Blog · 18 Dec 2020

Why upgrading your electricity control room needs to be a 2021 priority

A modern control room maximises safety, supports customer satisfaction and increases efficiency by enabling operators to react quickly.

When I walk into a traditional electricity utility control room I usually see a bunch of radios and phones on a desk, with operators trying to juggle between them, at the same time as keeping an eye on their Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system.

They’re using relatively basic kit that’s been around for years and their back-up systems are a couple of emergency mobile phones.

So it makes sense that people often think the main reason I recommend an upgrade is to streamline the mass of phones and radios. But they couldn’t be more wrong; it goes far beyond that. A modern control room gets right to the heart of what matters to the electricity industry, with a direct impact on the metrics that the regulator uses to determine revenue: reliability and availability, customer satisfaction and safety.

Transforming comms boosts reliability and availability

A modern control room brings together radio, phone and collaboration systems, putting better communications in place. And those better communications translate directly into better availability and faster fixes.

In an updated control room, when operators detect an issue on their SCADA system or their work force management and security systems, or from another information feed, they can react immediately. I was visiting a control room recently when the operators were alerted to an equipment failure, so I got to see the system in action. The coordination was amazing: the operators were in touch with the field repair engineers on one line, helping to guide them to the site. And at the same time they were sending extra support crews, sourcing the supplies needed for the repair, and conferencing in experts to advise on the best course of action.

The operators could respond so quickly because they had all the information they needed in one place – a single pane of glass view that meant they had an overview and could prioritise the tasks coming at them. Radio dispatch, taking phone calls, making video calls, crisis management tools, collaboration tools, information feeds, alarms, CCTV were all pulled together into one display, giving actionable information to support informed decisions on critical issues in real time.

Thanks to this streamlined view, the operators had a clear understanding of what was happening on the ground, they knew what teams were available to help at all times, and everyone in the team had visibility of how the situation was being managed.

Keeping customers informed pays off

I often find that electricity providers underestimate the impact better comms in the control room have on customer satisfaction levels. It all comes back to my point about operators having the most up to date picture of what’s going on in the network. The more current their information, the better customers can be updated, and a customer who feels informed tends to be more satisfied – even if it’s bad news. A modern control room lets operators update other systems (such as in your customer contact centre) in near real time, meaning the business will always have answers for customers. 

Communications are key to safety

I also want to flag up the strong relationship between good communications and safety. Better information and alerts pulled together into a coherent picture support safety in two ways. Firstly, they make it easy for operators to monitor weather conditions and give engineering teams plenty of warning about weather fronts that could make working dangerous. And secondly, better communications mean faster responses to situations where engineers may need help. When protecting your workforce is so important, communication can make all the difference.

Building an electricity control room for the future

At BT, we understand the importance of being able to totally rely on your communications systems, so we take out the risk to give you complete peace of mind. We’re used to responsibility; we provide 999 (911 in the USA) systems for the whole of the UK. And we’re at home in the electricity industry; we already work with some of the top electricity companies in the world, as well as another 70 utility companies globally.

To find out more about how we could transform your control room communications, get in touch with your account manager.