How technology kept energy flowing through the lockdowns
With the UK Government’s plan for leaving lockdown underway, organisations across the utilities sector are looking forward to returning to a semblance of normality.
The start of 2021 wasn’t what most had hoped for – after the lockdowns of 2020, the new year presented the UK with 'Lockdown 3.0'. But this time there was a difference. This was the first lockdown taking place during winter months, and for energy companies in particular, cold weather typically brought a spike in demand.
However, organisations had been through this twice before – albeit in warmer weather – and therefore many were in better positions to continue to provide excellent customer service despite the tight restrictions that were in place. With the lessons that had been learned from the previous 12 months, businesses have been in a better place with much greater understanding of how to ensure their employees can keep working.
Low temperatures = high energy use
The UK rarely sees winters as cold as the recent storm in Austin, Texas where during its coldest day, the state’s average temperature was just 11.8 degrees Fahrenheit – or -11.2 degrees Celsius. But that doesn’t mean that the months of cold British weather don’t cause their own problems. Particularly this winter with the majority of the country working from home, many would be cranking the central heating up and using more electricity for lighting during the darker days and evenings.
This rise in energy usage meant that suppliers were working harder than ever to ensure that homes were kept warm. During lockdown, completing maintenance in houses, offices, or any other site is trickier than usual, as companies have had to limit the number of workers they send to a single location. But as mentioned previously, lessons have been learned, and new technologies have been integrated by many companies to ensure that they could cope with the challenging situation.
How scheduling saved time
With the country moving in and out of lockdown in 2020, there was likely to be a backlog of jobs going into 2021 that didn’t get completed last year. Prioritising scheduling will have been necessary for many companies to ensure that this latest lockdown didn’t push them further behind.
Scheduling software is being adopted by a range of utilities companies to help speed up this process. These applications can identify a backlog of jobs in one geographical area and ensure that local teams can focus on these jobs first and move between them quicker. This is more productive than, for example, completing the tasks in order they were initially due, which could force teams to retrace their steps over the course of a week traveling to different sites and likely take longer overall.
Scheduling applications also help ensure that the right workers and resources are sent to the right jobs, reducing the number of repeat visits required to complete a repair. When it comes to compliance, having detailed schedules in place is also enabling companies to better meet strict SLAs when carrying out maintenance – this preparation ensures they have everything they legally require. Similarly, newly automated audits are speeding up this process, meaning workers can complete jobs and move onto the next site quicker.
While scheduling can of course always be carried out manually, companies that have integrated software which is designed to map out their jobs saves time, reduces the margin for error and eases the pressure on teams. Crucially, this has meant that customers haven’t been left waiting for long periods of time during the latest lockdown for essential maintenance to be carried out.
Using video to spread the workload
Another solution that has been making a positive impact on customer experience during lockdown is the increasing adoption of video-based remote assistance.
In the ‘new normal’ where limiting face-to-face contact is a priority, any technology that can reduce the number of people visiting multiple locations, and the amount of time they need to spend there, is beneficial. Video-based remote assistance is enabling gas and electricity maintenance workers to complete their jobs with less risk to themselves and others – be it workers from other organisations on-site, such as Highway Maintenance, or members of the local community.
A smaller team can attend a job, and should they require advice from a more experienced team member, they can use the video livestream to show a supervisor the situation they’re dealing with and complete the job themselves under guidance. This reduces the number of workers that need to attend a site at one time, thereby helping the business to deploy resources more widely, and maximising labour utilisation when potentially dealing with a reduced workforce during the most recent lockdown. The supervisors working remotely can assist multiple maintenance workers in one day without travelling between locations, helping to reduce any potential spread of asymptomatic illness.
What the future holds
While these technologies have been on the rise recently due to the restrictions of COVID-19, according to Gartner, the next few years will see field service management tools continue to transform the mobile worker industry.
Last year, the analyst firm predicted that by 2025, algorithms and bots will schedule over two-thirds of field service work for field service providers dependent on automated schedule optimisation, up from less than 25% in 2019. In the same time period, we will see over 50% of field service management deployments include mobile augmented-reality collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools, up from less than 10% in 2019.
