Chapter Corner

Empowering Electrical Contractors with Smart Technology

Posted in: Features, August 2016

tech_insights.gifIt’s no secret that the nature of work is shifting. Across all industries, the makeup of the workforce continues to evolve as baby boomers increasingly retire and millennials become the largest demographic among U.S. employees. Amidst the Digital Age, new connected technologies and the proliferation of available information have transformed buzzwords like the cloud, digitization, Internet of Things, and big data into inescapable components of business operation and strategy. Established industry titans are looking for ways to maintain their market share against emerging disruptors with new products, services, and business models.

All of this can be said about most industries – and it’s a landscape that rings true for electrical contractors. With an ever-keen attention to budgetary restrictions, there’s pressure to implement new ideas and technologies that will improve the bottom line and create additional value for customers.

Chances are you have a smartphone with applications on it for personal and business use. Have you considered applications for your service teams? Mobile technologies in particular can help electrical contractors improve their operations by bridging the gap between people and data.

BUILDING EFFICIENCY THROUGH MOBILE TECHNOLOGY

When thinking about ideas to improve efficiency it’s beneficial to identify both priorities and pain points as well as the most critical components of running a service business. Maintenance and reporting are key pillars of an electrical service operation, whereas collaboration and communication are areas where hurdles exist. The technology is available today to help address these priorities and pain points. For example, electrical contractors would greatly benefit from a “smart logbook” application available on their web browsers and phones that helps them organize maintenance records, follow up on preventative maintenance, access log histories, create reports for customers, view energy data, and integrate remote alarming from equipment.

Many industry professionals hesitate to veer from the tried and true approach of using pen and paper or spreadsheets to schedule reminders, log maintenance operations and equipment data, and create reports. Historically, that was the only option available short of investing in an enterprise-level solution, but technological advancements now enable them to simplify maintenance operations through their smartphone, tablet, or web browser.

Electrical contractors can now electronically record information and store it in one location – backed up on the cloud – instead of having to shuffle between disparate stacks of paper or files that can easily get mixed up and lost. Better yet, without even having to type in descriptors of the equipment, they can conveniently tag equipment with specific QR codes and scan with their smartphone to access past maintenance logs, user guides, wiring diagrams, or other resources for each specific piece of equipment. Technology is even beginning to incorporate geolocation – enabling users to take photos of equipment and tag where it is in the facility, making it easy to locate. In totality, this functionality provides all relevant data at the electrician’s fingertips. Instead of carrying paper logs and diagrams, contractors just need to carry a compact device.

To truly drive efficiency, an application should incorporate more than data availability and remote, mobile access – it should be about enabling collaboration and control. At most sites, there are various stakeholders, internal and external, involved and accessing the same equipment. They tend to work on different schedules and it’s easy to imagine the communication silos that are a byproduct of this arrangement.

Electrical contractors would greatly benefit from being able to log tasks and data onsite and share it in real-time with their internal teams, external partners, and customers through their mobile applications. Professionals working on the same equipment can understand where someone left off or a pattern in maintenance. With the right technology in place, the whole team can stay connected and equipped to perform tasks at a moment’s notice. Also, when new teams integrate into a service operation, they can see what’s already been done and easily assign alerts and assignments across the core team. An opportunity exists to create a true community where you can exchange messages and collaborate instantly, leading to great results for your customers.

The use of mobile technology differentiates professionals from their competition and helps drive open communication and visibility into performance between customer and electrical contractor. For example, instead of having to call a customer to discuss every maintenance operation performed, such an application would allow users to send information and analysis at the touch of a button. Ultimately, this two-way communication and quick reaction time drives customer confidence and loyalty.

Mobile technology also enables electrical contractors to future-proof their company. When an employee retires or leaves the company, the institutional knowledge typically goes with them. By having data captured in a mobile application and available in the cloud, equipment and maintenance history does not leave with an employee. Additionally as turnover occurs, the next generation of workers entering the field are tech-savvy and gravitate towards the flexibility and user interface available through mobile applications. When it comes to recruiting top talent, owners can stand out from the competition by having the latest technology in place.

UNDERSTANDING THE BARRIERS AND GETTING STARTED

As with any new model of doing business, there will inevitably be hesitation and even reluctance to adopt it. Security concerns persist for any new form of technology. These concerns can be alleviated by using an application that is password protected and on a network that can be controlled.

There is also a learning curve when adopting new technology. Mobile technology represents an evolution in the way electrical contractors work. However, inertia should not be a deterrent to doing work more efficiently. The onus is on leadership teams to take the leap of adopting this technology, educating themselves, and sponsoring early adopters to explore new tools and trends.

One benefit that can help speed up adoption is that most people already know and are comfortable with the technology and devices (smartphone and apps). By empowering millennials to use this technology to adapt their work environment, they can act as advocates to the rest of the organization. As with many implementations, it is important to document success and solicit feedback from the service teams and customers before deploying system-wide.

New ideas can take time to flourish, but leveraging technology innovations, such as mobile applications, can have a dramatic impact on your company’s efficiency and bottom line.

Laura Perek is in the Buildings and IT Business at Schneider Electric and is responsible for deploying partner-managed digital tools and services in the US. She has over 13 years of experience in the construction industry with expertise in business development and channel management.