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Pioneer Spirit Brings Sweeping Change at Public Utility

Omaha, Nebraska is proud of being at the center of things. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce’s We Don’t Coast campaign./wp-content/uploads/2015/06/275630_l_srgb_s_gl_722594.jpg

The campaign’s clever tagline is more than just a reference to the region’s central location in U.S. geography. It’s meant to describe a progressive way of thinking based on a modern pioneer spirit.

You can see this mindset reflected in the people and businesses that call this part of the country home. For proof, look no further than Omaha’s Metropolitan Utilities District (M.U.D.).

“At M.U.D. we are always trying to think ahead,” says company Vice President Raied Stanley in a recent video. “We’re not content to sit and wait until other utilities have figured things out for us.”

A lot of people appreciate M.U.D.’s proactive approach. Nearly one-third of the State of Nebraska counts on this customer-owned public utility for its safe drinking water and natural gas.

Keeping Up with Technology

For M.U.D., one of the keys to thinking ahead is keeping up to date with technologies like mobility, cloud computing, and a fully integrated platform of information services.

“We have been transforming our utility from a relatively manual and paper-based business operation to a more digital environment,” says Stanley, who is in charge of the utility’s business systems. This is eliminating hours once wasted searching through paper documents. “But at the end of the day, this means greater benefits for our customers – from simplifying billing and lowering costs to alleviating human oversight and error.”

M.U.D.’s revamped customer-service strategy is a perfect example of the changes taking place at the utility. Improvements to M.U.D.’s call center and an upcoming self-service Web portal, for example, will enable customers with highly personalized, interactive services that allow them to complete transactions, report outages or issues, and get answers to their questions.

Stanley also notes, M.U.D. field workers are now supported by mobile technology and outfitted with iPads to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Safety is improved too. Mobile-based workers can collaborate better to quickly share accurate service restoration data and complete repairs sooner.

“We know exactly where our field employees are, when a customer can expect a field technician to arrive, and when a work order is completed,” says Stanley.

Hiring the Best People

When it comes to innovation at M.U.D., having the right people for the job is equally important as having the right technology. And in many respects, human capital management represents a larger challenge these days.

“Our ability to hire the talent we’ll need for the future is critical,” explains Stanley. “But like a number of industries, utilities face the twin realities of an aging workforce and a growing skills shortage.”

An article in Breaking Energy puts some numbers to this problem. It notes over 50% of the current utility workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 6 to 8 years, while in the last dozen years or so, colleges and universities have seen a 50% decline in the number of graduating engineers – one of the many skill sets a utility typically requires. As a result, 72% of energy employers report difficulty finding quality candidates to fill their positions.

M.U.D. doesn’t want to be one of those employers. And cloud-based solutions from SuccessFactors, an SAP company, in areas such as recruitment, performance and goals, and compensation are playing a big part in helping meet the challenge.

Some of the utility’s objectives are tactical – like ensuring that every employee has a formal performance appraisal – but others are far more strategic. Upgrades to the recruitment process support online applications, making it faster to find and evaluate qualified job candidates. And new career development and succession planning are enabling M.U.D. to better prepare current employees for the next step in their careers.

Ensuring a Proactive Future

M.U.D. knows that you have to keep moving to stay at the center of innovation.

“We want to be even more proactive and more predictive from both a customer-service perspective and in managing our infrastructure,” Stanley says. “It’s really about always looking for better ways to serve our customers.”

Listening to Raied Stanley, it’s easy to see that M.U.D. definitely isn’t coasting.

To hear more from Stanley and other M.U.D. leaders, join their June innovation day as the utility hosts Building the Utility of Tomorrow.

Please join me on Twitter at @JohnGWard3.

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