As far as 2021 is concerned, solutions such as these will continue to help energy – and other utilities – companies supply all customers with a consistent service regardless of the seasons.
The latest lockdown may have been the most challenging as the stakes were higher during winter, but rapidly developing technology innovations combined with the government’s lockdown exit strategy mean that it shouldn’t be long before life returns to a semblance of normal. And with it, utilities companies will have the technology in place to boost efficiency and productivity beyond what we’ve seen before.
Marc Greggains is Director of New Business Commercial Sales at TotalMobile
Airswift Competentia merger spurs global digital recruitment
Airswift and recruiting and workforce management specialist Competentia have merged to form one of the world’s foremost workforce solutions providers serving the energy, process, infrastructure, mining and technology industries.
The combined entity, which retains the Airswift name, will offer clients enhanced global access, particularly in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and Africa. Competentia recently opened an office in Texas, complementing Calgary, Anchorage and Houston in the region.
Airswift chief executive, Janette Marx, will be CEO of the merged entity and Competentia Group CEO, Jayden Wallis, will play a key role on the executive team as Chief Marketing Officer and SVP of ASPAC. Kyle McClure will become CFO of the combined company.
Marx said there had been a long been mutual admiration between both companies, which share a mutual ambition to become the workforce solutions provider of choice for clients, candidates and contractors in the energy and technology industries.
“In a rapidly digitizing, post-pandemic environment, companies across the world’s technical sectors must quickly respond to new ways of working to achieve sustainable, long-term growth," she said. "We believe that our combined size and experience, and our firm focus on the energy transition, perfectly positions us to help clients respond to the complex workforce challenges of the future. Through digital and people-based solutions, we will ultimately shape the technical sectors of tomorrow.”
As a result of the merger, mid-market and blue-chip companies alike gain access to an even broader range of truly integrated services. Talent acquisition, professional search, international contractor management, global employment outsourcing, consultancy and payroll management are just a few of the workforce solutions on offer.
Wallis added: “We see this as an opportunity to create the world’s most forward-thinking workforce solutions provider.
“We also believe we have a key, supporting role to play in enabling the energy transition, not only in the industries we serve, but through responsible business operations, business models, investment in technology and innovation, and collaboration with our peers. Our combined strength and shared ambition mean we’re even better placed to deliver on that.”
Ian Langley, Airswift’s Chairman, said: “It was obvious from our opening call that a potential merger had great merit. Not only did our combination make perfect commercial sense, but we found that our organizations had similar cultures and aspirations, and we quickly discovered a unique alignment.”
Airswift and Competentia’s private equity backers, Wellspring Capital and Reiten & Company respectively, are retaining their stakes in the merged entity and will continue to be actively involved with the business. Airswift has also issued a bond on the Norwegian bond market to ensure maximum flexibility and access to alternative funding in the future.
Matthew Harrison, Managing Partner at Wellspring Capital, said: “Airswift and Competentia share the same foundational values and are guided by both delivering excellence to their clients and creating a great employee experience. Together they can do this even better, and I look forward to seeing the new merged company do great things.”
Bård Ingerø, Managing Partner at Reiten & Co concludes: “These are two companies with such similar cultures and successful track records, which we believe will fit together seamlessly to offer the market the greatest possible breadth, depth and quality of services, wherever clients may operate.”
Patrick Tame, CEO of Beringer Tame, says only agile and digitally savvy businesses have survived the storm from the pandemic, and will continue to do.
“The battle to keep ahead in an environment of rapid technological, market and consumer behaviour changes has caused businesses to rush to hire digital talent that has enabled them to shift the way they operate," he writes.
"When there are skill shortages in a particular sector - such as the digital market - hiring the best, before the competition, can make a real difference when it comes down to overall business success. So the businesses that are privy to a team of consultants who boast priceless depth of industry knowledge and mastery are guaranteed to have a competitive edge."