How Utilities Can Improve Communications

  • Utilities have a history of using two-way radio networks to communicate in the field.
  • Now, they have options to move to the next generation of mobile and voice communications.

Sometimes, you just have to look at the way things are being done and conclude that updated communications strategies could have a higher impact on the organization. The utility sector, with its long history of leveraging efficient voice communications through two-way radio networks, is a case in point. Networks are required for mobile workers to communicate in the field; however, they were built during a time when the cellular networks could not provide the coverage or capabilities to support present day needs and speed of delivery.

With widespread coverage areas and growth through acquisition, it is common and often necessary for utility managers to communicate to a regional work crew via several networks. In many instances, these networks are old and no longer maintained. Consequently, the costs and complexity are prohibitive, resulting in a loss of communication and sometimes even knowledge of the worker’s location. Fortunately, there are now options to move to the next generation of communications, which includes leveraging cellular networks and inter-operating them with two-way radio networks.

man on mobile

Fragmented and siloed systems with different cost structures 

Integration of mobile applications with real-time service optimization is the key to management of the utility workforce in the field. Organizations that take advantage of two-way radio voice solutions have higher upfront costs and limited capability to advance future workforce productivity applications. Voice becomes the killer app in the workforce, and all information is derived from voice. However, it is not the only application. 

Once organizations take advantage of a cellular infrastructure, they can layer on multiple applications to create an empowered work experience that enables the field to work faster and smarter, while delivering better customer service. For instance, on a cellular network, a customer can take advantage of carrier grade push-to-talk voice service, which extends far beyond the geographic and cost limitations of a two-way radio network. On top of that LTE / 4G platform, a customer can integrate video, pictures, information capture, CRM, signature, location, worker safety monitoring, and payment applications to increase worker safety, reduce expenses, increase productivity, and increase revenues.

While many types of work activities occur in the field, for some user groups, voice is the mission-critical application. Nevertheless, leveraging a blended environment allows for an optimal cost structure only if you can maintain the voice communications between both environments. With Radio Over IP capability, the silos become more flat and connected. The integrity of the talk/broadcast group does not become disjointed, but is further enabled as cellular coverage will expand the two-way radio coverage. Thus, work groups that previously missed calls due to a lack of two-way radio coverage now are pulled back into the group communications through interoperability and a national cellular network. This delivers broader communications and enhances worker safety.

Moving forward for long-term results

While revising a long-term system can seem daunting, the immediate and lasting results in this case are worth it. Work begins with the establishment of a cost optimization and application productivity strategy. The strategy should address different field units and identify their field tasks, how they conduct them, what they document, and what resources they utilize to complete those tasks. Connecting those elements and understanding the workflow with the touch points captured will enable the organization to reach potential solutions and and achieve lasting results.

Doug Clark Advanced Enterprise Mobility Solutions and Industry Solutions Practice Director AT&T About Doug