Modernizing Utilities Inventory Management Systems for Efficiency

Field workers for utility companies have learned to expect the unexpected – each call they respond to presents a wide range of challenges and an even wider range of potential solutions. This means that it’s critical for utility companies to ensure that their fleet vehicles are stocked with the tools, equipment and other inventory that they need to be as flexible and responsive as the job demands. To keep up with the demands of the job, utility companies are challenged to optimize and standardize their inventory – and connected, mobile technology is presenting new solutions to ensure that the job gets done, communities receive responsive service and workers for utility providers are as well-equipped as possible.

Traditionally, utility companies have relied on pen and paper to track inventory, but in today’s workplace, manual updates are too labor intensive and too error prone. Instead, smart utility companies are turning to inventory management software accessible on mobile devices that can ensure:

  • Up-to-date location and status of every item is available
  • Vehicles are loaded with the right equipment for each scheduled job before going into the field
  • Technicians won’t have to make multiple trips

For utility companies, it’s critical that when a field worker is sent out to complete a job, it’s done right the first time – and that means having the right talent, the right vehicles and the right inventory. having the right equipment – whether it’s cable splices, fuses, protective gear, or transformers – can mean the difference between a single-trip fix and a multiple day outage. By being able to manage inventory from end to end, utilities can make sure that the most critical pieces and tools make it to the right destination, eliminating delays and lowering costs.

Tracking the Utilities Supply Chain

Utility companies – like many other industries – have begun to look at inventory management in a way that considers the entire supply chain from initial purchase order to final delivery. Inventory management software can then keep track of the parts needed for any given work order and check it against the current inventory loaded on a vehicle. If any required parts or tools are not on a truck, they can be easily identified and loaded before a vehicle is dispatched to a jobsite. This means fewer return trips to the shop, faster repairs, more efficient workloads and reduced fuel consumption.

Another key to making this system work is a mobile device with the ability to read barcodes and RFID tags on inventory items. Using a handheld or tablet device, a worker – either in the field or at the shop – can quickly and accurately scan tools and equipment and instantly update their status in the inventory management database. In addition, if supplies are running low, replacement orders can be generated automatically to prevent backorders. Billing will also be streamlined, as items used during a job can be billed immediately upon completion of a work order.

Preparing for the Future

Investments into this kind of robust tracking system need to be built to last. Workers must keep up with new technology and evolving market demands. This means equipping teams with devices that work both now and in the future. Utility companies should be looking for devices that can support a wide range of operating systems and inventory management applications – both their current system and any that might be introduced within the lifespan of the device. Additionally, utilities should consider a variety of form factors reflecting the diversity of jobs within the company. For example, a technician who spends more time in the field may be best served by a handheld device that’s light and able to be attached to a belt or used with only one hand, but someone working primarily in a warehouse or in a vehicle might be better served by a mounted tablet or a laptop.

The Case for Automated Inventory Management

At the end of the day, the decisions made by utility companies are driven by what is going to best serve their customers, better equip their workers and, of course, reduce costs. While every company has its own set of financial considerations when it comes to finding new efficiencies, investment in a robust and future-proofed inventory management system serves each of these priorities. While regulatory mandates, cybersecurity concerns, or outside forces like the growth of smart grids and renewable energy will put additional pressures on utilities, the creation of a more efficient and flexible inventory management system will ensure that utility workers and organizations are well prepared for any challenge that comes their way.            

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