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Three Technologies Impacting the Utilities Industry

Digital transformation like mobile apps, augmented reality, cybersecurity, and more are natural fits for people entering the workforce today. But for workers who have been in the utilities industry for years, the idea can be puzzling. After all, the sector only recently opened up to innovation. They’ve been doing things the same way for a long time. “The power and utilities sector was traditionally where many parents or grandparents parked their savings as they got older, attracted by low volatility and stable returns,” explains Deloitte. “While solid and dependable, the sector wasn’t generally considered cutting-edge, innovative, or exciting by any stretch of the word.” The sector’s main goal, Deloitte continues, was to “keep the lights on without breaking the bank.” So, how did we get to this point? As it turns out, innovation has been happening steadily, behind the scenes, for quite some time. Slowly but surely, organizations have been building out their networks and laying the groundwork for the technical revolution that’s taking place today. The roots of what we’re seeing take place can actually be traced back to the 1970s, and the spread of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA), an architecture used for data acquisition and automated control in industrial environments. In the early days of SCADA, utilities only had large mainframe computers. Wide area networking (WAN) hadn’t been invented yet and each SCADA system operated disparately. Over the years, SCADA continued to evolve along with breakthroughs like the Local Area Networking (LAN), personal computers, software, the internet, and eventually wide area networks. Each iteration in computing opened new possibilities in terms of how companies communicate, and how they collect, process, store, and share data. Today, SCADA systems are mostly digital, and they’re playing a critical role in managing information flow and automation across industrial networks. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some digital technologies that are making their way into SCADA systems and utilities.  Machines learning through big data Thanks to the IoT(Internet of Things) and the industrial IoT (IIoT), utilities today are collecting vast amounts of data from business and consumer environments. This information is being used to identify usage trends, drive sustainability efforts, curb costs, and discover revenue-driving opportunities. These days, leading utility companies are starting to move beyond merely collecting big data and applying it more intelligently to their operations. One of the best examples of this can be seen with no-code machine learning. In short, utilities are starting to use intelligent no-code platforms to develop business productivity apps powered by their own data. By using a platform with an embedded machine learning engine, companies are finding new ways to process and leverage unstructured data that they could not previously extract value from. What machine leaning is capable of doing is continually iterating on itself as it collects data. This keeps your businesses as up-to-date as possible so that workers can make the best choices for the job. Cybersecurity for digital infrastructure As utilities are becoming increasingly connected, decision makers are becoming increasingly concerned about the ramifications of a large-scale cyberattack that could produce widespread outages across electric grids. In a recent example, 6,500 government officials and executives came together to prepare for a catastrophic attack. Making matters worse, bad actors are starting to apply artificial intelligence to cyberattacks. This is a trend that will take off in 2020, leading to many problems across the globe. Utility companies are starting to prepare for this next advancement in cybercrime, implementing next-generation cybersecurity solutions supported AI, machine learning, and biometrics. Another security technology that utilities are using today is security information event management (SIEM), a system that provides advanced security monitoring and analytics services across wide area networks. SIEM systems make it possible to detect suspicious end-user activity across WANs. For example, with a SIEM solution in place, a company would be able to detect an unusual login based on the time of day, the location of the end user, and the information they are accessing. IT departments are embracing the power of no-code development because it allows companies to create application specific to their needs while offering complex security protocols that remove some of the headaches for IT when dealing with out-of-the-box software. Increasing networks through SD-WAN SD-WAN revenue is on track to reach $1.5 billion this year. It’s now a top networking trend across all sectors—especially in the increasingly connected utilities sector where bandwidth, security, and availability are all critical for success. SD-WAN involves decoupling the control plane from the data plane, making it possible to deploy virtual networks with lightning speed. By deploying SD-WAN, utility companies can guarantee maximum app performance and scalability across a global network. This leads us to one of the biggest technologies to hit the utilities sector to date: business productivity apps, which are being enabled by cutting-edge no-code platforms. Again, no-code is sought after my many industry leaders right now because of its flexibility, power, and agility. Not only are networks expanding by removing the need to visit centralized control panels, but they are also evolving with a variety of new options thanks to the ability for no-code platforms to iterate upon themselves as new problems arise. Conclusion Technology is a part of our everyday lives whether some would like to admit it or not. In this day and age it's not a choice of whether a company should implement digital transformation into their business model. It's a question of when. "Business as usual" today means that your business is constantly changing thanks to no-code and other technological advancements that are allowing companies and workers the capacity to respond to problems more quickly, efficiently, and securely. The hardest part is making the choice to jump in, but we believe the hard work is worth it in the end.

