Scottish and Southern Electricity Network workers stand outside their vehicle
By James McCarthy | October 21, 2020

This Is the Technology That Has Helped Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) Effectively Increase Service Reliability

Rugged tablets provide mobile engineers with the operational visibility and intelligence needed to proactively improve asset performance and expedite asset recovery actions in a highly efficient manner..

Temperatures are rising, the population is growing, physical service areas are expanding and regulations are tightening. Yet, these aren’t the things utilities are most worried about right now. The impacts of these economic, environmental and policy changes are somewhat predictable. They are accounted for in both short-term and long-term planning activities.

Rather, it’s the unpredictable nature of Mother Nature and unforeseeable human behavior that make it hard for utilities to anticipate demand, scale infrastructure and allocate resources in order to improve service reliability, customer satisfaction, compliance and cost control. Major weather events, fires, conflicts, security breaches and public health crises can all have both acute and chronic impacts on utility operations – and none of them can be fully anticipated or mitigated.

Just look at COVID-19. Even utilities with highly-accurate demand forecasting models would not have had the foresight to know that we were on the verge of a global pandemic or exactly how the pandemic would impact local service demand or network reliability over time. Even to this day, we can’t know for sure if residential demand will continue to increase, eventually stabilise or even decline. No one knows if or when people are going to return to pre-pandemic work, school and social activity levels.

If you think about it, utility demand planning is a lot like road planning. You can expand a two-lane road to four lanes based on predictive traffic modeling for five or 10 years from now, but you have no way of knowing if a single event or combination of factors will cause a sudden spike or decline in the local population and, therefore, cause a sudden change in road utilisation or resource requirements. Similarly, we have no way of knowing if our current utility infrastructure can sufficiently support demand during heat waves or withstand hurricane-force winds, until it either does or doesn’t.

While every effort is made to improve service reliability and prevent outages on a daily basis, there are going to be incidents that simply can’t be mitigated. As such, utility engineers must be able to move fast to resolve issues and restore service. That is only possible if they can maintain a real-time view of every asset connected to the network and know, even before they arrive on site, the asset’s model specifications, service history and other details that could influence diagnostic and resolution actions. That’s where rugged tablets come in.

Like many utilities, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has a duty to deliver reliable electrical service to millions of people and businesses each day. Even a single, seemingly small outage can be detrimental to a lot of people, so SSEN is doing everything in its power to both fortify its networks and increase its diagnostic and repair speed and proficiency. It wants to ensure that its workers have the tools and actionable intelligence they need to act fast and minimise service downtime when disruptive events occur.

At the same time, it wants to ensure workers are proactively monitoring asset performance and taking swift, measured actions to address issues that would make equipment more vulnerable to environmental, security and physical threats. Outage prevention is the best way to simultaneously appease customers and regulators and avoid expensive recovery efforts.

But the only way SSEN can effectively manage the 130,000 km of overhead lines and underground cables, 106,000 substations and over 100 subsea cables spread across the north of Scotland and central southern England is if its 4,000+ team members can:

  1. See the status of every asset at all times;
  2. Analyse variations in asset performance alongside fluctuating service demands; and
  3. Act fast, in a coordinated manner, to install, inspect, diagnose, maintain, repair and replace assets as needed based on current and anticipated operating conditions.

So, the utility developed a digital strategy to help accelerate its transition to paperless workflows. Core to that strategy was the use of enterprise-grade rugged tablets by SSEN’s field technicians, mobile engineers and field service representatives.

Rugged Tablets: The Logical Choice for Logistics Management

Utility asset management has always been a logistical challenge, especially with regards to recovery efforts after a storm, fire or other such disaster. But COVID-19 has further complicated the issue by introducing social distancing requirements, increasing the number of tickets related to service restoration after months of business closures and, to a certain extent, reducing labor availability.

Fortunately, now that SSEN has equipped its field teams with rugged tablets, they can now access asset performance reports, live-status dashboards, work orders and other operational intelligence both in the field and at home. This enables workers to start planning out their service strategies before they even arrive on site, which helps to speed up time to resolution and allow for more jobs to be completed each day, thus improving overall network performance. In fact, SSEN has seen a boost in operational efficiency since deploying the 1,300 Zebra L10 Android™ rugged tablets and enhanced flexibility, which has been particularly valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When using the Zebra L10 tablet alongside operational apps and software, technicians, engineers and field service representatives can now go straight to the customer site without first visiting the depot. This reduces mileage and the potential risk of road traffic accidents, enabling faster resolution of issues and outages which ultimately improves the customer experience.

One Rugged Tablet = Two Goals Achieved

I’m often asked by customers how to quantify the return on investment (ROI) for rugged tablets and other mobility solutions. Though the precise calculations will vary by organization, it boils down to individual goals. For SSEN, we had two objectives:

  1. Improve worker efficiency and accuracy in order to improve network uptime and service reliability.
  2. Improve the quality of our customer service.

After field testing numerous mobility solutions, SSEN was able to validate the benefits of the Zebra L10 rugged tablet for a number of different applications in challenging work environments. In turn, the utility started seeing a ROI for this technology solution on day one. Technicians now have the ability to:

  • Navigate straight to job sites without having to divert back to the depot for work orders or equipment each time
  • Leverage GIS mapping tools, even when offline, which helps when securing access agreements with landowners
  • Access asset management, inspection and maintenance apps from anywhere in order to view network designs, detailed equipment schematics and task checklists
  • Submit and review reports from anywhere

All of this will help to reduce SSEN’s carbon emissions and improve the customer experience. It is also positioning SSEN to achieve even greater economies of scale with its current workforce and infrastructure as service demands increase. With field teams having the ability to perform at higher productivity levels, it will naturally become easier to react to various network events with speed and accuracy, whether caused by the anticipated uptick in customer growth or a completely unpredictable crisis. It is very likely that the costs that SSEN will incur in such efforts will start to decline – beyond the eliminated paper expenses. Increased operational visibility lends itself to more strategic planning and well-coordinated execution of both proactive and reactive tasks, and that improves overall utilization of labor, inventory and financial resources.


Want to know more about SSEN’s goals and digital strategy? Curious about why the utility selected the Zebra L10 Android rugged tablet-based solution instead of one of other 19 tablets it evaluated? Read the full story:

Powering the Move to the Distribution Network of the Future

Editor's Note:

Interested in learning more about the Zebra L10 rugged tablet or how rugged mobilty solutions can help you improve your field-based operations? Check out these articles:

Energy and Utilities, Corporate Social Responsibility,
James McCarthy
James McCarthy

James McCarthy is currently a Senior Account Manager within the new markets team where he is responsible for driving innovations created by Zebra Technologies into new verticals, such as the utilities and energy sector. James has more than 10 years of experience with field mobility & asset visibility solutions and has spent many years working to develop new market opportunities outside of Zebra’s more traditional focus areas. 

Zebra Developer Blog
Zebra Developer Blog

Are you a Zebra Developer? Find more technical discussions on our Developer Portal blog.

Zebra Story Hub
Zebra Story Hub

Looking for more expert insights? Visit the Zebra Story Hub for more interviews, news, and industry trend analysis.

Search the Blog
Search the Blog

Use the below link to search all of our blog posts.