Natural calamities challenge businesses and create problems with customer experience (CX). How can a utility demonstrate the desired experience attributes such as speed, quality, consistency, and so on at the same or even at a higher level after a catastrophe?
Following a winter that saw record-breaking bomb cyclones in the northern Pacific. and the biggest snow and ice storms in years on the Atlantic coast, tornado season is now ramping up in the U.S. Scientists predict that the 2021 season will be more severe and cause higher levels of destruction due to La Niña. In mid-March, severe storms already caused tornados and power outages for thousands of people in southern states.
Utilities cannot wait for a storm to check for their readiness. They owe it to their customers to make themselves more weather resilient by regularly testing the software, systems, and processes that are crucial for reacting to and solving problems in a timely manner. When utilities take a proactive approach to weather resilience through storm readiness testing, it leads to several major benefits for consumers, and most importantly, it saves lives.
Designing for Resilience
Power outages translate to severe monetary losses for businesses. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the annual cost of outages to the economy is around $150 billion. Even more crucial is keeping important medical technologies running, particularly as many of those recovering from COVID-19 are reliant on home oxygen equipment. Every minute counts in an outage situation. Preparing systems and processes to be resilient is critical for utilities to prove their customer commitment.
In the new world of advanced grid power systems, smart meters, and hyper-personalized technology interfaces for communication, collaboration, and control, utilities must plan for resilience as they build out systems. They must also continuously test for readiness for any kind of adversity. Designing the hardware, software, and other interfaces for availability, reliability, robustness, safety, security, and survivability is important.
While no system can be 100% resilient, it should always be at a level that is acceptable to consumers. The resilience levels of individual components of the utilities vary. The same applies to the resilience levels for processes. Designing and testing the logical units of utilities for resilience is a fundamental requirement for protecting customers from adversities when something goes wrong.
Testing for Resilience
Understanding the system architecture, system and user scenarios, customer interface points, and the various forms of data/control exchanges are basic requirements for resilience testing. If any of the system components does not survive a momentary outage, that is a defect that needs to be addressed.
When organizations have a mix of legacy and new systems that are built using cloud and on-premise technologies, testing becomes very complex. Developers do not generally test for extreme scenarios when they build. It is important to conduct specialized testing that verifies the readiness of applications when adversities strike. Feeding back the findings to the core development and maintenance activities will help institutionalize resilience in the design itself.
It’s equally important to also test the critical communication processes. People affected by an outage want reliable estimates of how long it will take to get back online. In some cases, the maximum length of downtime is even written into local government regulations or service agreements with business customers. When utilities generate reliable outage maps, people can make plans based on how long the outage in their area is projected to last. News agencies often also use the outage maps generated by utilities in news broadcasts. If those outage maps are unreliable or incorrect, then faulty information spreads. Storm readiness testing helps a utility to understand where there may be bottlenecks or faults in a system that can cause information chains to break down.
Customers do not exist for the benefit of the utilities. It’s the other way around. Utilities owe it to customers to make sure that power transmission and distribution systems—as well as the processes that handle repair orders and both internal and external communications—are ready as storm seasons approach.
—Anbu Muppidathi is the president and CEO (designate) of Qualitest Group, the world’s largest pure-play software quality engineering company.