Utility Week

Utility Week 5th June 2015

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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Page 25 of 31

26 | 5TH - 11TH JUNE 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Operations & Assets Market view F ew industries face the intense and sustained scrutiny that surrounds cus- tomer service in utility companies. The referral of the industry to the Compe- tition Markets Authority in 2014 and the sales ban imposed on Scottish Power in March for missing customer complaint targets are fur- ther evidence that Ofgem will continue put- ting pressure on the sector to perform better. Achieving higher customer satisfac- tion requires a co-ordinated, pan-workforce effort, which can be a challenge for utilities with complex operations. Improved service has to be achieved in the context of reduced opex on over- time and contractors, while ensuring that valuable skilled employees do not become overworked or de-motivated and without compromising their safety and wellbeing. A "customer first" culture is important, but workforce optimisation and resource management has a major role to play at an operational level to ensure an organisation is in the best shape possible to achieve con- tinuous improvement in customer service. But old ways of doing things are pre- venting some utilities achieving effective workforce and resource management. Com- panies oen operate resourcing patterns that reflect legacy working practices rather than addressing the customer service demands their organisations now face. Despite significant variation in demand, labour supply is oen a constant number of hours per day and per week across the year. So at times of high demand the workforce doesn't match the workload and cannot be flexed to meet seasonal peaks or spikes cre- ated by unplanned events. The capacity shortfall this creates in the field and in contact centres, maintenance and emergency dispatch departments is oen the source of customer service problems that cost money and damage reputation. Likewise, over-staffing in these areas during quieter periods can lead to underu- tilisation. This results in a tendency to keep people busy on non-productive tasks, creat- ing avoidable inefficiencies and lowering staff morale. In many organisations, the workforce "flex" necessary to manage demand vari- ance is provided by expensive overtime to increase labour supply, or by sending staff home on leave at short notice to reduce it. The most efficient and effective way to mitigate the impact of demand fluctuation on customer service quality is a rigorous analy- sis of labour supply and labour demand data. Many utility companies are in a strong posi- tion in this regard, systematically generating high-quality information across departments about faults, utilisation, location and other key metrics. When unified and analysed, this data can be modelled and used to build an accurate picture of short, medium and long-term patterns. By understanding the root working time drivers behind customer service performance, better forecasts can be made and new optimised inter-department resourcing patterns designed that closely align supply and demand. What-if scenario modelling can suggest innovative and flexible new ways of work- ing that allow the internal and external fac- tors causing demand variability to be better anticipated and addressed. By maximising hour-to-hour performance, utility companies can provide the highest quality service in the most efficient and regulatory-compliant resourcing framework. Soware tools are the key to designing and maintaining these patterns. Interactive modelling helps planners and operational teams identify under or over-provision in real time and ensure all shis meet contrac- tual and regulatory requirements. The ability to quickly and easily custom- ise shis within the parameters set by the supply and demand data enables the crea- tion of flexible purpose-built rosters. To understand the huge range of options possible, there are 441 ways to allocate five day shis per week to a two-person team. Any issues caused by the gap between service demand and labour supply is ampli- fied when the departments that are essential to meeting service targets are not aligned. One of the main challenges when opti- mising a utility's workforce is the complex interaction between assets and processes. For example, the root cause of mainte- nance backlogs can sometimes be traced back to incompatible shi patterns between customer contact centres and field engineers. Field engineers may be on shi any time from 7am until 8pm, and on standby during out-of-hours, but the customer operations service centre is only working office hours of 9am to 5pm, leaving an "operational gap". Optimised shi patterns can avoid a potential cycle of delays, complaints, costly spikes of expensive labour and, during unex- pected incidents, significant damage to a company's reputation. Employees' lives, and their families' lives, are built around their shis. More flexible, adaptable and responsive patterns eliminate the reliance on long hours and goodwill, leading to a reduction in stress and a better work-life balance. This can help attract and retain the best skilled talent – to deliver the service demanded by customers and the regulators. Kevin White, managing director, Working Time Solutions Stretch for flexibility Kevin White argues that workforce optimisation is the key to meeting the regulators' customer service targets – and to attracting and retaining the best skilled staff. Key points Better workforce planning could allow utilities to find opex reductions while meeting customer service expectations. A flexible approach to workforce optimisa- tion and resource management will allow service levels to be met while protecting staff wellbeing and enthusiasm. Despite these potential benefits, some utilities are still tied to legacy routines for workforce planning that take no account of seasonal peaks and troughs or the impact of unplanned events. Gathering and analysing data on hour- to-hour service levels will support more flexible resource management and the adoption of innovative new shi patterns.

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