Utilities must act now to retain knowledge 

The Australian utilities sector faces an information black hole within a decade unless it works to retain the knowledge of its ageing workforce, Esri global director for utilities and geographic information systems (GIS) specialist, Bill Meehan told the Smart Electricity World conference in Melbourne in June.

Mr Meehan said the industry needed to invest in systems that would preserve the experience and knowledge of the thousands of staff expected to retire in the near future.

“For utilities, having a stable knowledge infrastructure is as much an asset as the actual pipes, wires and hardware of the electrical system,” Mr Meehan said.

“With so many workers leaving the industry at once, imagine all the wisdom and analytic power that could be lost.”

The warning reflected an Australian ElectroComms and Energy Utilities Industry Skills Council report, released in April, which cited demand for technical knowledge and skills among the sector’s top five workforce development challenges for this year.

Mr Meehan said an Enterprise GIS was the most effective way to capture and redistribute existing knowledge and address the looming shortage.

“Energy utilities have traditionally used GIS to store asset records and produce clearer maps of their electrical system – now the technology is being applied as an enterprise-wide framework for knowledge retention and capture,” Mr Meehan said.

“Enterprise GIS can capture observations and predictive information, collect data from various sources and help utility staff make better risk predictions and decisions; the same way staff with 50 years of experience might make decisions.

“GIS can document data sources and run, analyse and produce results in the easily understandable form of a map.

“It also makes knowledge traceable so you can see how and why decisions were made.

“The key is to have these models developed, validated and supplemented by experienced workers before they leave, so utilities can truly build a knowledge infrastructure.”

Mr Meehan said GIS-based knowledge infrastructure would also play a key role in smart grid, a strategy to transform Australia’s electric power grid with advanced commun?ications, automated controls and other forms of information technology.

“I ran the electric operations for a power company several years ago,” Mr Meehan said.

“Things regularly went wrong and I spent much of my time going from one crisis to another.

“To be successful in adopting strategies such as smart grid, utilities must institutionalise their workforce’s knowledge.”