How to Empower the Utility Workforce (Proven Examples)

June 21, 2023

In the fast-paced world of the utility industry, empowering meter readers and utility technicians through technology and digital tools is crucial. It opens a door to challenges posed by excessive manual work and outdated processes that lead to monotony, fatigue, and job dissatisfaction.

This blog post focuses on a pressing issue in the roles of utility workers: manual work. We'll explore how eliminating manual data collection, streamlining processes, and ensuring high data quality can revolutionise the way meter readers and utility technicians perform tasks. 

Embracing digital transformation and automation leads to a more efficient and productive workforce. 

Additionally, we'll address the impending retirement boom, with 50% of the utility workforce set to retire over the next decade. This calls for modernising administrative workflows and empowering the new generation of utility workers with advanced digital tools to maintain operational excellence.

An overview of this blog post:

Utility workers: Chasing paper trails on a digital road?

Administrative tasks for meter readers and utility technicians involve a diverse range of responsibilities that play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth operation of utility services. 

Despite the emergence of digitalisation within the industry, it is worth highlighting that numerous tasks continue to rely on traditional manual processes and paperwork.

Administrative work for Meter Readers 

Meter readers play a vital role in the utility industry, ensuring accurate billing and efficient meter data management. Here are the specific responsibilities that typically involve paperwork in this role:

  • Legacy (non-smart) Meter Readings: Despite the ongoing smart meter rollout, there are still over 20 billion manual meter readings conducted annually worldwide on gas, electricity, and water meters. Shockingly, up to 10% of this data is found to be faulty, leading to an average correction time of 5 weeks for data and billing issues.

 Meter readers often collect readings manually using pen and paper, although in some cases they may also take photos. However, these photos need to be validated by the back office. Another method involves manually typing the meter reading into a digital form, but this approach is still susceptible to human error.

Administrative Work for Utility Technicians 

While the utility industry has made significant progress in digitising administrative processes, there are still some circumstances where paperwork may exist for utility technicians. These can include:

  • Compliance and Regulatory Requirements: Utility companies often operate in highly regulated environments that require specific documentation and paperwork to demonstrate adherence to safety, environmental, or legal regulations. This may involve physical forms, reports, or certificates that need to be filled out, signed, and maintained for compliance purposes.
  • Offline or Remote Areas: In remote or offline areas with limited or no internet connectivity, utility technicians may need to rely on paper-based documentation. This could include filling out physical forms, reports, or checklists when conducting inspections, repairs, or installations in areas where digital systems are not accessible.

Negative Effects of Manual Paperwork

Within the utility industry, reliance on paperwork and manual administration processes can have detrimental effects on efficiency, productivity, and data accuracy. Let's explore the specific challenges that arise from these practices:

Negative impacts Efficiency Productivity Data accuracy
Time-consuming processes Delays and inefficiencies in completing tasks Consumes valuable time Increased potential for errors
Limited accessibility Challenges in accessing and sharing information Hinders productivity and collaboration Lack of real-time data
Inefficiencies in storage Difficulty in storing and retrieving paper records Time spent searching for and retrieving data Potential for errors and loss of data
Limited scalability Challenges in handling larger volumes of data Hinders scalability of operations Non-compliance risks due to manual tracking
Compliance challenges Difficulties in tracking and documenting compliance Potential non-compliance risks Difficulties in tracking compliance-related data

Efficiency: Manual paperwork involves time-consuming processes that hinder efficiency. Utility workers spend valuable time recording data, filling out forms, and handling administrative tasks. 

Meter readers, for example, spend valuable time manually recording data and filling out paper forms during their rounds. These manual tasks can lead to delays and inefficiencies in completing their core responsibilities. For instance, having to transfer the recorded data from paper forms into digital systems adds an extra step and increases the chances of errors. 

As a result, completing core responsibilities often face delays and inefficiencies. 

Productivity: Paperwork consumes valuable hours that could be dedicated to more productive tasks. The time-consuming nature of manual data entry and paperwork drains productivity. 

Moreover, difficulties in accessing relevant information and retrieving data from paper records add to the inefficiencies that utility workers face.

