When Facing Workforce Shortages, Think Technology

July 16, 2021
The People-Process-Technology methodology is a classic business framework aimed at improving operational efficiency.

The drinking water and wastewater utility industry is facing a challenge many managers and organizations are now addressing—a workforce shortage. These utilities can expect a 37% decrease in the workforce over the next decade due to attrition. As a result, the industry is facing limited labor pools, and the impact on operations is significant.

Not only are utilities implementing programs to address this issue, but federal agencies, such as the EPA, also are developing workforce initiatives to combat the imminent labor shortages. Utilities and government agencies are developing awareness campaigns and programs to attract youth to the industry. Still, at the same time, there is also a need to focus on the current state of the utility’s workforce.

Facing this issue head-on requires industry leaders and utility managers to adapt and adopt new ways of doing things. Today, the appropriate balance of people, process and technology becomes increasingly important.

The People-Process-Technology methodology is a classic business framework aimed at improving operational efficiency. The combination of who is doing the work (people), how they’re doing it (process) and the tools they’re working with (technology) is a simple and effective way of driving organizational change.

The technology component of the PPT methodology now has the power to reshape business processes and people. Utilities must have transition plans in place as attrition occurs to ensure the transfer of institutional knowledge. The implementation of certain technological solutions can help drive actions, improve processes and enhance knowledge. While all three prongs of the PPT framework are vital for success, this article focuses on innovative technology from Olea Edge Analytics that is driving business process changes and giving the workforce knowledge to affect change.

Olea’s solution is a patented assembly of sensors that can be attached to a water meter. Olea collects vibration, magnetic and optical data from multiple sensor arrays on both the high flow and the low flow of the meter. This data is then compared to the baseline on each meter type to determine if there is a failure present. The system was developed by Olea, specifically for monitoring and managing commercial/industrial water meters. Because of the meter's complexity and many operating parts, they are vulnerable to failures that are hard to detect.

The vibration sensor detects flow through the meter and is correlated with magnetic sensor data and measuring element rotation. The optical sensor incorporates Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the register readings and is correlated with the vibration and magnetic data to determine meter performance and accuracy. Olea can take the data from the array of sensors and supply utilities with invaluable insights using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Taking those insights and turning them into actionable plans is where the people and process come back into play. Having clear, actionable asset management recommendations informs business process improvements and enhances knowledge of the workforce. Also, the workforce (or people) can redefine itself by focusing the limited resources on correcting specific issues to benefit the utility.

Times of great change like these can put a lot of pressure on managers to invoke change, but it’s good to know that there is a time-tested framework like People-Process-Technology available. For the utility industry to take full advantage of that methodology, leaders must understand how technology can influence the process and people side of the equation and be open to new approaches.

About the Author

Quinn Jackson-Elliott

Quinn Jackson-Elliott is Senior Director of Business Development for Olea Edge analytics. Jackson-Elliot spent 14 years working for the City of Atlanta, rising to Deputy Commissioner of the city's Department of Watershed Management.