From OMS to DMS: Is Technology Replacing Common Sense?

Technology has done a lot of great things for restoration managers. We now know when customers are out of service before they call in.  We have a general idea of where the outages are, and an initial prediction of what device is involved. We can make automated outbound calls to customers, providing them with up-to-date information.  We can show the location of outages, and where the crews are working on our websites.

It’s all made possible by mobile computing, Smart Grid, Outage Management Systems (OMS), Distribution Management Systems (DMS), Workforce Management Systems, GIS and SCADA interfacing with OMS – it’s a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms, with many uses of the word ‘management’ and ‘systems.’  But is it really management? Can a computer program or system “manage” anything?

Anyone who has ever used a computer for anything other than a paperweight knows what computer programs are good for.  They can receive, organize, manipulate, output and transmit information.  They can process all that information faster and more accurately than a boatload of bean counters.  It’s all very digital and very hip. But until we perfect robots with Artificial Intelligence and great people skills, computer programs will never be able to manage anybody or anything.

Management involves the interlocking functions of formulating corporate policy, and organizing, planning, controlling, and directing the firm’s resources to achieve the policy’s objectives.

None of this is news. So why are we concerned?  Well, you have to wonder if we have started to rely on these wonderful “management systems” so much that in the final analysis, we’re losing our ability to use common sense.

Let’s face it, who hasn’t experienced an OMS system crash or slowdown, just when you needed it the most?  Who hasn’t said to themselves, “These numbers can’t be right,” as the percentage of customers out of service climbed over 50%?

Or try dealing with a customer service system that crashes during an event. Customer Service Reps can’t enter critical data received from customers; that prevents outage information from being relayed back to those customers.  Soon you have a customer relations crisis on your hands and the utility regulators are knocking on your door.

When they work as they are supposed to work, Information Technology systems provide the data inputs faster and more conveniently than any analog system. And given that the workforce continues to shrink, it’s unimaginable to even consider conducting our work without them.

But these systems cannot replace the decision making and sound judgment calls that only experienced restoration managers can provide:

  • When to pull the trigger on requesting additional resources
  • Where to deploy resources when you have only so much to go around (prioritization decisions)
  • When to stop using the automatically generated estimated restoration times

So, as usual, EPP has some questions for the Compleat Restoration Planner:

  • Are your outage statistics really any better than they used to be?
  • What’s your plan in the event technology fails?
  • Is there a manual back-up to the system(s)?
  • Who is still around that remembers how to do things manually?
  • How often do your drills and exercises test your people’s critical thinking skills, analytical skills, chairmanship, and practical street knowledge?
  • Are we relying too much on the systems, expecting them to provide us with the answer? Or does it still come down to plain old common sense?

“Common sense is the measure of the possible; it is composed of experience and prevision; it is calculation applied to life.”

-Henri Frederic Amiel, 1876 – Swiss philosopher, poet and critic

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