Utilities and contractors: embracing a digital age

As utilities get smarter, contractors also have an opportunity to embrace technology that will transform their operations to boost productivity, reduce personal and project risks and win more work.

The grid is getting connected. By law, gas and electricity suppliers in the UK are already obliged to take all reasonable steps to roll out smart meters across their customer base. From next year, they’ll have binding targets to complete the job by 2025. It won’t be long before water follows.

That’s going to transform the distribution and management of networks, providing a mass of data and greater visibility to manage demand, detect leaks and enhance services. When it comes to repairs, maintenance and other fieldwork that keeps those networks running, however, it’s an opportunity still to be grasped.

Many contractors and sub-contractors responsible for much of this work continue to rely on traditional methods to manage it, with paper-based, unstructured and manual processes. Information on sites, logs and risk assessments are time-consuming to complete and difficult to analyse. Lack of remote site visibility makes it challenging to identify trends and recurring issues, and without real-time data, it’s hard to prioritise work.

Contractors work tirelessly to keep work on schedule, maintain quality and ensure safety, however, their processes and tools for managing work are too often working against them, and that has significant consequences.

The power of digital

Failure to capture information or pass it on at best requires repeat site visits and, at worst, can result in missing assessments or a lack of evidence needed to defend against fines, claims or Section 17 actions. This falls under the UK government’s New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 which can expose organisations to civil or criminal proceedings by failing to adhere to permit requirements.

Furthermore, the UK government’s Health and Safety at Work Act from 1974 can expose individuals, such as directors of contracting companies, to civil or criminal proceedings by failing to adhere to the Regulations that fall under it such as the Management of Health & Safety Regulations 2006. Given the significant penalties for health and safety breaches and the potential for personal liabilities, especially for those running small and medium-sized contracting companies, it can have devasting results.

But it’s also a missed opportunity. Without critical information and with difficulty accessing and sharing what is collected, improvements that could be made are not realised. Chances to drive up and maintain quality and impress hiring Contractors or utilities are lost.

Most seriously, though, existing methods create a tension between the key priorities of any contractor: safety, quality and productivity. Inefficiencies in the process mean improvements in one are assumed to come at the expense of another.

But there is no reason it should.

Technology already being used across some sites is proving that modern methods can transform works. FYLD is a digital solution that uses artificial intelligence to create a point of work risk assessment through verbal and imagery analysis, offering a range of solutions that significantly improve outdated processes:

  • Visual risk assessments recorded when arriving on-site mean that contractors’ workers get out of their vans to identify the actual hazards that are present along with the control measures required and provide a digital, transferable record easily shared with managers and others. 
  • Job blockers recorded on-site through the intuitive solution, both automate notifications for managers so they can be resolved quickly and enable process redesign for recurring issues that cause delays.
  • Evidence records through time-stamped site information (photos, videos) provide certainty and transparency regarding site conditions and facilitate smooth handovers between contractors.
  • Communication regarding the site is centralised with in-app messaging to provide an accurate log for convenience and traceability.
  • The end of day wrap up is formalised and structured to record the status of jobs, work completed and the site condition, with pictures, on leaving. 

The experience using these tools already shows that they can dramatically and simultaneously enhance productivity, standards and safety. They cut down on paperwork and time taken for risks assessments, surveys and other tasks while driving up the quantity, quality and visibility of information captured.

Ultimately, it is enabling the contractors to deliver jobs more safely, consistently, and quickly – as well as demonstrate that they are harnessing technology to adopt innovative approaches that offer them a key differentiator against competitors. This helps them to strengthen relationships with major utilities, and secure repeat business in the longer term.

Bringing it together

Crucially, such tools answer the needs of all the parties involved: both field teams and Managers; and the, principal contractors, subcontractors and companies working across sectors such as utilities, transport and rail.

For field teams, the solution combines a communications portal, checklists, and video and picture capture in a single solution. Running on a standard smartphone, it’s intuitive and requires little training.  Artificial intelligence engines and bespoke algorithms enable workers to record a video of the site while audibly identifying the hazards they see, for instance. That information is quickly captured and recorded.

All information, images and messages are securely stored, quickly retrieved and easily passed on and shared with other teams.

The FYLD solution is placed on a user-friendly platform, however, this is only part of the offering. The information from remote sites is also captured in the cloud and available for review and analysis through an online portal. Managers gain complete visibility to track the progress of jobs, identify recurring job blockers causing delays and ensure quality standards are maintained.

That doesn’t just mean they can deliver better for their clients to win and retain work; it also provides the tools to improve productivity and plan and prioritise work and resources better so that they can take on more contracts. In an industry that frequently requires rapid scaling and where workloads can fluctuate significantly, it provides contractors with crucial flexibility.

Most importantly, perhaps, such digital tools resolve the tensions between productivity, safety and quality. The technology simplifies and accelerates crucial tasks such as site surveys, risk assessments and wrap up by eliminating paperwork, automating processes and avoiding duplication. But it also formalises and records them, promoting visibility and providing traceability.

One contractor serving the UK’s major utilities has already embraced digitisation through the FYLD platform and is reaping the benefits. The contractor’s site manager, commented: “I think FYLD is great. Undertaking a visual risk assessment really covers all bases. It helps me work safely and stops me from missing anything in my risk assessment as I have the video to remind me and to pick up on the hazards as well. Ultimately, it’s a massive time saver.”

With a modern, digital approach contractors can capture relevant information to ensure accountability, encourage good practice in the field and achieve consistent compliance with regulations. It also means contractors’ managers and owners can evidence that compliance as required – providing protection if anything does go wrong. They can also easily share any information they need to with hiring contractors and clients. Managers and owners can make sure they’re doing the right thing, and that they’re seen to.

In an ever-smarter network, it could help ensure contractors aren’t left behind.  

Find out how our innovative solution can transform your operations today: https://www.fyld.ai/use-cases/contractors/