How to foster a citizen developer culture at your organization

Previously, workplace software and applications were exclusively built by expert coders on tools that took years to master. No-code development challenges this paradigm by lowering the barriers of entry to application development and laying the groundwork for the inevitable surge in citizen development. What is citizen development? Gartner defines citizen developers as employees who create “new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.” Look closely at the tail end of this definition. Citizen developers are not renegade rule breakers. In ideal scenarios, their work is controlled through official channels, namely information technology departments. IT holds the keys to standardize their organization’s no-code development practices. In turn, implementing uniform no-code development practices within a workplace fosters a culture of innovation, human-centered design, and productivity. AppSheet helps IT departments achieve these complementary ends of order and flexibility. By enabling everyone to develop their own digital solutions, AppSheet allows processes to be digitized rapidly at an organization-wide level, and customized to the needs of end users. Meanwhile, the platform gives IT the ability to quickly deliver high-quality solutions, gain increased insights into the processes used throughout the organization, and implement the governance policies that ensure compliance. More specifically, our platform empowers IT departments through these three standardization pillars: Organization-wide visibility AppSheet turns the concept of shadow IT on its head. Instead of having unregulated and unmonitored novice technologists running amuck, the implementation of an official, organization-wide no-code platform provides IT clear visibility into their organizations’ challenges and solutions. Control Simply put, IT should control an organization’s technology. This no-brainer principle stays solid even after granting app making capabilities to end users. AppSheet’s no-code platform places security, privacy, and governance capabilities squarely in the hands of the information technology department.  IT sets the policies and guardrails for app creators and users. Here are a few examples of restrictions IT departments set for AppSheet app creators: Ensure that every app enforces access control with domain groups Require offline mode or any functionality across all apps Restrict who can deploy applications Require app documentation Reliability and speed AppSheet eliminates the risk of rogue code which can create huge technical debt in organizations. Similarly, our platform eliminates the slog of traditional application development cycle. Instead of wasting technical time and talent on building workplace apps from scratch, no-code speeds up the process by ten times. Additionally, you can expect a flywheel effect in productivity once your workforce gains confidence as citizen developers. Learn more about creating a standardized digital transformation strategy by reading the full AppSheet Adoption Blueprint.

No-code development + human-centered design puts people first

Made famous by the Silicon Valley design firm, IDEO, in the 1990s, human-centered design (HCD) is a framework that approaches problem-solving and product design from a deeply human perspective. According to IDEO.org, “Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” And when used effectively, HCD incorporates input from the very people experiencing the problem you’re trying to solve throughout the design process. While human-centered design can manifest in different methods, depending on the team and the problems needing solving, HCD is founded on guiding principles that are also exemplified in no-code development. Let’s take a look at how human-centered design lends itself to both no-code development and successful no-code apps. Staying people-focused Who better to fix a problem than those who understand that problem best? While human-centered design emphasizes the importance of empathizing with the people affected by the problem that needs solving, no-code development actually empowers those same people to build solutions themselves. Because no-code platforms allow non-technical people to create apps without having to write actual code, anyone can digitize routine work, automate tasks, and create apps to improve how things are done in the workplace. Like HCD, no-code development uses a bottoms-up approach that enables those closest to a problem and the work to explore the types of products or solutions that can make a meaningful difference in the workplace. No-code allows the general workforce (and not just engineering teams or IT) to come up with solutions that meet the everyday needs and use cases that off-the-shelf products too often can’t address, since they’re built “for everyone.” With no-code, the very people experiencing a pain point can take matters into their own hands and develop a solution that addresses their real needs. Teams no longer need to wait for engineering resources – and the inevitable game of telephone (and endless meetings) that often lead to lengthy development timelines, not to mention products that don’t fully solve the problems faced by workers. Test, iterate, repeat A fundamental principle of human-centered design is to frequently test your designs and solutions on the very people who will ultimately use what you build. Without HCD, you can end up designing within a vacuum, which often leads to solutions that don’t actually solve anything and products that just collect dust. Meanwhile, people don’t get the products they actually need to do their jobs, resulting in a lot of workarounds and duct-taped solutions that lead to inefficiencies, poor management, and inaccuracies. While traditional software can take months or even years to develop, no-code platforms are designed to help people without any technical skills or background to launch apps quickly and easily. With no-code development, workers can easily deploy prototypes for testing within the workplace, refine their prototypes using feedback gathered from trusted testers, and continue iterating until they’re ready to launch a finished app across a team, department, or entire organization. Empowering your workforce Applying human-centered design principles to no-code development can not only result in a rich set of apps that are incredibly customized and fine-tuned for your teams, but it can also empower your workforce and engage them in meaningful and truly productive ways. No-code platforms allow workers to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds at a time where many are worried about their skills getting replaced by artificial intelligence and automation. By keeping people and real-life users at the forefront of development – and empowering employees to build their own apps – your teams will have the ability to improve all areas of their day-to-day work, including training, on-boarding, project management, and more. So as you consider your road map for internal tools and identify urgent business needs, consider using the framework of human-centered design and a no-code development platform to inspire and get real results, quickly. Want to learn how AppSheet can help your organization use human-centered design?

