Voice Assistants for Energy and Utility Workers
May 16, 2021
7 MIN READ

Why Energy and Utility Workers Should Add Voice Solutions to Their Toolbox

We’ve all experienced a power outage and the following wait for the electric company to bring the lights back on. Utility workers balance atop the small confines of the cherry picker machine to fix broken power lines or install new parts. Occasionally, they navigate freely on the utility pole, held only in place by straps and harnesses. Hands busy with tools, it’s extremely difficult to reference paperwork and hold a mobile device to retrieve information during these precise tasks.

Deskless workers—like those in the energy and utility industry—remain underserved by technology that can help them do their jobs more efficiently, safely, and accurately. Now, voice AI—excelling in situations where hands and eyes are occupied—is emerging as a new tool for these employees to leverage. While companies like PSE&G have already built Alexa skills to facilitate how customers pay their bills, voice technology for employees remains an under-explored opportunity. 

Deskless workers—like those in the energy and utility industry—remain underserved by technology that can help them do their jobs more efficiently, safely, and accurately.

From utility technicians to electricians to engineers in energy and utilities, workers can take advantage of voice technology to quickly access key information, communicate with their team, and input data without the use of their hands. From custom headsets to mobile devices purpose-built to withstand changing weather conditions, voice assistants can be embedded into nearly any sort of hardware, or layered onto the software these professionals already use.

Here are three ways the energy and utility companies can transform their operations with voice technology today:

1. Data On-Demand Via Voice AI

To prepare for the installation of new equipment or the repair of broken parts, utility technicians need to access key information from documents, records, and company databases. With their hands busy controlling tools and equipment, voice user interfaces can provide the data necessary to complete the procedure with a few simple queries by the technician.

For example, a core responsibility of utility companies is to regularly inspect utility poles to determine safety and operational issues. A utility worker might ask the voice assistant, “When was the last time this utility pole was repaired?” or “Pull up inspection history” to determine if there are any specific issues that need to be addressed.

In addition, voice technology can help technicians record data without the use of pen and paper or the swipes and taps of a touchscreen. During a utility pole inspection, the foreman performs several tasks, including visual assessments, using drills and tools to determine wood decay, and recording pole measurements to ensure the structures adhere to safety standards.

Instead of taking the time to write up a report and input the data into the company’s systems once the inspection has taken place, voice AI offers these busy technician an easy way to record information during the inspection without diverting their focus or requiring them to take handwritten notes and transcribe them later. Recording the information as it’s collected ensures important data and measurements are recorded correctly as they are collected. 

Voice technology can help technicians record data without the use of pen and paper or the swipes and taps of a touchscreen.

More advanced use cases that involve task automation, including placing orders and managing machinery, are also possible. For example, when certain data is inputted into an inventory management system that realizes supply of a given part is running low, it can trigger a suggestion like placing an order or flagging it to a colleague.

Similar to controlling smart home devices with voice, an employee arriving at a site can efficiently initialize machinery to precise modes of operation with spoken commands.

Industrial software companies are already implementing voice solutions to enhance the workday of employees. mCloud integrated a voice solution into a headset that allows employees on the jobsite to instantly find documentation and look up asset data.

2. AI-Enabled Maintenance and Repair

In an industry exposed to the whims of nature, damage is unavoidable and unpredictable. Solutions and repairs require following a precise series of steps and following specific safety guidelines.

Voice-guided workflows can walk a technician or engineer step-by-step through specific installation, inspection, or installation processes that require their complete attention and focus. For example, during the utility pole inspection process, a utility foreman completes several steps in a specific order to evaluate the status of the pole on different fronts. The employee may say, “Walk me through an inspection of the utility pole” to an assistant for a comprehensive review of the task without constantly needing to reference a tablet or pick up and put down tools.

Voice-guided workflows can walk a technician or engineer step-by-step through specific installation, inspection, or installation processes that require their complete attention and focus.

Guided workflows can also work in tandem with data retrieval and input capabilities, allowing technicians to ask queries about the specific processes and record measurements and input other data into the system. While inspecting a utility pole, the technician can efficiently record numbers and measurements without losing focus on the task at hand. Voice solutions can also operate efficiently through local on-device computing, ensuring that if the electricity and connectivity are down, there’s no issue with accessing the information necessary to get the job done safely.  

3. Voice-Enabled Field Communications

Voice technology can play a key role in enabling speedier and more streamlined communication between field technicians and other team members. Groups of employees deployed across a wide area still need to remain in close contact with each other for efficient coordination of resources. A voice assistant can send out alerts, status updates, and other notifications to keep field workers on schedule and make adjustments for tasks that require extra time.

For example, in the event of a severe storm that downs several power lines across a city, a utilities company may need to send teams to hundreds of locations to assess damage and estimate restoration times.

Voice technology can play a key role in enabling speedier and more streamlined communication between field technicians and other team members.

Often, different crews visit the various sites to work on specific issues. Employees then communicate with their colleagues to prioritize outages and damages that pose high public safety risks. Voice can quickly connect technicians to the right team members based on location or other factors so they can obtain needed information and update their status to colleagues. An employee may be able to say, “Connect me to the repair team on Park Street” or “Update all team members that we’ve completed the assessment on Quartz Lane.”

Connecting the Dots with Voice AI

In a hands-on environment where employees eyes and hands are deeply involved in a project, voice technology allows them to maintain their focus while feeding them key information. By eliminating the friction caused by manual paperwork or data lookup on devices, voice frees up time and increases operational efficiency, ultimately driving cost savings. 

But employee-facing solutions need not be considered in isolation from customer-facing voice experiences. Indeed, they may work beautifully in concert, tapping into the same domain knowledge, such that a particular customer’s issue could be understood and relayed by a voice assistant to a technician, who is then guided through resolution. A voice assistant that sits at the intersection of the customer and the workforce is well-positioned to take friction out of both sides of the equation. 

If you’re excited about the opportunities discussed here and interested in voice-enabling your workforce, please reach out at [email protected] We’d love to discuss your challenges and build a blueprint for success.

Eric Turkington, RAIN

Eric Turkington is vice president of partnerships at RAIN, a leading voice technology firm. Eric is obsessed with emerging technology and its impact on business, human behavior, and society at large.

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