members still need access to the solutions they've used for years, including outage management systems (OMS) and interactive voice response (IVR) tools. When these technologies are accessible from anywhere, not just the office, flexibility immediately increases.

The old-fashioned model of using software deployed on servers in the office has been supplanted by a more adaptable cloud computing style in many industries. There's nothing stopping utility providers from joining this revolution. Giving employees access to critical software from home or the road via their personal computers or smart devices can deliver flexibility in a few ways:

  • Full responses with reduced off-hours staffing: What happens if there is an emergency situation during the middle of the night or on a weekend? Will employees be able to assemble in time to react in a timely and effective way? Using software accessible from anywhere is a way to make sure the team can launch a full-scale response. This is more economical than having a fully staffed office, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
  • Timely scaling during emergencies: Even when an emergency such as a service outage strikes during regular office hours, it pays to be able to call in all available personnel. Whether these extra employees are tracing the potential source of the disruption, communicating with field crews, answering customer queries or handling any other facet of the response, their contributions are sure to be appreciated. They can give this assistance without crowding the office.
  • Uninterrupted operations during unexpected conditions: Sometimes, there are especially important reasons to keep team members away from the office. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, utility organizations found themselves dealing with distancing rules to reduce the chance of virus transmission. In extreme cases, these offices were facing down outbreaks among staff, adding urgency to their remote operations. Other types of risk, such as extreme weather causing damage to the office or making roads impassable can also make it critical for employees to stay home.
  • Scaling up and working with outside teams: Bringing in temporary assistance for any reason, collaborating with third-party contractors to resolve issues with utility infrastructure, becomes simpler when the key software is accessible from anywhere. Since it's no longer necessary for teams to work from a single office, they can increase their potential talent pools whenever necessary.

While there are a variety of use cases for web-based utility software, they are all tied to the same general concept. This new and more flexible way of deploying mission-critical systems is the future.

Some utility providers, especially those in sparsely populated areas, are still too dependent on paper-based record-keeping and analog communications. These organizations can skip an evolutionary step by going directly to modern OMS, IVR and other tech tools.

Even providers that have digital technology in their offices may benefit from an upgrade if their current options force employees to work from headquarters in every instance. Flexibility and convenience are becoming need-to-have, rather than nice-to-have, features.

Simplified workflows and smooth processes

While the office team will celebrate the new possibilities of highly accessible OMS and IVR tools, they aren't the only ones who benefit. With access to OMS interfaces through their smart devices, field crews can navigate directly to the site of suspected grid problems and log their findings using the same real-time data available to their colleagues at headquarters.

Other processes become far simpler and more reliable when handled through a web-based OMS interface. With the ability to close work orders and tickets from home or the field, linemen can enter this data while it's still fresh, creating a more accurate record of the jobs they've performed.

This ability to log data from the field can prove especially crucial when it's inadvisable to come into the office, for instance during extreme weather or when a county is dealing with pandemic conditions. Flexibility in essential technology use reaches employees of all roles, in the office, at home or in the field.

Read dataVoice success stories to see how advanced OMS tools have helped other utility organizations thrive.

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