Protecting people, communities and business

Safety has always been a core value for the utilities industry. Now in the face of a global pandemic, ensuring that critical lifeline services are not interrupted has created an unprecedented challenge. The near-term decisions utility leaders make today to protect their employees, communities and business from COVID-19, will undoubtedly impact future operations. In order to ensure enterprise resiliency now and in the long term, priority must be placed on ensuring the safety of people and going the extra mile to serve customers while anticipating and minimizing financial impact.

Adapting to an evolving environment today

Leaders are already managing large reductions in productivity as most employees grapple with the safety, care, and education of family and loved ones. As public health officials warn of a multi-month fight against the virus, these challenges will only be amplified and exacerbated without adequate foresight and planning. While each utility will have different needs and requirements for workplace and people management, customer service, and business continuity, we recommend the following approach in the short term.

Organize your response

Utilities around the globe understand that a rapid and well-coordinated response is required to proactively manage and adapt to an evolving environment. Critical success factors include:

  • Unifying the response team
  • Establishing clear priorities
  • Communicating with consistency

It is important that everyone from the C-suite to field crews understands their roles and responsibilities. Executives should be focused on strategic guidance, broad priorities, and mitigating legal or policy issues. A single cross-functional response organization should be established with one incident commander. This helps to align response objectives and coordinate the resources to support field crews, call centers, and control room operators charged with executing tactical operations.

Create a future planning team

The uncertainty and complexity of a pandemic makes responding more complicated than a typical natural disaster. As a result, utilities should model different scenarios focused on the impact that the current and potentially worsening operating conditions will have on the business over the next 12-24 months. The gaps identified in the scenarios will help to inform key considerations when developing short and long-term strategies.

Identify opportunities to partner with stakeholders

At a time when governments are increasingly limiting movement of people in an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19, utilities can expect a shift in the demand for electricity. Residential consumption and demands on water infrastructure will increase as families are at home for longer periods of time. State and local legislators will champion response priorities in the different communities they serve. Regulators may introduce newly developed mandates that don’t support the typical business model. As a result, there is an opportunity for utilities to actively partner with varying stakeholder groups to understand their needs and properly set expectations accordingly.

Utility leaders can seize this opportunity by taking swift action to navigate the crisis and learn from their peers.

Thinking strategically about tomorrow

As utility executives lead their organizations through the transformative changes required by the crisis, it will be important to consider the broader implications and opportunities. This includes potential changes to current operating models where employees will have different home, family, and work-life expectations. There will be new ways of using technology to achieve productivity while meeting customer and market needs. The new normal will include different workforce models and a rebalanced portfolio across sectors (e.g., industries, retail, real estate, etc.). It will also enable improved monitoring of operational indicators as well as more sophisticated demand and supply management and forecasting.

Communities and other industries will face radical change as a result of the pandemic. This presents an opportunity for utilities to be more visible in supporting broader recovery efforts and community needs. Additionally, it is an opportunity for utilities to work outside the industry with academia, retail, automotive, transportation, and other sectors to find new opportunities for cross-industry partnerships.

This is a time to learn from what others in the industry are doing to respond and apply the recommendations, such as:

  • Challenging your partners
    A utility realized its business continuity plans had not considered a situation where the vast majority of its employees would be working from home. Within a day the utility challenged their telecommunications and collaborative tool partners to expand the bandwidth and support capacity to successfully expand work from home capability.
  • Reimagining the new future
    A utility with a mature crisis management structure and incident command system proactively developed best, likely, and worst-case scenarios for employees, operations and financial impact. These scenarios were analyzed for two, six, 12, and 24-month timeframes.

Utility leaders can seize this opportunity by taking swift action to navigate the crisis and learn from their peers. Applying these recommendations can help to minimize business disruption and potential revenue loss, forge new levels of trust with employees, and position their businesses for greater resiliency and productivity in the future.

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