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Transforming the SysOp

Strategic pain points require an artful approach.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2008

required skills and behaviors. System operations as a whole is moving into a more automated and application-centric environment, and away from paper-based/manual processes.

The future system operator skills will include established computer competencies and adaptability to new technologies. There will be a need to demonstrate electrical operating capabilities and critical thinking through certification. Moreover, systems operators must be able to demonstrate analytical skills needed to prevent disruptions, as well as the ability to quickly utilize applications to retrieve and process information.

In essence, these are all cultural changes that require a utility to evaluate its desired behaviors, performance measures, and competencies to enhance this job profile. To achieve this, utilities must conduct a gap assessment to determine the level of change that will affect its workforce, and design a transition plan to realign skills with its desired future state. With a specific plan and target established, utilities then can begin shaping their workforce to meet these new and pressing demands.

The second step is to focus on learning and knowledge management. At each utility, there is still a significant level of knowledge and experience that exists among employees. This expertise is invaluable to the operations of the utility, but there are challenges to retrieving this information from a technological, cultural, and learning standpoint. These challenges become critical when utilities face a potential loss in skills and experience in the face of an aging workforce. For system operations, operating information, which can be unique and intrinsic, is particularly important. Since the tolerance for operating errors is low due to the potential for serious impacts on the electric grid, utilities are considering a combination of learning-management and knowledge-management solutions.

Learning management encompasses the capability to assess needs, and then design, develop, deliver, administer, and integrate performance into the learning of a company’s workforce needs. With learning needs increasing through the drivers previously mentioned, enhancing a utility’s learning program can address greater demands in this area. Utilities with ad hoc training programs will find addressing these external demands costly and challenging due to lack of repeatable, performance-based learning-management processes. In an environment in which certification is a significant driver, establishing defined learning standards is not only warranted but essential.

A good learning-management program entails a few key factors. First, utilities will establish curriculums and training programs that are executed on a consistent basis. Consistency with respect to how learning materials are designed and how students are evaluated against business needs is important to learning effectiveness. In addition, the overall program of the learning organization will be tied to business-performance measures or results. In a program that requires employees to maintain high levels of competency and performance, these factors are important to ensure utilities are maximizing their value for investments made.

Knowledge management is the process by which an organization identifies, creates, manages, and delivers information to enhance workforce performance. The purpose of knowledge management is to provide information gathered from individuals, best practices, clients, competitors, and other sources into a format that individuals can use to improve productivity and work quality. However, there can be