Frictionless working in energy & utilities: Enhancing employee experience for the field workforce
Keeping the lights on, keeping the water flowing. Maintaining business as usual during the pandemic has been critical for the E&U field workforce. Technology played an essential role by enabling new digitally distributed ways of working. In our sector we are seeing a great ‘digital divide,’ where companies that had embarked on their digital journey prior to the pandemic were in a far better position to respond when it hit.
This blog post looks at the impact of the E&U digital divide on the field workforce. We explore digital opportunities and examine the importance of implementing technology in a way that enables what we call ‘frictionless working,’ or seamless integration of technology into our work, so much so that it becomes almost invisible as it enhances the employee experience.
The digital divide among E&U field personnel
Field personnel at many E&U companies already enjoyed the benefits of digitally connected assets. When the pandemic hit, digital meant they could adapt their ways of working – and do so rapidly. Assets could be monitored and controlled remotely, increasing redundancy and reliability. If personnel from one plant or operating center were sick, personnel from another could be engaged to take over. Field employees didn’t need to be on-site as often; they could complete some of their work from home.
On the other side of the great divide, only a fraction of field tasks are digitized. Up to 80 percent of on-site operations and maintenance activities are paper-based; automation and remote control non-existent. Field personnel print their work orders and work packages at the start of a shift, then manually enter job details at the end. Across the industry, more than half of all plant assets – whether at a water treatment plant, a refinery,or a power plant – are not yet digitally connected.
Digitized E&U companies enjoy more workforce flexibility. They can fast-track onboarding, which undoubtedly proved beneficial during the pandemic. E&U field personnel are experts in their areas of operation, but to be effective, they need the right information at the right time.
The information they require should be tailored to their specific needs. And when new people are needed, they must be brought up to speed quickly and set up with the relevant credentials for the new tasks they are undertaking.
Change is the only constant for the future. E&U companies must urgently adopt more digital way of working, so they can be more agile and better able to respond to whatever situation they may face.
Enabling an agile field workforce
Digital is enabling ways of working where employees can quickly adapt to new tasks:
- Digitized procedures mean they can easily follow the steps required to comply with industry regulations.
- Connecting to a central control room allows remote experts to provide guidance, share information, answer questions, and even take real-time corrective action.
- Digital knowledge bases and communities offer a place to turn to for additional information and support.
- Augmented reality and 3D modeling supply contextual information and accelerate training.
- Natural language processing, deep learning, and other artificial intelligence technologies are advancing smart intelligence- and rule-based systems.
- Strong cybersecurity tools protect the most sensitive and critical assets behind the scenes to ensure security is not compromised.
While many assets were not designed specifically for the E&U sector, we can find inspiration from other industries utilizing technologies that are accelerating the path to digital:
- Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can capture information remotely, adding a camera to a panel to automatically read it, for instance.
- Robots and drones can complement IoT technologies to provide a view into dangerous or inaccessible areas, such as after a storm or other natural disaster.
- Mixed reality (AR/VR) technologies can provide contextual information and allow field personnel to see information from experts located in a central control room.
- Edge technologies allow images, video or other information to be captured and analyzed ‘at the edge’ and the insights gleaned to be shared with the central control room.
- Tracking technologies can provide the central control room with real-time insight on progress – seamlessly and without any additional burden on field personnel.
- Planning tools can make unavoidable delays a thing of the past for brownfield projects by ensuring that the right people with the right qualifications, tools and spare parts are available and that employee safety is preserved.
- Planning and surveillance tools are also critical for managing greenfield projects to ensure they are delivered on time and on budget.
- Digital twins can help prevent delays by identifying design flaws before parts even reach the site.
Frictionless working for an enhanced employee experience
All too often, digital technologies are implemented piecemeal and not well integrated, creating additional burden and requiring unplanned support. As a result, field personnel are not reaping the full benefits.
Instead, digital technologies should be implemented in a way that optimizes their value without adding additional burden. They should effectively be invisible, creating what we call ‘frictionless working.’ Only then can they enhance the employee experience by smoothing real-time exchanges of information, knowledge and insights. Doing this effectively takes expert knowledge and resources from companies like Atos.
Digital is no longer an option; it’s a must. The pandemic has shown that E&U companies can no longer afford to lag in the appropriate exploitation of digital technologies. Just as office employees in most industries have reaped the benefits of technology enabling remote working, the E&U field workforce should also be allowed to reap the benefits of these technologies to enhance their employee experience.
Change is the only constant for the future. E&U companies must urgently adopt more digital way of working, so they can be more agile and better able to respond to whatever situation they may face. But above all, let’s adopt technologies in a way that supports the field workforce without imposing any additional burden.
Frictionless working will be critical to E&U companies’ future success, far beyond the pandemic. Explore our ‘Rebound report’ to discover lessons learned and how to rebound stronger and wiser after the COVID-19 crisis.