Digital Transformation in utilities is no longer a luxury or an afterthought

Since COVID-19 struck, GeoPal has been supporting the Construction & Utilities Industries to adjust to the rapidly changing environment through digital transformation. Both Industries have been moving quickly towards digitisation for the last number of years, with profound implications for the sector - post pandemic and beyond. Action must be taken to secure a place for your organisation at the forefront of smart workforce management and digitisation. Quintessentially, digital transformation in utilities is no longer a luxury or an afterthought - it’s now a necessity. Digital transformation will play a key role in enabling the utilities and construction industries to meet their long-term ambitions. Digital solutions are essential to progress and continuity - the transition to digital workforce management will drive fundamental changes in the industry as a whole. According to Gartner 56% of CEOs said a digital-first strategy has led to revenue growth. According to IDC, 85% of enterprise leaders say they have 2 years to implement a digital transformation strategy or they’ll fall behind their competitors and suffer financially.

Why is Now the Time for Digital Technology?

The many benefits of digitization and mobile workforce management in the utilities and construction industry, such as designing out health and safety risk and increased productivity, are likely to play a central role in risk mitigation and continuity models. Digital technology is emerging as a critical tool in navigating Covid-19 and beyond. The virus has placed the construction industry against a significant digital learning curve. Taking urgent and immediate action to accelerate your organisation's digital transformation journey, will help the industry progress, adapting to increasingly agile working conditions and preparing for total digitisation - a global trend that will characterise the industry in the coming years.

Digital technologies can be used as health and safety control systems for active sites, assisting organisations with the requirement of containing virus risks and improving safety protocols - maximizing output and securing operational continuity. The utility and construction sector’s digital performance has been largely static in comparison to other industrial sectors. Low levels of digital adoption, stagnant productivity, reduced profitability, waste contribution, low efficiency and high fault rates have characterized the sector. Unsurprisingly, the industry has not been innovating at its full capacity. The utilities and construction sectors have undoubtedly been significantly affected by the current crisis: some sites have closed, while others continue to face significantly disrupted supply chains and operational restrictions. As both sectors strive for business continuity, concerns arise regarding reduced productivity and efficiency whilst upholding the required safe workforce management practices. The pandemic has forced the hand of the industry to quickly implement digital technologies that will help recover ‘normal’ levels of output.

Rather than considering Covid-19 a time to reduce costs - downscaling and streamlining the workforce, construction companies should invest now in the digital skills required to succeed in construction’s digital future (GlobalData). Digital Transformation in utilities and construction is no longer a luxury or an afterthought.

Implementing the Roadmap to Recovery:

The roadmap to recovery is a strategic plan for the navigation of Covid-19 and beyond, aiming to increase activity across the utility and construction sectors and accelerate adjustment to the ‘new normal’. The plan's ambition is to increase industry capacity, allowing construction and utilities to deliver long-term strategic priorities, such as digital transformation and improved health and safety conditions across all sites.

The plan is delivered in three key phases;

  1. Restart: Increasing overall output and minimizing organisational disruptions.
  2. Reset: Increasing productivity and strengthening capability.
  3. Reinvent: Transforming the industry, prioritising agility, profitability and partnership. 

Below, we examine some key steps for successfully implementing each phase of the roadmap in the utilities and construction sector.

Phase 1: ‘Restart’:

Implement Digital Solutions: Utility and construction contractors should look to digital solutions, allowing them to monitor employees’ well-being and productivity through mobile applications. This will reduce inefficiency and optimize asset utilization (McKinsey). Enforcing a daily ‘fitness to work’ form, as provided by GeoPal, will help with the early identification of viral symptoms.

Minimize Contact Risk: Safety and compliance should be at the forefront of operations. Minimising contact during payments and exchange of documentation by using electronic payment methods and electronically signed and exchanged documents, reduces hand-to-hand contract and decreases viral risk. Eliminate unnecessary site to office visits through implementing a digital mobile workforce management solution, such as GeoPal.

Plan Effectively: Plan for the minimum number of workers required on site to operate safely and effectively. Stagger arrival and departure times where possible to reduce crowding at site entry and exit points. Provide additional site parking where possible to reduce the use of public transport.

Phase 2: ‘Reset’:

Boost Productivity & Profitability: Costs and delivery times are likely to both increase as a result of implementing social distancing and its effect on productivity during Covid-19. Increased costs and delivery times will further erode low profit margins and place additional restraints on firms, complicating future investment opportunities. Implementing a mobile workforce solution will assist with monitoring and maximizing productivity. Quicker invoicing times help secure cash flow and boost profitability.

Strengthen Capabilities: Key knowledge points from projects are often team-based and subsequently lost when the project ends. Low technology transfer in construction and utilities creates data silos which obscure management's full view of various aspects of performance. Eliminating data silos results in improved information flow and greater collaboration. In previous financial crises, firms that prospered and survived were those that were agile; innovative; had data driven approaches to decision making; did not have data silos and had 100% digitised operations.

Phase 3: ‘Reinvent’:

Invest in Digital Innovation: The utilities and construction industry faced a significant shortage of skilled labor before the Covid-19 crisis. Post-crisis, with restricted cross-border transfer of labour, these shortages will intensify and become acute. Accordingly, the case for implementing innovative digital solutions, that increase productivity, real-time progress tracking, and advanced schedule optimization, such as digital workflow management, will become even stronger. Accordingly, increasing numbers of firms will invest in the automation of on-site and back-office processes.

Seek Sustainable Solutions: Seek to drive growth through adopting digital technologies that minimize waste, offering lean sustainable solutions, high quality outputs and outcomes. For example, GeoPal eliminates paper waste through fully digitised operations.

Prioritize Health & Safety: The utilities and construction industries should endeavor to pursue zero harm across all sites, prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of field workers. According to 2019 statistics, construction comprises the most dangerous industry in the UK, with 30 fatalities between 2018/19. Aside from the human costs, the conviction rate for such offences was 93% in 2017, with the average fine being £77,000. The importance of a field operations solution that works offline is a significant consideration, so workers can have access to data on difficult or dangerous terrain. Protect both employee and financial wellbeing through implementing adequate health and safety measures.

Next Steps: Connecting Your Field Operations

Implementing digital transformation in your organisation is easier than it may seem. All of the above challenges are solved through the use of flexible mobile workflow forms. There is no software coding required – GeoPal provides an easy to use online tool for creating mobile forms using a simple drag and drop interface.

Each field on a paper job sheet is replicated as a step on the mobile workflow form. The mobile app is used during the full life-cycle of utility contracts for; quotation scoping and estimating, capturing details of each job or task completed, approval for variation and compensation and health & safety enforcement.

Unlike traditional paper-based reporting, GeoPal provides management with real-time visibility of their field operations through executive dashboards and KPI reports, enabling them to take immediate action on at-risk projects. Utility and Utility Support Services companies already benefiting using GeoPal are operating in a diverse range of markets including power, water, telecommunications, road, rail, marine, petrochemical, nuclear, civil engineering and other infrastructure services. Projects are manpower heavy and work includes civils, maintenance, fibre installation, scaffolding, industrial painting, cleaning and refurbishment.

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