Data Accuracy: Relying on manual processes compromises data accuracy. Human errors during data entry and transcription, along with the potential for misplaced documents, contribute to inaccurate data collection and billing errors. Furthermore, the lack of real-time data availability impacts the monitoring of utility operations and timely decision-making. For example, if a meter reader records inaccurate information during a reading, it can lead to billing errors and customer dissatisfaction. 

On the other hand, when utility technicians replace a meter, accurate documentation of the final read of the old meter is crucial for billing purposes and ensuring a smooth transition to the new meter. This process typically involves completing paperwork to record the necessary information and ensure accurate billing. However, relying on manual paperwork increases the risk of errors and can lead to billing discrepancies or inaccuracies.

In the traditional approach, accessing information required physical paperwork or manual transfer from the back office to field workers. However, manual processes are susceptible to human error, hinder productivity, and lead to customer frustration when agents lack comprehensive information.

The following section explores the correlation between manual administrative tasks and job dissatisfaction, shedding light on how transitioning to automated systems can address these concerns and create a more fulfilling work environment.

Correlation with Job Dissatisfaction and Resignations

In the utility industry, there is a growing exploration of the correlation between manual administrative work and job dissatisfaction, especially in light of the impending retirement boom. 

With 50% of the utility workforce expected to retire within the next decade, it becomes crucial to examine how monotonous tasks and excessive paperwork may impact job satisfaction and employee engagement. 

While the direct link may not be fully established, it is important to explore the potential negative effects of these factors on utility workers' overall job fulfillment and motivation. By understanding these dynamics, we can gain insights into the challenges faced by utility workers and identify opportunities to improve their work experience.

Addressing the Potential Correlation:

Manual administrative work, characterised by repetitive tasks and excessive paperwork, has been associated with potential correlations to job dissatisfaction among utility workers. 

Many industry professionals have raised concerns about the impact of monotonous work on employee morale and overall job satisfaction. It is not uncommon to find cases where the burden of administrative tasks leads to frustration and, in extreme cases, even resignations.

The Impact of Monotonous, Repetitive Tasks:

Monotonous and repetitive tasks can significantly impact job satisfaction and contribute to employee disengagement within the utility sector. Performing the same administrative duties day after day, without much variation or opportunity for growth, can lead to feelings of stagnation and boredom. 

Utility workers who spend a significant portion of their time on paperwork and administrative chores may experience a lack of fulfilment and motivation in their roles.

Motivation and Job Fulfilment:

While the precise cause-and-effect relationship between manual administrative work and job dissatisfaction may vary among individuals, it is essential to recognise the potential impact on motivation and overall job fulfilment. 

The repetitive nature of administrative tasks can be mentally draining and fail to provide a sense of accomplishment or purpose. As a result, utility workers may struggle to find intrinsic motivation in their roles, leading to decreased job satisfaction over time.

To harness the strengths of utility technicians, it's crucial to minimise their involvement in paperwork. By streamlining administrative processes with digital solutions and automation, utility technicians can focus on critical maintenance, repairs, and ensuring reliable services. 

Acknowledging the hands-on nature of their roles, utility technicians should be empowered to devote their expertise maximises their impact, enhancing productivity, improving response times, and delivering exceptional customer service.

Leveraging Technology to Empower the Utility Workforce 

By embracing digital tools and solutions, utility companies can bid farewell to mundane manual tasks, boost overall productivity, and tackle job dissatisfaction head-on. 

Get ready to explore the incredible benefits of digitising workforce productivity, as we delve into a world where innovation meets utility operations!

Benefits of Digitising Workforce Productivity 

In the utilities industry, the digitisation of workforce productivity brings about transformative benefits by eliminating manual administrative work and empowering field workers and technicians. 

By standardising and optimising workforce management procedures, companies can unlock a range of advantages that enhance efficiency, streamline operations, and improve data quality.

Enhanced Efficiency:

By leveraging digital tools, companies can automate manual processes, freeing up workers to focus on value-added activities. This elimination of time-consuming administrative tasks increases productivity and efficiency, enabling workers to dedicate more time and energy to critical operational responsibilities.

Moreover, digitising workforce productivity brings benefits beyond operational improvements. By streamlining and digitising administrative processes, the time spent on paperwork and documentation is reduced by 50%, allowing resources to be allocated to more meaningful tasks.

