Joint Use Headaches
Anyone who has worked in a Joint Use Attachments department at a utility or has been a Third Party Attacher knows the headaches and complications involved with the process.
Attachers looking to build on a utility pole should expect to incur fees, yes, but they should also be able to build in a timely manner in order to serve their customers.
Utility companies should be able to turn applications around in a timely manner, and have contracts in place that clearly state who pays for what when make ready calls for it.
Pole replacements shouldn’t always be the Third Party’s expense simply because they were the last ones to build (especially when there are probably 2 or 3 violators on the pole already). But it also shouldn’t be the electric utility company’s cost because that pole is there to provide their customers with power to keep their lights on, not the ability to binge watch Netflix. These are just a few scenarios that are costing the industry time and money. And unfortunately, those costs end up being passed on to the consumer.
How do you go about fixing a system like this? Solving all of the problems across the board will be next to impossible. Still, you can use these 4 tips to solve some of the bigger problems you may face related to joint-use:
Tip #1 - COMMUNICATION
Most problems in the Joint Use space comes down to bad communication or no communication at all. Setting up systems in which it’s clear and easy for all parties involved to communicate better is critical.
Tip #2 - DATA
Utility/Pole Owners need to know what’s on their poles before giving permission for an additional attachment. This may require hiring a company to solve all of the historical and current data collection, and facility management issues, so you have clear and updated records. These correct records can help you quickly make decisions about applications to ultimately reduce turnaround time on applications.
Tip #3 - SAFETY
Power and telcos need to keep their lineman safe while working on poles in both the power and communications spaces. That is their number one concern, and for good reason.
On average there are 23 lineman deaths a year. (Source: “In Pictures: America’s Deadliest Jobs”,http://www.forbes.com/pictures/efkk45emddl/americas-deadliest-jobs-2/. See statistics with picture 7: electrical power-line installers and repairers.)
“…44 linemen died in work-related incidents in 2013 alone…” (Source: Fallen Linemen Organization, http://fallenlinemen.org)
Tip #4 - BEST PRACTICES
Attachers must build safely and responsibly, and meet code requirements like the NESC. Unauthorized attachments, night builds, and incurring fines and penalties should be things of the past.
These communication, data, safety, and other best practices can be adopted without difficulties if you are working in an environment that is being managed well. And a well-managed system can be achieved by leveraging software for your team.
If you want to empower your employees and give them an opportunity to do their job better, it’s essential to give them tools to do so. By building a streamlined system workflow that cuts down on bureaucracy you can allow staff to quickly solve attachments and pole replacements in a clearly defined scope. This allows all parties involved to work with each other and serve their customers in a timely manner at a reasonable cost.
So, how do you build this system, and what choices need to be made? What kind of software is out there to implement into your workflow?
First, let’s define the 2 main categories of software.
1. Off-The-Shelf Software -- A program or subscription that you purchase or access online that is built to do specific tasks, like a word processor, spreadsheet, or database program. These are generally offered at a lower cost and sold by a third party.
2. Custom Software -- A program or subscription that you contract a company or consultant to build for your specific needs. These are generally offered at a much higher cost up front and sold directly by the development company.
There are pros and cons to both kinds of software. Be sure to look at the many options available because the best fit for one company may not be the ideal fit for another.
Let’s say you decide to go with an off-the-shelf software platform or a suite of off-the-shelf programs that allow you to greatly improve your workflow. We often take for granted some of the software we use on a daily basis: Microsoft, Google, and QuickBooks. These companies have created great products that we can leverage for a variety of tasks, big and small, and mostly at a very small cost.
Next, take a look at your workflow and target your weakness. Where does the bottleneck occur? What tasks are the most expensive? If you can find an off-the-shelf solution to put a dent in these and save you time and money, it’s a win for everyone involved.
Take a Swiss Army Knife, for instance. It’s a great off-the-shelf product that does a lot of things well. If your workflow needs the flexibility of the Swiss Army Knife to open bottles, cut open pesky packaging, or put together your new IKEA furniture, then this powerful and multifunctional tool may be perfect to complete your tasks.
However, if your main job requires you to open a high volume of bottles, you might start asking yourself why you need a multifunctional tool that also has a knife, tweezers, and a screwdriver that take up space and get in the way. What you really need is a bottle opener geared specifically for the task at hand.
Similar to the way all of the extras on a Swiss Army Knife can be cumbersome, or the knife isn’t as powerful or specifically designed for your particular workflow, off-the-shelf software may not meet your exact needs. Maybe your workflow is more of a niche situation instead of a mainstream one that can be solved with a Google or Microsoft product.
How do you solve a situation that doesn’t seem like it’s been tackled by an off-the-shelf product? A custom software product could be an answer in this case. That can be achieved by working with a company that builds software solutions by combining their expertise in the industry and listening to your workflow needs. The solution it builds can be streamlined to fit your team in ways that can be leveraged by them to do their best work.
Remember: The expense of running software that is a mismatch for your company could be a costly mistake. Whether it’s trying to make your spreadsheets do tasks that a custom streamlined automated algorithm can do in a few clicks, or trying to build a software program that has already been built competently by Google, you may be experiencing the fatigue of running software that is falling short.
Humans are the highest cost in any company. So, it’s worth looking into software that has the potential to automate things that take humans long hours to accomplish. Software is valuable only if you can leverage its power to do your job better and to create value on your team and in your company.
It can be tricky sorting through all of the off-the-shelf options and/or finding the custom software company that is right for you. Using pros and cons analyses like the ones used here may help you find the best solution for your company’s needs.
So, however you accomplish it, do yourself a favor and take the first step to improve your workflow. We spend too much time complaining that there should be a better way. Make today be the last day you utter these words.