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Transforming the SysOp

Strategic pain points require an artful approach.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2008

challenges in information management due to a lack of established knowledge-transition planning, governance, and culture for knowledge collaboration. In addition, it will be important to maintain consistency of data-feed formats, from internal and external sources as they move through their departments. To build a holistic framework, knowledge management considers five major components:

Content Management (How is information collected and managed?)

Collaboration and Network Management (How is information shared and what are the vehicles for collaboration?)

Content and Storage Architecture (How is the information stored?)

Measurement, Incentives and Operations (What types of enablers are in place to sustain continuous knowledge sharing and contribution?)

Delivery Mechanisms (How is the information accessed?)

In the end, utilities can better position the alignment and transformation of its system operations workforce by effectively utilizing learning- and knowledge-management practices. “Continuous development and sharpening of operator skills must be a priority focus for companies to succeed, given the changing environment of power system management,” Detmers says.

Third, utilities need a strategic approach to recruitment and retention. Depending on the utility or discipline ( e.g., transmission versus distribution), the role of the system operator can vary from physical to virtual ( i.e., computer-oriented), particularly with increased emphasis on customers. This changes the profile of the system operator, and may drive different demographics for recruitment.

There also are significant cost components associated with this undertaking. For example, a utility’s investment in apprenticeship programs is substantial and likely to become more complex and costly in the future. If a utility decides to change its recruitment strategy, it might want to jointly develop a plan through labor partnerships to permit a smoother transition. Utilities also may want to establish a change-management program to align cultural differences associated with the integration between the old and new workforce. In addition, companies will need to work with their labor and human-resource specialists to reassess minimal skill requirements for entry-level positions, compensation structure, and the recruitment strategy for determining how to best fill future positions.

In addition to recruitment, retaining personnel represents a key part of an overall strategy. This not only maximizes performance, but also ensures an adequate return on investments made in the training of employees. Although utilities typically have lower turnover in their operations areas, there is still a need to evaluate financial and non-financial incentives for retention. A retention program goes beyond compensation and tangible benefits. Career progression should be outlined with attractive growth options into supervisory or leadership positions. And, the workplace should cultivate a sense of collaboration and consistency in business practices that builds trust between leaders and employees.

In recent years, there has been increased emphasis on recruitment and retention in utilities associated with impending workforce shortages. This remains a test area for many utilities, however, and expertise is required. With pending skills and behavior changes, utilities are evaluating whether their existing strategies align with tomorrow’s vision. In addition, utilities are finding their workforce programs need to be flexible so that options are available to an individual employee’s career and personal needs. Having this