The Stages of Digital Transformation for Construction Companies

There are many ways construction companies can approach digital transformation with each approach carrying specific advantages.Ultimately, construction companies should be looking to weave multiple technologies together in order to create well-rounded digital transformation strategy that encompasses connectivity, software, connected endpoints, big data, and analytics. So where do you start? First, consider where your company sits in terms of digital transformation progress. Forrester breaks down digital transformation into three tiers: 47 percent of organizations are classified as beginners, using rudimentary digital strategies that transform experiences. 39 percent of companies are in an intermediate state of digital transformation, with strategies in place that can transform business operations. 14 percent of companies have achieved an advanced state of digital transformation, where it’s possible to transform markets. Here’s a breakdown of some of the benefits that a construction company can achieve through digital transformation in the context of Forrester’s three tiers: Beginner Construction companies with loosely-defined or uncoordinated digital transformation strategies can be classified as beginners. Benefits at this stage may include enhanced communication (e.g., using apps or real-time communications platforms), enhanced productivity, improved data entry, and possibly some cost reductions. At this level, business processes and employee experiences are improved. Intermediate At the intermediate level, digital transformation is tied together and executed strategically across the organization. At this stage, benefits extend beyond just the user experience. Companies tend to operate as cohesive digital units driven by mobile apps, connected devices, and analytics. At the intermediate level, however, benefits do not extend beyond the walls of the company. A company can’t expect to drive industry-wide change with an intermediate digital transformation strategy.   Advanced The highest level a company can attain is an advanced state of digital transformation. Here, the organization is fully digitalized and capable of driving change across an entire supply chain, making use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, sharing apps and services with vendors, and using predictive analytics to make decisions and plan project outcomes. At this stage, companies typically avoid making hasty digital deployments. Instead, they roll out so-called “lighthouse” projects, which are small projects designed to study how digital processes may impact teams or divisions. Companies at the advanced level tend to be much more methodical about how they go about digital transformation. One step at a time Digitalizing your construction business is becoming a vital process because of how the industry is evolving, but that doesn't mean you have to drop yourself in the deep end immediately. The great thing about digital transformation is that you can do it at your pace, one step at a time.

Digital Transformation for Utilities: The Flywheel Effect

Has your organization begun its digital transformation process? Are you just starting out or well on your way? No matter your answer, remember that digital transformation refers to an operational state and not a destination. Even organizations that are fully digitized need to continuously explore new and better operations. Digital transformation, in other words, is an ongoing effort much like research and development. The utilities industry needs to be especially ready to adapt and grow. Customer expectations, new technology, and climate change present challenges—and enormous opportunities—for utility companies. Seem daunting? Let's get motivated. Digital transformation promises a massive potential payoff. Utility companies stand to generate performance gains of 20 to 40 percent by implementing new technologies. Read on for the top benefits to digital transformation in the utilities industry. And remember, once your digital programs have started, these benefits become ongoing characteristics that you can improve and grow. Reduced waste Digital transformation helps identify and eliminate areas of waste, both in terms of finances and productivity. Digital lighthouse projects help kick-start and illuminate these benefits so that everyone in your organization gets on board. Lighthouse projects involve setting up a small team that goes through the various departments of your company and analyzes the various ways they conduct their work. This digital analysis uncovers inefficient practices or problems areas in your business that you can then implement digital solutions toward. Once a lighthouse project succeeds, digital transformation tends to work like a flywheel by gaining momentum with each new project. Improved visibility Digital transformation can also be a remarkable learning experience for utility companies. One you've identified how different departments operate, implementing new technologies can be an empowering experience for both the workers and the management team. For instance, imagine sending a task force to interview a group of engineers and see how they work. In addition to potentially identifying new technologies, it’s a great opportunity for management to check in and find out what actually happens on across the business. This can produce invaluable feedback that can help improve operations. Agility to get the job done Digital disruptors entering the industry put traditional utilities companies at risk. Embracing digital transformation is a great way to stay agile and nimble enough to pivot and capitalize on new opportunities. No-code platforms create flexible, agile, and powerful technological solutions for businesses. Workers, project managers, and IT professionals create applications that provide standardization while allowing immense customization and options. Employees get tools they need to complete jobs quicker and from anywhere. A key factor in job completion is getting the data recorded and then entered into the system. Often, that might involve workers having to transport paper documents to computers or offices. With mobile applications, workers can record and upload data directly to the server from their phone, cutting out a lot of the legwork. Improved customer experience  Utility companies that undergo digital transformation also have the opportunity to become customer experience (CX) leaders — a strong differentiator in a field that typically ranks very low in customer satisfaction reports. Successful utility companies use a combination of data, smart devices, intelligent apps, and more to provide stellar customer service that translates into stronger experiences. Customer experience is often based around response time, ease of use, and transparency. When workers have more freedom and power to complete their jobs efficiently, customers enjoy quicker and more reliable service. Everyone wins.

