Paperless and Efficient: The Future of the Energy Industry
By Bill Stomp, Digital Dispatcher
The energy industry is in the midst of a digital renaissance, thanks to the union of mobile devices and real-time intelligence.
The latter enables providers of propane, butane and home heating oil to streamline operations, save money and transform the way they do business.
I refer, specifically, to that elusive ideal known as – that seemingly too-good-to-be-true promise of – the paperless office, where drivers can deliver and confirm receipt of (by individual clients) fuel, sign online files and seamlessly upload their workflow without printing a single document.
I know these words may sound familiar, since predictions about the legendary paperless office date back almost 40-years to this article in Business week, published on June 30, 1975, where the writer forecasts the decline in the use of paper to occur in 1980 and its elimination to arrive no later than 1990.
What the piece misses – and what the author fails to imagine – is the rise of wireless communications, cloud-based computing and the commercialization of the Internet.
Indeed, all of these things would strike the reader of 1975 as implausible if not impossible because, in the absence of touch screens (minus some cinematic interpretations in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) and geosynchronous technology, the closest thing to a “mobile phone” would have been the bulky 5-pound “handie talkie” from Motorola®; the hand-held radio transceiver that soldiers used to call for reinforcements on the battlefields of Europe and Vietnam.
And yet, the devices of today – the affordable and durable Android smartphones and tablets, which tens of millions of workers use all the time – allow the fuel delivery business to be a model of speed, accuracy and heightened customer satisfaction. They make the energy industry a real-life example of the paperless office.
I issue this statement based on experience, not conjecture, where, in my role as Vice President of Digital Dispatcher, I provide business owners with the resources to see where and why their drivers are where they are, at any given moment, for any given reason.
A point of reassurance to those concerned about technology as the enabler of Big Brother: Far from monitoring a worker from some eye in the sky, reducing that individual to nothing more than a flashing red or green icon, real-time intelligence is about two-way communications; it is about the exchange of information, to help a driver deliver fuel with greater ease, rewarding those workers who are most productive, while providing aid to those delayed by conditions beyond their control – traffic, bad weather, vehicle problems, accidents and other unexpected events.
In this situation, a business owner can see – in all its intricate detail, on his smartphone or tablet – the multitude of routes his drivers cover. He can see where a stalled driver is in relation to workers with parallel paths, who can rapidly assist a fellow employee and make an on-time delivery to a commercial or residential client.
The Convenience Factor: Real-Time Intelligence in Your Hand or Pocket
The overriding theme to this discussion is one of cooperation, strengthened by off-the-shelf devices and innovative applications.
Gone, however, are two things: Orders for more of those proverbial “bricks,” expensive (and thus, financially difficult to replace) pieces of hardware that, with the passage of time, are as antiquated as the handie-talkie of more than a half-century ago.
And secondly, banished is the tedium of manually typing and saving paper receipts from so many drivers.
This broken system, which is totally reactive, requires business owners to review a week’s worth of deliveries or a month-long period of activity – driver by driver, and client by client – and address a question real-time intelligence can answer in seconds: Do I have the right number of workers making the right number of deliveries, so I can expand existing routes and broaden my operations?
This information is but a tap away, available by using a smartphone or tablet.
In this reality, images and intelligence abound – with nary a scrap of paper to be found.
Welcome to an energy industry reborn.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Bill Stomp is Vice President of Digital Dispatcher (www.digitaldispatcher.com), a wireless dispatch solution for optimizing routes, real-time inventory tracking, point-of-sale invoicing, flat rate billing, and more.