Extending human capabilities for the Utilities field workforce
Technology is driving disruptive change at break-neck speed. Robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and process automation, amongst others, are radically changing the nature of work. To remain competitive, organizations need to adapt quickly, adopting new business models, tools, processes and more.
But what about the workforce? How is it going to keep up in the face of automation? Let’s explore how Energy & Utilities (E&U) companies address this digital dilemma.
In this blog post, I look at some of the great opportunities technology offers E&U companies. I examine the potential impact of failing to address human perspectives when adopting new technologies and offer some ideas on how to build a thriving workforce in the digital era.
Some people believe digital technology will bring a new era of mass unemployment, taking away not only jobs but also job security and career control.
But companies can turn technology threats into opportunities. By taking a human-centric approach to reskilling and flexibility, they can empower the employee, reducing mundane tasks and improving work/life integration and balance. Take bots and AI as an example. These technologies enable automation but, in doing so, allow employees to leave behind repetitive tasks and instead focus on utilizing their unique human skills to deliver value to their companies.
As organizations adopt new technologies, involving those employees most affected will be essential to not only ensuring the workforce thrive but also to avoiding unanticipated outcomes. Large enterprises spending billions of dollars on automation to lower costs often find costs increase because they failed to reflect human perspectives and culture change within the digital transformation. Simply put, not including the workforce in the design and implementation of these new technologies meant they didn’t work effectively.
In Japan, companies like Toyota and Honda take a very different approach, embracing the idea that it is the workers who give wisdom to the machines and not the other way around. They began their digital transformations by focusing on areas where workers would be happy to see technology improve their working lives – the jobs that were the most difficult or most dangerous. Their initial successes allowed them to progress to other areas.
Extending capabilities in the field
Let’s explore some specific examples of how technology could lead to improvement for E&U workers, specifically for the field service engineer. We’ll see how combining mobility, augmented reality, wearables and contextual information with social networking and gaming principles can take support for field service teams to the next level. These technologies are particularly interesting for engineers working in remote or hostile environments, or where the local service team is perhaps less skilled.
Take an engineer repairing high-voltage power lines high in the mountains or water pipes buried deep underground in a remote region. They may be working in the wind or rain, and they’re likely to be wearing gloves. They encounter a problem. Reading through the paper-based documentation is almost impossible.
Today’s there’s no reason why they can’t be shown a virtual exploded technical diagram or a virtual image of what may be hidden behind meters of earth or concrete. The same augmented reality technology used in the popular Pokémon Go game can provide them with contextual documentation on-demand through a pair of smart goggles.
My second example uses technology to address the challenge of anticipating what expertise will be required when allocating an engineer to a job. Augmented reality visualization techniques used in social gaming compensate for any specific or rare skills that the engineer out in the field lacks. Thanks to augmented reality and communication techniques, the engineer can now collaborate with a remote expert for step-by-step guidance.
Improving worker experience
In both examples, the technology improves the efficiency of the engineering team while also reducing risk and cost. For the engineers themselves, the technology empowers them to do more and do that more easily, improving their overall work experience. Engineers are no longer expected to know all the facts and data; they simply need to be able to ask the right questions, find credible answers and propose new ideas.
From a wider perspective, as organizations adopt technologies more widely, employees will be able to let go of mundane tasks and instead bring what robots and automation can’t deliver: complex problem solving, creative design thinking, adaptability and social interactions. Taking a human-centric approach to the adoption of digital technology is critical to ensuring technology improves work experience, as we’ve discussed here, and enables a better work/life balance.
E&U companies need to adopt new digital technologies to remain competitive in the new world. As they do so, they face a wide range of new digital dilemmas. Our Journey 2022 ‘Resolving Digital Dilemmas’ publication, researched and written by the Atos Scientific Community,, offers guidance on developing strategies to resolve this and other E&U emerging digital dilemmas.