To See is to Know – Real Time Digital Visual Management in Utilities


Regardless of industry or organisation type, a challenge I get from businesses is “show me what’s going on so I can manage it”.  The request to be “shown” is meant as a request for visual representation of organisational KPIs and therefore seen by the customer as a form of visual management.

The most successful organisations are those which deliver what the customer wants as quickly as possible through listening to, and taking feedback from the front line and providing the capacity to enable these customer issues to be resolved. Visual management enables an organisation to meet customer demand by challenging performance whilst showing up inefficiencies and enabling focussed performance improvements.

Today’s digital world allows technology to make the front line’s job easier whilst still being connected to the office, thereby reducing waste and maximising the time spent resolving customer issues.  True digital visual management links the front line with management through a structured meeting framework where information is cascaded up and down the organisation in real time.

Let’s focus on an example – imagine I am a utility engineer.

I would have a virtual board for each front line team – their information will be slightly different.  Onto that board, I would link for example the GIS system which identifies all customer issues such as burst pipes or chokes on a map.  I would also have areas to see the days work along with some backlog of work we could do proactively.  This allows me to build a pull system.  Engineers can log into the board using any device, access the window showing geographically where the issue is, they can then pull up the actual job card and in real time update the job on the board.  If they have any issues or blockers, I have an area where I can escalate this to someone else on the team or onto another board for example a manager, who can assist.  Likewise if I find myself with some downtime or I am waiting for parts or people, I can pull in a backlog work item to begin its resolution. My KPIs would also update in real time so I can see how I am performing. This image shows how each part would work

1.       Mapping system shows actual location of Job – travel can be planned
2.       Issues and problems visually escalated so that other work can be taken on
3.       Database of best practice enables engineers to increase speed of resolution
4.       Jobs are displayed visually so that bottlenecks and backlog removed
5.       Team KPI are displayed which helps teams drive up customer satisfaction
6.       Database of skills enables engineers to find people with skills to fix problems

We have saved time where we would be waiting for parts or people; saved travel time and reduced mileage by getting an engineer to pull work proactively into his queue to update when he/she is waiting.  This could be work close by which will save further travel time.  I have spent time with teams in the utilities sector and these “wastes” are a common occurrence.  In one large project I was on, we found approximately 35% non productive time which we could fill with other work.  The other main concern that I have heard, is that the team didn’t know what each other was working on.  

From the customer’s point of view, current practice where an estimated time to complete cannot be given, just a broad appointment time, customers may have to call repeatedly for updates.  All of this is removed, using virtual visual management, helping the customer to feel much more engaged and hence satisfied.

To date the utilities sector has been heavily compliance led and its move towards a more customer centric one is key.  Digital visual management allows us to connect the asset – to worker – to the intelligent control room.  This makes performance transparent, drives actions and focusses on results that are both personalised but also intelligent.

Investing in the front line technology to manage work visually, and letting them create a pull system, gets work done quicker, helps increase customer satisfaction and reduces waste and costs.

To see really is to know, especially when done in real time – that’s a visual treat for every business and customer.