April 24, 2020 By Terry Saunders 3 min read

Our world is powered by utility companies. Under normal circumstances, it is a constant and delicate balance to maintain these essential infrastructures. When faced with extraordinary times, the pressure on these utilities can be staggering. The new principle is resiliency, and that resiliency includes embracing technology with AI to help ensure equipment reliability, reduce costs and drive smarter decisions.

Use AI to extend operations to preventive, predictive, and prescriptive actions

Historically, utilities have used a three-pronged approach to operations: maintain, repair and restore. They’ve relied on past information, available weather data and a general understanding of their territories to make critical decisions. Now new technologies, like high-resolution satellite, aerial imagery and AI, can significantly increase operational efficiency. These allow companies to take preventative, predictive and prescriptive actions – crucial steps that help maintain equipment, optimize performance and avoid downtime.

Consider vegetation management. There is seldom enough budget to address vegetation management needs across the whole service area. Decisions about where scarce resources are spent have to be made based on risk mitigation and knowing the impact of servicing one region versus another, or deferring maintenance altogether. The best way to make these critical decisions is to have vegetation insights at scale, across the entire service territory, along with a way to aggregate and handle these insights. With that information, you can reimagine your operational approach.

From maintenance to prevention

Power lines and trees – or anything that grows near them – do not mix well. Millions of miles of wires and 300,000 types of vegetation mean constant vigilance. But it is often difficult to know where the growth is encroaching and how soon its overgrowth will pose a risk. To mitigate and prevent problems, power companies can use technologies to map where vegetation encroachment lies, evaluate the risk, contract and dispatch resources.

From repair to prediction

There will always be repairs to be made but there is a difference between planned maintenance to address aging assets and unexpected maintenance that’s based on weather or other environmental factors. Utilities can address the first with predictive maintenance. That alone can reduce costs by 15% – 20%, improve asset availability by up to 20% and extend the lives of assets by years. For unplanned events, utilities can use weather data and predictive capabilities to better understand where the storm damage is likely to be. Then the appropriate crew levels and skills can prepare to be dispatched to the right locations. They’re ready to respond more quickly to improve restoration time.

From restore to prescriptive

Restoring service is critical, but beyond that, restoring the most critical circuits that feed hospitals, police, fire, commercial operations and large sub-divisions can be assessed and prioritized for the highest impact.  For example, mobile apps equipped with remote assistance and AI guidance can help crews restore service faster.

Use insights for smarter, operational workflows

Utilities are continuously under pressure to achieve better outcomes at a lower cost. Now, they can use advanced technologies to generate insights. When these insights are mapped back into the operational workflows and translated to work orders, materials and crew adjustments, then organizations can contain costs, improve the customer experience, and improve safety. Utilities have never had insights like this before, nor have they ever needed them more. Yet it’s how they are able to drive a smarter business.

If you’d like to learn more, please join our webinar on how to drive innovation in energy and utilities. It’s all about reducing operating costs, attracting and retaining talent, improving customer engagement and increasing worker safety. And learn more about IBM services for intelligent connected operations and solutions for asset performance management and vegetation management.

Ensure efficient and reliable equipment operations

Insights from connected assets and untapped data sources are critical to understanding the preventive, predictive, and prescriptive actions needed to maintain equipment, optimize performance, and avoid downtime. Fortunately, IBM possesses the essential combination of software, services, and industry expertise to build intelligent workflows that respond to rapidly changing conditions. Wherever you are in your digital journey, we will partner with you to deliver the AI-powered insights and consultative services required for more resilient business operations. We invite you to speak with one of our industry experts.


About the author: Terry Saunders is the IBM Worldwide Utilities Industry Leader. In this role, he focuses on generation, transmission and distribution for electric, gas and water, and helps customers solve their business problems. Working with a variety of global teams, Terry also helps manage strategy and direction of the Utilities product portfolio, works with Product Design Architecture teams, and the Development and Support group to ensure quality and customer satisfaction. Additionally, Terry manages strategy and direction of the Maximo for Utilities Industry solution to align products and services in support of the Intelligent Utility Network (Smart Grid). Prior to this role, he led the product development for Maximo for Utilities, and has also worked in a variety of marketing and product roles before joining IBM. Terry holds a Master of Science from Boston University.


1 “IDC Manufacturing Insights: Transforming Asset Management at the Edge,” Reid Paquin, IDC, April 2019, https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US44976019



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