In late May 2022, Gartner released its Market Guide for Mobile Workforce Management Software for Utilities. After spending so many years of my career working in the industry, with a focus on mobile workforce management (MWM) technologies, I was looking forward to Gartner’s perspective on anticipated trends in a space evolving at warp speed.
A key finding in the report speaks to rapidly changing network and plant operations forcing utilities to rethink how they support connected and cross-skilled field operations. This strategy is quickly becoming table stakes for many organizations.
Today, utilities are motivated to modernize their fieldwork management and service capabilities. With aging infrastructure, a global skills shortage, and an inevitable shift to an entirely new sustainable energy model, the industry faces immutable service challenges that will forever alter how they work.
This rapid pace of change and need for digital transformation by the utility has led to an increased interest in the utility market by Field Service Management (FSM) vendors, evidenced by recent acquisitions, including the acquisition of Clevest by IFS in 2020.
The combination of FSM and MWM capabilities leads to intriguing possibilities.
How MWM makes FSM better (and vice versa)
Having perfected the art of service with purposely industry-agnostic capabilities, FSM vendors set the bar for exceptional service across most sectors. The technology delivers an elevated customer experience, strong asset maintenance and management support, and a host of other functions.
In comparison, MWM technology provides capabilities specific to utilities that support a mobile workforce and industry-specific use cases. For example, the utility sector relies on outage management systems (OMS), geographical information systems (GIS), and other technologies that are less common in other industries. These organizations are also required to perform periodic cathodic protection inspections, line and leak surveys among other unique business processes.
Combining the best of service with the best in mobile workforce management presents FSM vendors with clear advantages in a rapidly moving market.
A changing service model
Although many utilities recognize and are actively adjusting their operating model to deliver a better omnichannel customer experience, this hasn’t always been the case. Facing little to no competition and the cold reality of old equipment with limited operating budgets, the lion’s share of time and money was spent on infrastructure and the workforce. It had to be. Utilities weren’t always able to prioritize the customer experience.
However, as we shift to a sustainable energy model, a positive customer experience will become critical to the success of the business.
In this new model, energy sources will be distributed versus centralized. Instead of “owning” all these sources, utilities will in some cases become stewards, working in partnership with energy producers (aka customers), who will often sell excess energy back to the larger grid for redistribution.
Serving this new breed of customer will become a priority as competition enters the market to get a share of the new model. If a customer is dissatisfied with the level of service they receive or the rates they are quoted from their utility, they will simply do business with a different supplier.
Combining best of breed
The convergence of MWM with FSM technology provides a critical leg up as utilities adjust to the needs of this new market.
Utilities benefit from what FSM technology does well: serving the customer. They will be able to provide additional offerings, including home services, as well as best practices in managing SLAs, warranties, contracts, and other aspects needed to ensure a positive customer experience.
These service capabilities are enhanced with MWM functionality that caters to the unique needs of the utility. World-class planning and scheduling, a connected workforce, and remote working technology so utilities can do more with less are all essential when skilled workers are in high demand.
Of course, not all FSM and MWM marriages are equal. Utilities intending to use a combined technology strategy to tap into new business streams and revenue models must do their diligence.
As the market reflects, some MWM acquisitions by FSM companies can signal the demise of the acquired property, leaving many utilities in an unenviable position. A good example is the Salesforce acquisition of ClickSoftware. With the sunsetting of the ClickSoftware MWM technology, utilities must commit to a wholesale move to the cloud (and a net new industry-agnostic MWM offering), a complicated and expensive option.
A different acquisition model is reflected in the sale of Clevest to IFS (in the interests of full disclosure, I came to IFS via this transaction). In this scenario, there was no intent to generalize the Clevest MWM offering. Instead, IFS saw the acquisition as a means to provide a unique, industry-specific offering unlike any other in the market.
Evolving into a new future
Facing fundamental change, the industry must evolve quickly. The combination of FSM with MWM allows utilities to modernize their field operations so they can compete in the future.
The 2022 Gartner Market Guide for MWM Software for Utilities provides additional insights for CIOs on MWM market directions and vendor offerings. Read the full report here.
Next up in this blog post series: The intelligent utility and how mobile applications have become critical in building a singular view of the business.