The field operations puzzle

The following article is based on our extensive experience in the utilities sector, and articulates the challenges we feel Field Operations face today, while also explaining how we believe these challenges can be met.

Field Operations continue to be at the heart of an ever changing landscape for all utilities businesses

The ongoing need to improve productivity, engage geographically dispersed teams and plan jobs ever more efficiently, are all essential to keep pace with the increasingly sophisticated requirements of both the regulator and the customer. All of this needs to be achieved against the backdrop of very demanding cost challenges, without ever losing focus on the need to maintain the highest levels of safety at all times.

Field operations: the significance of the efficiency challenge

The importance of efficient Field Operations has never been of greater significance for utilities. Tougher leakage targets and an even sharper focus on customer satisfaction levels make Field Operations a core component of a modern and successful utility. However, meeting these targets can be a challenge.

Our experience has shown that organizations often struggle to come to terms with the logistical operation of planning and deploying their Field Operations teams effectively. In both the US & UK, this is recognized as a challenge, and one which UK regulator, OFWAT, considers to be ‘one of the biggest challenges for our sector’. This considerable challenge needs attention – Field Operations typically make up one of the largest percentages of utility organizations’ workforces, and are responsible for a large element of related workload. As a consequence, this presents an opportunity to drive previously untapped productivity improvements through the engagement of diverse and geographically separated teams.

Organizations often struggle to come to terms with the logistical operation of planning and deploying their field operations teams effectively

Why is productivity improvement a particular challenge for Field Operations?

This issue is certainly not a new one. Many utilities companies have approached the problem by deploying technology or outsourcing their field teams to drive greater accountability and performance, without considering how best to engage them. However, we continue to see Field Operations dominate the industry’s agenda. So why is this? Through our own involvement of working on the front line of Field Operations, both for our own business and that of our clients, there are a number of underlying factors we have identified that can affect the performance of Field Operations:

Strategic priorities

The utility industry is often incentivized to progress by regulatory targets or the agenda of governing bodies. A particular example of this is the drive to reduce leakage – both in water and gas. Network leakage is of particular strategic importance to organizations, as significant incentives and penalties exist.

In practice, placing significant weight on certain KPIs can create issues with day-to-day operations. During a client engagement, Unipart practitioners experienced ‘leakage drives’ mandated by senior leaders as a tool to improve leakage performance. On paper, this may seem like a way of delivering rapid improvement. In reality, however, this focus drove inefficiency into the Field Operations process. We saw how leakage drives would place specific job types as priority, overlooking crucial elements such as distance and work sequence – key components of an effective Field Operations plan. By disregarding efficient job completion in favor of short-term benefit, key performance indicators, such as productivity and customer satisfaction, are impacted.


The full text of this article is available for download below (.pdf)

The Field Operations Puzzle for Utilities Business

The Field Operations Puzzle for Utilities Business

Kindly provided by Unipart Group, this article is based on the extensive experience in the Utilities sector, and articulates the challenges the group feel Field Operations face today, while also explaining how they believe these challenges can be met.

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About the author

I am a member of the consultancy’s leadership team at Unipart Group responsible for building long-term relationships through selected strategic opportunities with existing and new clients, including targeted international expansion.

I have operated in the UK, USA, Greece and Switzerland helping secure and manage enterprise-wide operational/process/performance excellence programs (Lean/Six Sigma) in transactional and service environments within Power and Utilities, Health, Financial Services, Retail and Public sectors. Furthermore, I have also built successful alliances with several of the world’s top Tax/Advisory firms.

Since October 2013 I have been leading Unipart Expert Practices’ USA operations with a mission to help Unipart clients create a sustainable and engaging culture of continuous improvement.