Five in 5: Energy field services management

Unpacking the future of field services

Energy field services management can be a complex challenge for many organizations, but new digital technologies are setting the stage for a new era of efficiency and safety improvements. In this edition of Five in 5, Deloitte’s Harpreet Kaur and Sandy Jones share their perspectives on digital’s growing role in the utility field services space.

1. What digital technologies are currently disrupting energy field services and how are they different from past waves of efficiency improvements?

Harpreet Kaur: We’re talking about technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), digital workflows, and collaborative tools which, when coupled, are going to fundamentally change the future of who, how, and where field work will be done. For example, field mobility has been a hot topic for several years but what we have not seen in the past is the pace at which digital tools are becoming available to users, and their ability to capture and relay real-time information. How do we help people out in the field become more safe, more efficient? What kind of data is being generated in the field and how widely can we use it? How do we make sure that remote workers have the tools to get the work done in an optimal fashion?

Sandy Jones: Another great disrupter is geospatial and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technologies that help operators see what’s going on remotely and contextually to better inform decision-making. Additionally, new, real-time capabilities are being introduced that allow operations managers to improve two-way communication between the various areas of their organization. Often, the remote worker has the best information about an asset and can determine that data records are inconsistent on the spot. What a company does with that information demonstrates its attention to detail, which directly corresponds to operational performance outcomes.

2. The energy industry, like many others, is experiencing labor and skills shortages. How should companies prepare for their field workforce for the future?

Harpreet Kaur: For years, operators have been outsourcing a lot of their field work to contractors because they have the best skills and can retrain their people as needed. Looking to the future, worker shortages and skill gaps for both industrial companies and their contractors will lead to rethinking the size and composition of field operations. Companies will be asking questions like “Which skill sets should be hired versus accessed through contractors or even the gig economy?” “Could we use a different sourcing model?” “Could we assemble a pool of experts in a centralized physical or virtual location and use digital technologies to connect the field workers with experts in real-time to share information and solve problems?” In addition, we have to recognize that today there is limited-to-no collaboration between companies and suppliers to match demand with supply of crews. This is bound to change.

Sandy Jones: There will be tremendous changes in the next few years around the ways labor is sourced. Energy companies are increasingly interested in local, more diverse suppliers. What obstructed this in the past were the historical, long-term relationship with larger, national brands where the institutional knowledge and reach was so strong it made it very difficult for local suppliers to compete. These suppliers are often much smaller and don’t have the ability to offer digital solutions that would make them more competitive in the bidding process. As companies drive their workforces, both internal and external, toward more sophistication in solutions and data management, it will level the playing field and open the door for local, diverse suppliers to be successful. In a win-win situation, accessing local resources should also help these companies improve responsiveness—for example, restoring operations during a storm event more swiftly—and efficiency, lowering labor costs by drawing from local areas more frequently so those suppliers can grow and expand.

3. What do you expect the data and technology needs of tomorrow’s field workers to be?

Harpreet Kaur: The bulk of the change is around enabling and empowering the individual. Energy field services workers will need devices to access digital work instructions, workflows, and reporting to say, “Here’s where I need to go to do the work, here’s how I'm going to do the work, and here’s the work that I've done.” They’ll also need real-time access to virtual experts to collaboratively diagnose and solve onsite problems. Workers will use AI, VR, and AR technologies for on-the-job training and for assistance with more complex jobs.

Sandy Jones: We’re also hearing that a lot more needs to be done in the area of predictive insights, or being able to say, “We’ve seen this problem before and this is how people handled it.” One of our clients shared that while the company records extensive amounts of data to meet compliance requirements, little-to-none of that data is then converted into informational insights that can be served up dynamically in the moments that matter. Further to that point, if they could add historical context or even market context to that data, like—“nine times out of 10 when we previously performed this task, we needed a part that looks like X”—they’d be sharing something that is useful to the worker, saving time with questions or revisits to the same equipment. It is the anticipation of the need, and the conversion of data to information that currently does not exist.

Harpreet Kaur: To take that example further, when today’s workers respond to a job—a pipeline leak, for example—they may go to the site and find they don’t have all the materials needed to fix the problem. The ability to take pictures that can be analyzed against public and private data and help determine the issue so that an automated inventory query can be pre-populated for review and subsequent approval is a new process that can really move the needle. It streamlines work, reduces errors, and enhances outcomes, including customer satisfaction.

4. Why should companies pursue digital energy field services management? What is the value or benefit?

Harpreet Kaur: There is definitely a business case for digital in terms of hard dollar benefits: greater speed, more efficiency, and lower costs. The value of using data generated in the field can inform operational decisions, remove bottlenecks, and make workflows more streamlined. There are soft-side benefits, as well. Safety is an important topic. Safety incidents are happening, and companies are looking for ways to tackle the problem. Even small things like putting a sensor on a worker’s hard hat or giving them a device that alerts them about restricted areas to avoid can improve the way a company’s safety message is communicated.

Sandy Jones: The value of digital is its ability to create an openness to the data. When data can be accessed more easily, persons at any part of the process have the opportunity to improve how their piece of the process goes. Improving asset information enables safer decision-making, which leads to higher overall asset performance and reliability. One of the most impactful things we can do with digital in utilities is focus on connecting the disparate workforce during a storm event for rapid response and restoration. Updates on what’s happening in the field should happen on a near-real-time basis and be visible to all parties involved.

5. What initial steps can energy companies take to improve their field services management?

Harpreet Kaur: The first step is to build a comprehensive business case: get buy in from the functional executives, figure out what journey you want to take, and create a roadmap for the path forward. If the planned journey is going to take a couple of years to get to the end state, how do you want to get started and where do you want to invest? Are there areas where you can gain immediate benefits and put some points on the board to secure additional support later on? Is it better to build, buy, or partner to put game-changing technologies in your workers’ hands?

Sandy Jones: Energy companies typically aren’t in a position to continually innovate and iterate digital solutions at the rapid pace that technology giants and niche players can. Partnering is an easier, lower-risk way to access the latest digital offerings and provide some insurance versus going it alone. There is a phrase we use frequently: “There has to be a better way…and there is.” We need to constantly bring better ways of doing things to the forefront of our discussions and help energy company leaders figure out how to put them into action.

Get in touch

Sandy Jones
ER&I Asset Ecosystem Growth Platform Leader
Deloitte Consulting LLP


Harpreet Kaur
ER&I Asset Ecosystem Connected Workforce Leader
Deloitte Consulting LLP

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