Sep 2, 2014

How to Effectively Manage The Work Force of your Utility

Utilities
Admin
4 min
For many utilities, success begins with its employees. Training and retaining an experienced work force is extremely important to keeping the busines...

For many utilities, success begins with its employees. Training and retaining an experienced work force is extremely important to keeping the business alive for years to come. Keeping your employees happy begins with strategic management—which ultimately comes from the top. So, what are some techniques to ensure your work force is being managed correctly?

Focus on Key Ideas
What is most important to your company? What do you value above everything else? Whatever your answer to this question is, it’s important that it gets emphasized to your employees from the top of the organization to those in entry-level positions. This not only helps your utility achieve its goals based on the ideas important to the organization, but promotes a sense of unity since all employees have something to work toward and a guiding principle to do so. This is important since utilities are often run on a large scale, and the ideas presented within can become inconsistently very quickly.

Keep Communication Lines Open
There’s nothing more frustrating to employees than not knowing what’s going on. When it comes to company operations, keeping your employees informed is critical to success, as secretive personnel changes and broken lines of communication can bring any operation to a standstill. This is especially true when it comes to any sort of major changes within the company. Motivate your employees by keeping them in the loop and treating them with a certain amount of respect by informing them of internal business moves. A weekly company newsletter is always a welcome addition, especially if your utility is a multi-state or national operation. It keeps employees informed of goings on and makes them feel like they’re part of the company and not just a faceless worker.

Be Open to Implementing Worker Feedback
You might be surprised how many great ideas can come from one of your employees—you just have to be willing to listen. If someone thinks they have a better way of getting things done, it never hurts to listen. Not only do your employees feel that their opinion is valued, but they very well could be right and boost efficiency, thus saving money. Many companies derive their “best practices” internally from workers who know the jobs their doing better than anyone. While keeping channels of communication open, be sure to actually listen and think about what your employees are bringing to you.

Be Clear in your Communication
This is along the lines of the first point. Clarity so often falls by the wayside in the corporate world, leaving employees confused and often times working in the wrong direction. Emphasize priorities and be sure to let your team know what is it that needs to happen to successfully complete a job. This should start as soon as a new employee is hired to ensure that everyone is on the same page and the message is coming from a single, unified voice. When hiring a new technician, giving them tools and simply telling them to get to work will never pan out. Be sure to train and express to them what’s most important in the organization and why their work matters.

Be Generous in Giving Back to Your Employees
Much has been written recently about how the modern approach to the work week is outdated and unfair to workers. While this is more cultural than it is organizational, it’s still important to remember that your employees are going to get tired and have their limits. Be generous in rewarding them for their hard work. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in monetary terms, either. Provide lunch once a month, let them leave early, if applicable, let them work at home frequently. Happy employees are much more likely to stay with a company if they feel as though their work is valued. High turnover can be crippling to a business, so be sure to retain the talented employees by making them want to not only stay, but work hard.

Define Goals, Appoint Leaders
These work hand-in-hand. For a business to be successful, there needs to be an outcome of some kind for every project and initiative. Employees can’t feel like they’re working aimlessly toward nothing. This is aided by strong leaders who are able to drive productivity and help unify and focus a department or group. Pockets of employees without leadership are sure to get away from you and feel disconnected from the company as a whole. 

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Jul 13, 2021

Technology revolution for water retailers

Utilities
technology
IoT
digitaltransformation
Paul Williams
4 min
Paul Williams, Chief Technology Officer at Everflow Tech, reflects on privatisation, industry complexities and future for utilities in a digital world

In April 2017, the UK’s water retail market in the world opened for business – the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation. This development allowed businesses, charities and public sector organisations to shop around for the best deal.
However, like any industry, this change hasn’t been without its sticking points; here, Paul Williams, CTO at Everflow Tech (pictured far right), discusses how retailers can harness technology to their advantage

Our CEO, Josh Gill, set up independent retailer Everflow Water in 2015, and Everflow Tech is his response to the difficulties it faced.

Quotations could take up to a week to produce, billing software had to be manually updated and brokers were unable to manage the complete customer journey in one place – all of which took time, cost money and allowed for human error.

The more complexity that was involved in billing or quoting, the more contact end customers needed to have with their retailers, pushing up the cost to serve for every SPID. This meant retailers – ourselves included – found themselves in a situation where profits were simply eaten up by service costs.

We also note that it can traditionally be hard for retailers to stay on top of balancing what they are charging their customers with what they are being charged by the market. To further exacerbate this, the longer a change goes unnoticed, the more trouble it can be to balance the issue.

It was these issues that Josh and his (at the time) small team wanted to ameliorate, creating their own technology in the absence of anything else.

This technology evolved into our award-winning retail sales, billing and customer management platform for the water retail market, and Everflow Tech was launched as a standalone venture in 2018, selling the software externally for other water retailers and their customers to benefit from.

What retailers want

As a relatively new entrant to the world of utilities competition, the water market could be seen to be lagging behind, particularly when it comes to innovation.

In fact, as recently as 2019, Ofwat said it expected the industry to be making technological advances and to be working with a culture of innovation, collaborating with companies both within and outside of the sector.

And with cost-savings for consumers traditionally lower than for other utilities, retailers need to be offering something more – whether that’s better support, energy-efficiency advice or more accurate data.

What’s more, consumers have had a taste of the power of technology, and they’ve come to expect nothing less from retailers across the board.

Another key issue – thrown into sharp relief during the past 12 months (and counting) of a pandemic – is rising levels of arrears, which are likely to increase bad debt beyond margins that retailers originally allowed for when the market was created.

In such a low-margin industry, there is a limit to the amount of debt retailers can take on, especially as recovering costs can be a very slow process. Ofwat has signalled that this issue could be addressed as early as this year, with a mechanism for recovering bad debt to be established during 2021/22. 

The market needs simple solutions to better serve the end user, and we were perfectly placed to develop those solutions. At Everflow, our software is designed for the water retail market, by the water retail market.

As well as simple billing, clear-to-understand workflows, and a revenue assurance system to allow retailers to quickly compare market charges, Everflow has also introduced a complete debt solution, allowing missed payment dates to drive late payment charges and escalations automatically.

Retailers are able to design and put out their own bill and quotes, tailoring customer journey and overall experience – whatever the circumstances.

What does the future hold?

Automation is key to any industry; we’re heading into an age of driverless cars and smart homes, and this drive for tech will filter through to our industry, and we need to catch up. 

The Internet of Things – a network of physical objects connected to each other – means human error (and effort) can effectively be removed from many everyday tasks, which goes for meter readings too. However, in the 21st century, the water market is still not leveraging previously emerged technology in the form of smart meters to provide accurate billing. 

Consumers are also becoming more empowered, both to ask for information and change their preferences if they don’t like what they learn. Retailers need to be armed with this information, not next week, not tomorrow, but now – and, at Everflow Tech, we’re putting that information at their fingertips.

But the retailers themselves need to speak up too, and we will always work with them to get the best ideas on what needs to be developed and when.

Our strong bond with Everflow Water, along with other key customers, means we have a direct interest in making sure our systems serve the water market in the best way they can. 

For us, the goal is to make sure retailers on our platform can grow as much as possible, leaving behind laborious daily processes to focus on their own strategic growth and, most importantly, helping their customers.

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