Creating a new culture of working
At the start of the pandemic, many industries ignited the biggest workforce shift in living memory by sending people home. They also doubled down on technology solutions and cloud transformations to keep them productive. In doing so, they made work possible not just from home, but from anywhere.
In the early stages of lockdown, the utility industry—like many others—had to rapidly embrace remote working, particularly for call center staff. But, given the security, regulatory, and governance implications of running critical national infrastructure, utilities are not able to fully embrace remote working for its asset-focused workforce.
In other industries, lockdowns have accelerated the development of “bring your own environment” (BYOE) strategies to address the security ramifications of remote work. Utilities have an opportunity to apply the best practices of BYOE in customer operations, and to optimize flexibility within the industry’s unique governance frameworks for critical infrastructure. New technologies—particularly 5G, edge computing, and self-serve analytics—can help utilities to create a new environment that enables a very different way of working in the field.
Create your own environment
In the post-pandemic future, people are not going back to work as they remember it. Enterprises will deploy a BYOE strategy, where tech solutions connect employees’ environments, not just their individual devices, to create an enterprise that is Anywhere, Everywhere. Technology now makes anywhere an office.
Regulatory, safety, and security considerations mean that utilities must adopt a different approach to BYOE. However, a similar employee experience and the same outcomes can be achieved. Rather than connecting employees’ environments, a utility can create more personalized environments for its employees.
Look at NHS Digital – the IT provider for social and health systems in England – which partnered with Microsoft and Accenture to make Microsoft Teams available to 1,275,000 NHS staff. The platform let doctors conduct virtual appointments, allowed the NHS to host virtual “town hall” events, and made it easier for staff in isolation rooms to communicate and collaborate with colleagues outside.1
With the right governance, utilities staff can do the same: work anywhere, seamlessly and flexibly, while security risks remain closely managed. With the right technologies—for example, real-time data availability, cloud, and edge computing—employees are empowered to make decisions on how to best deliver value.
Of course, not all parts of the utility business face the same constraints. Energy retail is less encumbered by the strict security regulations that govern networks and generation. In lockdown, utilities transferred call centers to their employees’ houses. Virtual work has become the norm. BYOE in retail recognizes the need to support more flexible working, and puts in place the technology infrastructure to support this permanent shift.
Field workers become remote workers
BYOE empowers field workers with new technology and the ability to innovate to improve work processes. The results can have a huge positive impact on efficiency: the technology environment decentralizes business processes in the field, minimizing the number of visits workers must make to headquarters. It can also help manage more distributed supply chains, so that equipment is stored closer to field workers, and stocks and supply chains are optimized using predictive analytics.
Intelligent work scheduling optimizes routes for field workers to move more efficiently from job to job. Data from distributed smart devices and edge computing can support field workers in new ways, to incorporate new business models. For example, Accenture worked with a utility in south east asia to reimagine its rural payment center network, to become an electric scooter charging network with Wi-Fi and other digital solutions for customers.
Ultimately, the Anywhere Everywhere trend supports the delivery of customer outcomes. That’s because the whole utility workforce works to deliver customer service, be they in generation, networks, or retail. Empowering the workforce to improve the way they work improves customer outcomes, whether that’s by making the grid more reliable, power greener, or delivering more efficient services and tailored product to customers. Creating a personalized environment for employees enables a customer focus anywhere within operations – one that can be delivered everywhere.
1 “Microsoft and NHS Digital to provide new clinical capabilities through Teams” Digital Health, 7 April 2020