Create a Safer Manufacturing Environment

Manufacturing can be dangerous. Employees work in fast-paced environments with heavy machinery, dangerous materials, and crowded spaces. Facility managers must conduct due diligence to reduce accidents and maintain operational safety. Let's take a closer look at manufacturing safety. The top injuries in manufacturing are essentially caused by environmental and behavioral factors. Examples include coming into unexpected contact with objects, falling, exerting too much energy, repetitive motion, and touching harmful chemicals or substances, among other things.  All of these injuries can be reduced by using digital workplace apps. With that in mind, here are some examples of how apps can create a safer manufacturing environment.  Optimizing training  Training is critical to ensure worker safety and productivity. It’s also essential from a regulatory and compliance perspective.  To prevent accidents, manufacturing workers should be properly briefed about occupational hazards before conducting operations. Unfortunately, training and policies can often be rushed, disregarded, or lost in the mix of a busy workday. Apps can provide a perfect mechanism for supplementing training. For example, apps can be used to transmit important documentation and ongoing updates. Managers can request sign-offs and even schedule periodic reviews to make sure employees remain up to speed about safety issues.  Maintaining equipment  Communication is critical for avoiding accidents and keeping machinery running as designed. Machine operators and managers need to be diligent about scheduling maintenance and conducting safety checks — especially when working with machinery that’s prone to overheating or malfunctioning. Apps can be used to request maintenance or share notes about the performance of a machine or vehicle. Custom apps can include forms that enable workers to enter notes and data, and they can be used to share pictures or even video files.  Protecting workers  Some processes, such as working in extreme temperatures or reducing noise exposure, require special attention from managers to prevent harmful health effects. For example, some manufacturing companies limit shift hours to reduce worker hearing loss. Manufacturers can avoid these issues by creating apps designed to expedite advanced hazard control. This type of app would enable management to track and monitor risks like sun, cold, or loud noises. The data could then be fed directly into worker schedules to optimize staffing and ensure safety.  Sharing reports  Management needs to remain in the loop about what’s happening across all of work sites and factories. Company administrators need to have a system that enables them to report daily activities and details. They also need to be able to hold managers accountable for what happens during projects. Apps provide an easy way to stay on top of all safety reporting, making it possible for managers to assemble and share accident reports, safety reports, safety-related complaints, or even suggestions for improving worker safety. These reports can be delivered via email or SMS, ensuring administrators receive them in a timely manner.  Responding to emergencies  When manufacturing accidents happen, it’s important that managers know who to contact. Some companies are now building dedicated apps for emergency response. These apps enable workers to indicate family and medical contacts so managers know who to reach out to in the event of an emergency. Further, these apps let workers list common allergies and other health-related issues, making it easier for technicians to provide a medical response when needed. Ready to get started with custom apps? If so, we’ve got you covered. AppSheet offers a sample Inspection App that you can use to streamline equipment checks. You can also try building your own custom app. AppSheet’s no-code app platform works with both Sheets and Excel, as well as a variety of third-party cloud services. So no matter where your data lives, you can build custom apps to transform your manufacturing workflows — building a more efficient and more profitable company because of it.   Start using AppSheet today and find out how you can take your company to the next level by building custom tools designed specifically for your needs.

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