The Silver Lining of a Cloud

Patrick Kubiak, Field Technology Services Manager, Golden State Water Company
Patrick Kubiak, Field Technology Services Manager, Golden State Water Company

Patrick Kubiak, Field Technology Services Manager, Golden State Water Company

The utility industry is going through significant change, fueled by increasing customer expectations and recent technology developments. In particular, utilities are streamlining their operations and empowering their field workforce by digitizing existing paper-based and labor-intensive business processes. While moving forward with this digital transformation, they are transitioning from an on-premise to a cloud-computing model, leveraging key benefits of the cloud, including improved cost control, standardization, security and scalability.

Golden State Water Company (Golden State Water), an investor-owned, regulated utility that serves drinking water to more than 1 million Californians, is using cloud technology to streamline afield workforce management program that has served the utility industry for years.

Golden State Water is pioneering a new approach by deploying Oracle’s Mobile Workforce Management (MWM) platform and its analytics tools in Oracle’s cloud information system. It’s a significant advancement with the technology that has enabled Golden State Water to modernize its field operations, while overcoming the financial restraints that state-regulated utilities often face when attempting to upgrade their technology suite.

The implementation of MWM is an important step in the company’s digital transformation journey that directly benefits employees and customers by creating new efficiencies for its workforce and improving the customer service experience.

  Digital transformation is a necessity as we work to educate, empower and engage our customers 

In the past, daily field activities were manually dispatched to field crews using paper forms. Field activity data was collected by the crews using the same paper forms, and at the end of the day customer service representatives would manually enter the data collected into the company’s Customer Information System (CIS). Now, field activities are automatically dispatched to tablets used by the crews, doing away with the heap of paperwork included in the traditional and labor-intensive manual process. It also enables dispatchers to view job status and workers’ locations in real time, allowing them to seamlessly coordinate jobs according to workers’ locations and change course as emergencies and new customer service opportunities arise. Customer service teams also have real time access to workers’ timetables and whereabouts, enabling them to offer accurate appointment scheduling options to customers and provide live updates on the field crew estimated time of arrival. Overall, MWM significantly improves the productivity of the field crews and reduces the time required to address a customer’s request.

Our goal is less windshield time, more customer service time. The result is more satisfied customers, as we are able to address their needs in a timelier manner.

While creating clear productivity and customer service benefits, the deployment of MWM has also yielded positive environmental benefits. Golden State Water has fully eliminated the need to print hundreds of thousands of paper pages per year. Additionally, MWM’s routing optimization feature reduces the number of miles driven per activity, and therefore reduces the emissions and vehicle wear and tear associated with each activity.

Golden State Water decided to implement MWM in the cloud (as a Software as a Service (SaaS)) as opposed to on premise for multiple reasons, including:

• Lower project life cycle cost. An on-premise model requires significant hardware investments in addition to a full-size internal team to support and maintain the application. With a SaaS model, no hardware investments are required for the utility and most of the application maintenance and support is handled by the vendor, in exchange for an annual subscription fee. Thanks to the economies of scale that can be achieved by a vendor, it is usually more cost effective for a utility to pay an annual subscription fee for a SaaS application than investing in an on premise model.

• Improved standardization. SaaS applications are considered an “out of the box” solution with limited customization capabilities that reflect industry best practices. These limited customization capabilities force utilities to:

◘ Embrace the best practices embedded in the “out of the box” solution.

◘ Revise their old and sometimes ineffective business processes to be aligned with the SaaS solution and be more reflective of best practices.

• Security. Oracle and other cloud vendors have large cyber security teams of talented individuals fully dedicated to the security of their cloud environment. These teams are governed by stringent policies and processes to identify, monitor and mitigate cyber security threats. Utilities cannot achieve similar levels of security for their on-premise systems without incurring unreasonable costs.

• Scalability. Since hardware and staffing investments concerns are transitioned to the vendor with SaaS model, it becomes much easier for a SaaS user to scale up or down its use of the application.

In addition to the implementation of MWM in the Cloud, Golden State Water has achieved another key milestone in its digital transformation journey: the creation of a Field Technology Services Department. The Department is focused on leading Golden State Water’s technology strategic planning effort and managing the implementation of the company’s technology roadmap, while overseeing change management and business process design activities.

One of the department’s key 2019 initiatives will be the deployment of a centralized data warehouse. The business intelligence team is dealing with nearly a dozen different applications, which makes it challenging to access the necessary information and develop a meaningful dashboard for our senior executives and management. The objective is to integrate applications with a centralized data warehouse and implement a business intelligence tool, also integrated with the data warehouse, to automatically generate reports and dashboards. And, serious consideration is being given to hosting this data warehouse in the cloud.

Another key project is the re-design of Golden State Water’s website. Customers in today’s digital landscape want their utilities to have a website that is easy to use and accessible via multiple mobile platforms. Customers use their phones for everything nowadays, so the re-design is focusing on the mobile experience and making sure an omnichannel experience is provided. Research shows that approximately 65 percent of website traffic occurs on mobile devices, so we want to add applications to the website to facilitate the customer journey. Eventually, our customers will be empowered to take care of all their needs through the website, from turning on service to paying a bill and submitting a customer service request.

Digital transformation is a necessity as we work to educate, empower and engage our customers. There is great value to bringing technology to our utility—for our customers and our staff. While we see these huge benefits, we do take a very careful approach. We want to make sure the technology we bring on board ads value for our customers and our utility now and in the future.

Read Also

The Digital Utility: New Value and Risks

The Digital Utility: New Value and Risks

Matt Wakefield, Director, Information, Communication and Cyber Security, EPRI
Cloud Computing for Advanced Power System Monitoring

Cloud Computing for Advanced Power System Monitoring

Eugene Litvinov, Chief Technologist, ISO New England
Realizing Real Dollar Savings with Right IT Choices

Realizing Real Dollar Savings with Right IT Choices

Tom Bland, Director, Business Technology Services, Cobb EMC