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Digitized Asset Tracking, Dispatch, and More: How Apps Are Changing the Utilities Industry

Digital transformation is now a top priority in the utilities industry, where companies are working to reinvent themselves as digital enterprises.  It’s not hard to see why utility companies are so interested in digital transformation. For example, according to a recent report by McKinsey, new technologies can reduce utility operating expenses by up to 25 percent while leading to performance gains of between 20 to 40 percent. Despite this potential, utilities have been struggling to achieve these returns. Companies are finding it difficult to move beyond pilot projects and spread new technologies across the enterprise. As a result, there remains significant potential for digitization at many utilities companies.  Many utility companies are, however, finding that there’s one technology that’s truly supporting their digital transformation efforts: apps. The emergence of no-code development in recent years has made it possible for companies to rapidly create and deploy apps that are cost-effective, reliable, and capable of streamlining a variety of tasks. Using apps, utility companies can fast-track digitization and produce tools that can generate immediate impact, with measurable returns. Let’s take a look at five areas of the utilities industry that can be significantly improved through on-the-job applications. 1. Asset tracking In the world of utilities, managing assets like bucket trucks, transformers, and other equipment is critical for success. For example, a downed pole or a blown transformer can lead to service outages, hazards, and upset customers. However, many companies still lack visibility into their assets, making it hard to track and maintain large numbers of endpoints.  This is one area where apps can be particularly helpful. In fact, apps are now being used to streamline asset tracking across utilities organizations. Companies are designing mobile solutions that provide field managers with interactive maps that detail the exact real-time locations of their assets and status updates.  With the right app in place, managers can quickly look at a geographical area, locate points that require maintenance, and assign team members to perform service checks, for example. Once a truck reaches a destination and performs service, they can use the app to communicate important status updates, repairs, photos, and other action items.  Apps help with asset tracking by: Providing visibility into field assets Making it easy to assign work orders Performing routine service checks Check our AppSheet's field survey app, which you can copy and customize to track your assets in the field: 2. Inventory management  Inventory management is a constant struggle for utility companies where mismanaged inventory can eat into margins and lead to project delays.  The digital approach to inventory management involves automating the process altogether via mobile apps. By using apps, employees can request parts, accessories, and other supplies in a way that is highly organized. It’s a much better approach than requesting items with paper and spreadsheets, or by word of mouth. Here’s how apps help with inventory management: Managing stock Predicting demand  Placing orders Check out our blog post, “How to Manage Stock: Three Free Inventory Management Excel Templates”. Then copy and customize the AppSheet inventory management app: 3. Dispatch  The utilities industry is becoming increasingly software-defined, as endpoints are  updated with IoT-enabled sensors that can transmit data in real-time. As a result, companies don’t have to dispatch as many trucks as they had in the past. Meters can be checked and recorded automatically, saving money and reducing the number of vehicles on the road.  Apps are increasingly used to interface with smart meters and other field equipment, alerting team members when service is required. Apps support dispatch workflows by:  Reducing vehicle wear and tear Saving fuel  Improving sustainability  Copy and customize our driver dispatch app: 4. Customer experience (CX) CX remains a major issue for companies in all industries, and utilities are no different. In fact, CX is quickly becoming a key competitive differentiator among brands. While other industries have made major strides in improving the customer experience, utility companies still have a long way to go in building customer trust and loyalty.  More and more utility companies are finding that they can use apps to improve CX. Apps are being used to share billing and service updates, provide a mechanism for feedback, and share alerts during storms and outages.  Equally as important, companies are using apps to streamline workflows — boosting productivity and reducing complaints along the way.  Here are some ways that apps are helping with CX: Sharing information with customers Expediting maintenance Streamlining support 5. Ongoing maintenance  Utility companies have to manage multiple concurrent projects, with complex systems, tight regulatory requirements, strict timelines, and demanding customers. Daily maintenance requires an amazing attention to detail and constant communication. A communication breakdown can lead to missed deadlines, hazards, and a host of other issues. Apps can be used to help busy and understaffed field managers triage maintenance and move projects along to completion at a brisker pace. For example, a manager can use an app to see a list of action items in a building — like fire alarm inspections — and assign a worker to oversee these tasks.  Apps can improve maintenance by:  Preventing missed service appointments Providing project status updates Assigning manage daily workflows  For some specific examples of how apps are transforming the utilities industry, check out the following stories: How Kentucky Power Sparked a Digital Transformation with Workflow, Inspection and Incident Management Apps Smart Lighting Contractor Builds Custom Apps for Project Management Want to build a maintenance app on your own? Copy and customize ours to get started: Build your own utilities app suite Clearly, apps are helping everyone involved in the utilities industry to change with the times. Mobile solutions are essential in utilities offices and in the field, and their importance will only increase. There are many options for how to meet utilities industry needs through technology — from buying out-of-the-box software to hiring developers to build custom apps. AppSheet provides an alternative to these options. Instead of building or purchasing individual apps, you can create your own unique apps with our platform. If you haven’t already started using mobile application technology on your utilities jobs, don’t worry. AppSheet lets you build a whole suite of applications all under one roof.

