Trends to Watch at DistribuTECH 2017

The DistribuTECH 2017 conference will host a range of service and product suppliers helping the utilities industry to grow and become more efficient. This year’s event will highlight trends that are coming to life across the spectrum of utility providers and their customers as multiple segments look toward adding and leveraging the intelligence of the various networks being used and planned. Here’s what to look for at this year’s conference.

Mobile workforce enablement – Utilities have always had boots on the ground but the demographic is changing as significant portions of the workforce retires and are replaced by younger workers more accustomed to using mobile devices like tablets and laptops to aid their work. According to a report co-sponsored by Panasonic and Verizon from analyst firm Zpryme Research, 88% of utilities expect to see their mobile workforce grow. The newer workers expect to use equipment that not only keeps up with their demands but helps them by giving them access to critical information when and where they need it. And because utility assets need to be serviced wherever they are, workers’ tablets need to be able to withstand bad weather, dirty and dusty conditions, bright sunlight, and spotty network connectivity. Zpryme recommends that utilities look for rugged equipment that goes beyond consumer oriented products and is purpose built to deliver superior performance in difficult environments. Another aspect to look for is built-in security that is baked into the electronics of the device rather than added on as software, as is the norm for consumer oriented devices.

Smart Cities and IoT projects – The Smart Cities movement is high on the list of more than half the utilities in Zpryme’s report and most of those same respondents see IoT as a key enabling technology. The population of intelligent connected devices will have competing consequences as Smart Cities become a reality. IoT devices will drive the use of networks as they collect and send data to central collection sites and as they receive configuration and operational instructions based on analytics derived from the collected data. Mobile workers will use mobile devices to access utility assets that are part of the IoT network to perform configuration and maintenance tasks in the field, and count on their rugged tablets to perform under all conditions.

Intelligent assets – Utility assets whether they are located on poles, in service vehicles, or power stations are gaining smarts, and that intelligence is being used to inform maintenance operations. As the population of smart devices increases and the data they generate accumulates, the information is being analyzed to provide insights that make it possible to be proactive about service and deliver predictive maintenance that anticipates problems and automatically dispatches technicians before a failure occurs. Mobile workers depend on purpose-built tablets and laptops to locate and connect with smart devices to repair or configure intelligent assets.

Integrating data and analytics – Today’s utilities typically use three or four different application platforms to connect with and manage their systems. As IoT devices and smart cities applications are added, more applications and their associated data formats are being added. These disparate data silos are useful for their own dedicated purposes but the science of data analytics is making the aggregation of those data stores more useful by bringing them together and creating actionable intelligence. Data analytics providers are working with utilities to harness their growing data repositories and deliver tools that enable mobile workers wherever they find themselves.

Increasing customer interaction – Utilities are finding that giving their customers direct access to certain internal systems reduces costs of call centers and increases customer satisfaction because customers are able to make changes by themselves. “Utilities are not only looking at how they can provide more information to their mobile workforce,” according to H. Christine Richards, director of research at Zpryme. “They also want to make this information more easily available to the end customer.” The data generated by intelligent utility devices can be analyzed and presented in understandable forms that both customers and utility employees can easily understand to make their own judgments about service options. In addition, mobile workers are experiencing more customer interaction and are using their own tablets to access customer account information and share insights directly with their customers.

Today’s mobile workforce relies on their mobile devices to keep them connected and informed. Rugged devices like the Toughpad FZ-A2 and Toughpad FZ-Q2 are purpose-built to meet the demands of mobile field workers in the utilities industry. Be sure to look out for these solutions at DistribuTECH 2017 in Booth 3617 as the show kicks off on January 31.

According to a report co-sponsored by Panasonic and Verizon from analyst firm Zpryme Research, 88% of utilities expect to see their mobile workforce grow.