Furthermore, the use of big data analytics and digital devices enables utilities to gain real-time insights into the health of equipment. This empowers them to transition from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance scheduling, leading to a significant 20% reduction in construction budgets. 

Streamlined Operations

Technology-driven solutions provide seamless integration and real-time data access across departments, facilitating streamlined workflows and enabling smoother collaboration.

Improved Data Quality:

Manual administrative work is susceptible to human errors that can compromise data accuracy and lead to inefficiencies. However, through the implementation of digital tools and automated data entry processes, the risk of errors is significantly reduced. This enhancement in data quality enables informed decision-making based on reliable information.

By embracing technology-driven solutions and optimising workflows, utilities can empower their workforce to focus on core tasks, enhance productivity, and improve job satisfaction. Eliminating manual administrative work allows field workers and technicians to devote more time and energy to critical operations, leading to greater efficiency, enhanced service quality, and ultimately, a more empowered and fulfilled workforce. For utilities, this means being able to tackle non-technical losses and enhance revenue protection.

Examples of Digital Transformation Technologies:

Below are four key digital transformation technologies—Augmented Reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Natural Language Processing (NLP)—that demonstrate the power of leveraging technology to empower utility workers and harness the value of collected data.

Augmented Reality (AR): By combining hardware (smartphones, tablets, wearable devices) with digital transformation software, AR enables seamless collaboration between field workers and subject matter experts. Field engineers can leverage AR technology to receive direct support from back office personnel, who can guide them through issues such as leakages or show them the presence of pipes to prevent accidental digging. With AR, critical information from the knowledge network is overlaid onto the real-world environment, allowing visual communication and marking areas that need attention. AR has shown impressive results, including productivity gains of up to 70%, 65-70% increases in asset uptime, and three-fold increases in daily inspections.

IoT Visualisation: IoT data, coupled with object character recognition (OCR) and real-time information, provides field workers with critical insights. Graphs, charts, and tables displayed in their field of vision or handheld devices automatically tag and present relevant details, aiding decision-making and enhancing situational awareness.

Natural Language Processing (NLP): As utility infrastructure modernises, collaboration with experts and suppliers across different locations becomes crucial. NLP bridges language barriers through live translation, facilitating effective communication and knowledge sharing among frontline utility workers and experts.

Computer Vision: Computer vision technology reduces cognitive load and the risk of injuries. It utilises OCR object detection, image tagging, and auto-tagging to ientify assets, components, and interpret content automatically. Field content can be tagged for future training and process improvement, enabling continuous learning and optimisation.

Here is how computer vision is currently used to enhance the productivity of utility workers:

  1. Computer vision automates meter reading by analysing images captured on smart devices. This eliminates time-consuming manual data entry, allowing utility workers to focus on value-added tasks.

  1. With advanced algorithms, computer vision ensures precise recognition and interpretation of meter data from images. This eliminates billing discrepancies and improves customer satisfaction.

  1. Computer vision enables remote meter reading, reducing travel time and optimising resource allocation. Utility companies can streamline their operations and enhance efficiency.

Empowering Utility Workers: From Monotony to Meaningful Work

By automating meter reading, computer vision frees utility workers from repetitive administrative tasks. They can redirect their energy toward customer-focused activities, improving job satisfaction and engagement.

Empowering field workers with AI meter reading software

Empowering meter readers with user-friendly technology is the key to unlocking efficiency, accuracy, job satisfaction, seamless training, and an exceptional customer experience. Intuitive interfaces and streamlined workflows simplify their tasks, eliminating errors and maximising productivity. 

By embracing user-friendly tools, utility companies can revolutionise their operations, delight meter readers, and ensure a smooth and satisfying journey for their valued customers.

Blicker, the user-friendly meter reading software used by Morrison Water Services, empowers meter readers by simplifying the meter reading process. 

With just a photograph, Blicker accurately deciphers readings and serial numbers, eliminating manual data entry and reducing errors. Morrison Water Services' adoption of Blicker exemplifies how user-friendly technology enhances efficiency, data accuracy, and job satisfaction. 

Empowering meter readers through smart tools like Blicker improves overall operations and customer experiences.

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