How AppSheet’s App Maker Platform Transformed My Event Management Business

Picture a large-scale event like a music festival or road race, where thousands of people are packed into a small area. Managing this type of event requires a tremendous amount of communication and coordination between security and medical teams, volunteers, vendors and event planners. Strong communication can mean the difference between hosting a successful event and a disaster. While cell phones may seem like the preferred communications technology for this type of event, the truth is that walkie talkies actually offer several advantages — and so they are still being widely used today, especially by law enforcement and emergency response teams. Walkie talkies, for instance, operate using radio frequencies instead of cell towers making them much more reliable. They are also more durable, secure and affordable. The global walkie talkie market is actually booming and is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.47 percent from 2017 until 2021. At Dallas Mcintosh Professional Services, where I work as a radio frequency and communications engineer, we help our clients by providing, distributing and managing walkie talkies for them. Some events can have upwards of 600 or more walkie talkies in operation at a single time. The Challenge As you can imagine, getting radios back at the end of an event can be an absolute nightmare — especially when people are tired and want to go home, and do not want to go through the hassle of returning something. Our team was losing walkie talkies left and right, and so I needed to find a way to streamline the collection process. Two-way radios, after all very expensive and the ones that we are using (most often Motorola, Tait or Hytera) typically cost about $600 to replace. They are also very difficult to replace and not quite as simple as going on Amazon and finding a cheaper solution. For my company, the value of a radio is actually worth more than this because of the potential revenue that each device holds. In other words, these items don’t sit for very long. They are turned around quickly, reprogrammed and passed along to another customer. So a single loss can have serious operational and financial implications. To address the problem I created a spreadsheet and this worked fine at first, until other team members started helping and unintentionally deleting unrecoverable information. So, I decided to create a relational database in Microsoft Access. This worked well, and allowed me to send emails to equipment users. However, it was still very buggy and far from user friendly. I also struggled to find a cost-effective barcode scanner to interface with my database, and was left with a semi-working model that appeared to be working fine, but actually had many limitations. In my mind, I envisioned a system that could be easily managed by using a mobile phone or tablet. After all, a smartphone camera is capable of scanning even the smallest of barcodes using autofocus. The next step was to create an app even though I have little to no coding experience. So, I embarked upon a frantic Google search and I discovered AppSheet’s app maker platform. The Solution AppSheet is unlike anything else I have experienced. It’s based on spreadsheets and is very simple to use. What’s interesting about AppSheet, too, is that it’s not just a service but a full-fledged community. Plus, the system is always improving. Just when I think AppSheet can’t get any better, the team introduces a new game-changing feature. Here is an example of what I have been able to accomplish using AppSheet. I was recently working on a high profile event, where we had 620 radios issued. We lost only one using an app I made, which was tracked to the user and subsequently recovered. The event that I am referring to was the 2017 International Association of Athletics (IAAF) World Championships, which took place this past summer in London Stadium. I was responsible for the radios and accessories, which were issued over a period of 6 weeks. All of this was easily managed from my iPhone and it worked beautifully. The camera on the phone is the most effective barcode scanner I have ever used and the actions to call text and email kept me in contact with my clients and able to offer support while on the move. My colleagues were also able to monitor operations through a Web browser and proactively respond to issues like getting extra stock to me on-site. Workflow emails kept the operation pretty much carbon neutral and paperless in the absence of the need for receipts. There was zero loss in assets at the end of the event, which is highly unusual on a large event. Interest in the app has since led to me being in discussions with other suppliers on an exciting development, the details of which I cannot discuss for commercial reasons but watch this space!

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