A fundamental transformation is occurring in the way we do our work, the skills we need and the expectations of new generations who are fast becoming the majority of our workforce. The competition for talent is fierce, and the skills we are looking for are evolving. Technology is playing a pivotal role in how this unfolds. Digital platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) are creating greater efficiencies, cost savings and new career opportunities. Access to enormous amounts of data are informing how we act, invest and engage.
Amid this rollercoaster of change, agility and speed are essential. At AEP, we are preparing our workforce for the future by providing opportunities to learn new skills and engaging higher education institutions to better prepare the next generation with the skills that will be needed.
The Future of Work
The rise of mobile and wearable technology, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, drones and networks powered by 5G are among the transformational changes that are forever reshaping the workplace and how we do our work. We rely on smart devices to organize our lives, conduct business and do our jobs. Today, these technologies make life easier and are also changing how we do our work.
As our physical and digital worlds converge, we have to innovate more aggressively and constantly transform. At AEP, we are experiencing the disruption and change that come with the need to adapt to this evolving landscape. We now have a multigenerational workforce that prefers alternative work styles and work environments beyond the traditional office. At the same time that the work is changing, the technical and physical skills required to maintain and operate the grid remain critical. Merging these needs requires a core mindset of continuous learning and continuous improvement.
The new demands of our work include implementing process automations and augmenting our systems with digital technologies. We must transform our workforce by helping employees develop the skills needed to accomplish their work using these new digital platforms.
The workplace as we know it today will also transform to accommodate the work of the future. We will adapt our offices and other facilities to accommodate new technology and enable our employees to be more productive and collaborative. We are also rethinking where work is required to be performed by assessing options such as virtual or remote work, and we’re exploring new talent models. For example, we are asking ourselves whether the work can be done more effectively and efficiently through contractors or third parties. This allows us to be more flexible as business needs and skillsets change.
When looking at the future of work, one of the ways our work is changing is through process automation. We use process automation to free up our employees to focus on more complex or valuable tasks, and to reduce error rates and improve standardization of administrative tasks across the company. Tasks frequently selected for process automation include data entry, performing calculations, filling out paperwork and logging in or out of applications.
To socialize the benefits of process automation, a series of work planning strategy sessions were held across AEP. These sessions challenged teams to assess their future needs by asking questions such as: Can we accomplish our work in a different way, and can we get people to think differently about the work that needs to be done?
This socialization resulted in submission of over 150 process automation ideas for consideration in 2018. And, subsequently, a governance structure was established to review and approve the ideas for automation appropriateness and viability.
In 2018, several new process automations were implemented, including:
- Decreasing the turnaround time for assigning customer “No-Bill” events to the appropriate member of the Customer Operations Billing team for further investigation. When customers don’t receive bills, there are financial ramifications for them and for AEP. The “No-Bill” assignment process is done during off business hours prior to when the team starts its day, saving time and resources from having to manually conduct these assignments during work hours.
- Automating the creation of contractor user IDs during the employee and contractor onboarding process. Individuals must be properly credentialed before they can access AEP facilities and critical infrastructure. During 2018, over 3,500 new user IDs were created through process automation, saving time and resources while expediting the process.
We are exploring additional process automation capabilities, including chat bots and other cognitive technologies. Chat bots simulate a conversation with human users – such as between our customers and employees. While still limited to a few specific purposes, this new technology will provide us with additional opportunities for automating some of our most basic and repetitive tasks.