Why now is a better time than ever to use consultants
September 8, 2020
Tracy Rolstad

In uncertain times, it’s critical for utilities to maintain stable operations, reliable service and strong revenues without increased overhead. Between today’s challenges of adapting to remote work scenarios, managing the grid impacts of inclement weather and looking out for the people we care about at work and at home, just keeping the lights on is enough to keep utility managers up at night.

So how do utilities tackle pressing issues like investigating the cause of a breaker failure, or staying on track with their technology evolution plan without overwhelming their staff with skill sets that may not be a core need down the road?

Bottom-line considerations

Often utilities can leverage consultants to deliver difficult or uncommon scopes at a fraction of the cost of acquiring the skills required to perform the work internally. Consultants have specialized skills that take time to acquire and might seldom be needed by the utility. Using consultants allows the utility flexibility to save money and invest in growing staff skills when and where they really need it.

In many cases, consultants are like spinning reserves; expertise available at the flip of a switch. Whereas hiring an FTE is more like engaging generation that must ramp up. A consultant will hit the ground running and is project-focused. A new hire may need training and time to acclimate to their new environment. And, consultants provide that extra capability when you need it, but cost you nothing when you don’t.

Another benefit of using consultants is their access to and experience with industry software (PSS/E, PowerWorld, PSLF, DIgSILENT, PSCAD, for example). Consultants have a stable of industry-standard software tools, and decades of experience using them. Engaging a consultant means you don’t have to buy and then learn software that may not be aligned with your core business.

Offering a different perspective

Vendor-neutral consulting firms support multiple vendors’ software and equipment. Utilities can turn to vendor-neutral consultants for help in specification development, road-mapping, and implementation of a variety of technologies.  This can be extremely valuable given that FTEs may have a bias toward using what they know. End-users like system operators have critical insight about issues with their existing platform and often have a good idea of the functions and features they’d like to see. But they are often too busy maintaining their own system to stay abreast of other solutions in the market, let alone develop skills in technology their utility hasn’t adopted. A knowledgeable consultant can weigh feedback from end-users against what other solutions are available off the shelf, as well as what customizations can be made to achieve the desired end-state. Often, the consultant can help implement those customizations as well.

For more unique and challenging projects, a consultant with a global worldview can bring lessons learned and best practices that others cannot. Even if the challenge is novel within your footprint or region, it is likely that a global consultant has seen and solved similar issues elsewhere. Engaging a consultant with an international scope affords you the confidence of global best practice.

Extra horsepower when, where and how you need it

While it’s true that consultants help utilities save time and money by providing “on-call” expertise that would otherwise take serious effort to acquire, they can also provide strategic guidance to help utilities develop longer-term strategies.

Whether you engage them for a niche project or bring them on as a strategic advisor, at the end of the day, a consultant’s job is to make your life easier. They are professionals – often folks who have worked directly within a utility, and they can help you get the results you need at a high value.

Finally, consultants are at their best when helping clients solve complex problems, and right now is a time they can add value more than ever before.

Let us know if you’d like to continue the conversation.