It’s Time for Electrical Contractors to Reinvent Their Role

On the final day of NECA Live, Josh Bone, executive director of ELECTRI International, and Michael Parkes, vice president of O’Connell Electric Co., delivered a presentation on digital tools and technology to assist electrical contractors in the outdoor utility space and how to implement technology changes in your organization. Following are some examples of digital solutions that can be particularly useful for the outdoor utility contractor, according to the presenters.

Mobile apps. Mobile apps can be used in a variety of ways, with safety being one of the key areas. For example, several fall-protection apps, such as Worker Safety Pro, work with smart phones and smart watches to alert not only the user of a stumble, but also his or her manager. Other safety-related mobile apps Bone mentioned (not specifically limited to fall protection) include Safesite, StriveZero, and Safety Reports.

Paperless forms. Paperless form apps and software, such as GoCanvas, are also key to helping simplify the form process, including safety reporting. “These tools can be extremely valuable not only for safety, which is, you know, obviously the most critical component,” Parkes said, adding that these apps can also help accelerate the paperwork process.

360°cameras. Technology beyond mobile applications can be useful as well. Cameras with 360° technology can be used to help record a process and then used later as training material. Additionally, certain models can be connected to mobile devices, attached to a hardhat, or voice-activated for hands-free work. Parkes said in his experience, 360° cameras have been used in a substation project, control room, and in the field for documenting.

Smart security cameras. Another tool becoming more commonplace in utility projects is security cameras, which can include a variety of intelligence tools. “Our utility customers are starting to actually request that this be utilized on projects,” Parkes said, adding that on a new substation project, they will be installing ones with cloud-based capabilities in various corners of the station.

Additional digital tools to consider include: reality capture technology, such as Matterport; job-site photo organization and recognition tools, like Smartvid.io; apps for time keeping and daily reporting (Raken, busybusy, Austin Lane, Assignar, eSUB, Rhumbix, etc.); artificial intelligence (AI) for daily reporting, like Nifty AI or FieldVox; and more complete platform solutions such as Procore, Bluebeam, PlanGrid, and Autodesk BIM 360.

Before diving into these tools yourself, however, Bone addressed the biggest challenge that new technology presents – change. “We understand that change is hard,” Bone said, especially with the way the utility contractor profession is set up. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to help your workers bridge any knowledge gaps when introducing new technology to avoid confusion, frustration, or negative feelings.

He recommended eight steps to follow in order to have a successful technology integration:

  1. Form a tech committee. Bring together individuals who are willing to take the time to look at the options and even research tax credit considerations.
  2. Find the pain. Bone warns that one of the biggest mistakes someone can make is to introduce technology to fix a problem that  doesn’t exist. Instead, find a solution to an existing issue.
  3. Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs). SOPs can help you recognize trends, which ultimately deliver data. “If you don’t have a process in place,” Bone warned, “it’s hard to standardize that data to ever learn from.”
  4. Test apps that fit your workflow. Once you have your standard processes, then you can test apps to make sure it comes together within your workflow.
  5. Find your champion. This champion(s) will help lead the way with new technology. “You’ve got to find the right people that are going to champion these outcomes,” Bone added.
  6. Pick a pilot project. Use this initial test-run to examine the return on investment for this technology.
  7. Train your employees. For example, Bones said, you can’t just go out and hand everyone a tablet with a complex new app without teaching them the tools they need to succeed.
  8. Re-evaluate annually. Recognize that technology will constantly evolve, so it’s vital to take time to examine the current effectiveness and return on investment to see if it’s time to upgrade or find a better fit. “The technology is changing so quickly today, you have to constantly re-evaluate,” Bone concluded.

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