Why AI has an important role to play in the modern gas industry

By Martin Holloway, Executive Operations Director at SGN

Next in our blog series which invites insight from our partners and customers, we hear from Martin Holloway, Executive Operations Director at SGN – a leading British gas distribution company which manages the network that distributes natural and green gas to 5.9 million homes and businesses across Scotland and the south of England.

Martin talks us through why he believes FYLD is the perfect platform for the modernised gas industry and how it can empower workers and productivity…

During my career, the common thread which has been woven throughout is managing widely dispersed field teams, in different industries, across the backdrop of utilities. Managing thousands of team members including engineers, contractors, and other essential workers, I have always valued the importance of clear and concise communication. With no technical background, my unique selling point, or USP, as a manager is motivating my teams to perform at their best and ensure the right environment for them to thrive and deliver safe and efficient operations.

This is why AI and machine learning platforms, like FYLD, are such an exciting evolution for me and my teams. In the first year of our collaboration with FYLD, SGN realised substantial benefits. We’ve shown the potential to save 10,400 field worker hours through the visual risk assessment (VRA) feature alone, we saved £240,000 in potential fines through the platform’s easy to use evidencing features and we witnessed a 20% reduction in injuries and incidents. There is still so much potential and opportunity for further innovation. Managing the communication, working environment and processes within a single platform is game changing.

AI technology assists us in safety critical situations – keeping our workers and the public safe. For instance, the VRA function within FYLD is easily updatable and helps avoid safety improvement notices and other fines while operating.

FYLD’s reactivity and interactivity makes it a hit with all disciplines at SGN. From the VRA function to the fatigue management processes in place, the field teams benefit from the platform from the start to the end of their shifts.

One stop shop for operations

The gas industry has been slow to digitise operations. I’d estimate the industry is around 10-15 years behind on innovation, with too many processes reliant on paper-based assessments and filing practices. The opportunity to automate operations is massive.

Ideally, honing everything into one platform which the engineers log everything on – from risk assessments and timesheets to communications across the team and project status updates – is the perfect platform for field operations.

In my opinion, the use of digital and AI solutions aids companies, organisations and their front-line workforce and wider teams massively. I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience while working with and implementing AI solutions.

Empowering employees

At SGN, we use digital solutions to enable and empower smarter, safer outcomes for our workers and the public. We’re working on digitising mapping processes and upgrades to our core asset repository system, Maximo, which can be updated live in the field.

There’s currently a permission culture within the industry. There are many processes which are in place for the correct function, however as with any established utility service, there has been a bloat of processes which have become redundant as the world has modernised.

Having to wait for approval for decisions which you may have previously had permission to just ‘do’ in a time before these safeguarding rules were enforced, can be infuriating for field workers. This can disenfranchise teams and have a real effect on safety and productivity.

Streamlining these decision checkpoints would revolutionise productivity. It would be a morale boost for the field workers who would be empowered, and trusted, to undertake tasks and decisions and all the while, being in contact with remote managers via a communication platform, like FYLD, if needed. This would also cut down the amount of admin time managers spend in a day, again boosting productivity and management functions.

Step change in productivity and safety

This step change in digitised functions is only possible with a comprehensive, intuitive platform like FYLD. AI and machine learning is a saviour for operational efficiency.

With my extensive operations experience across a variety of sectors, I’ve witnessed this step change in productivity and safety in real time since digital tools started being developed and adopted.

Rather than just replacing the same old processes with digitised versions, the way in which AI predicts and learns to constantly improve is crucial for the progressive efficiencies of the gas industry.

It’s never been as important as now to invest in new technologies, innovations and efficient processes. OFGEM funding is something which can be optimised, and the ‘muscle memory’ of how to optimise can be learned – and FYLD can help with this journey.

FYLD is the future

I envision platforms like FYLD enhancing the digital field force of the future. Legacy systems need to be reimagined and tackled. Modernising these systems is costly and requires massive investment in back-end systems.

FYLD is well positioned as a solution to this problem. Fast becoming a trusted supplier bracket, the more the platform develops and onboards more users, the more it will become a brand synonymous with productivity and safety.

There is so much opportunity for the industry and for SGN and FYLD’s relationship to grow. The forward-thinking approach is key – with one eye always on the future, we can adopt and create a working environment in the gas industry which is optimised for now and generations to come.