As projects become more complex, more advanced tools are needed, like special software that prevents crew downtime, repeat visits, and data loss. Today, technologies can do even more: they can support vendors and companies in transforming their businesses and drive organizations toward innovation and digitization.
For utility vendors or municipalities, choosing the right software can be overwhelming. What kind of project management software do you select when so many different options are available?
Should a company go with generic software designed for all industries or look for a solution tailored toward utility projects?
Should they choose a subscription model like Fieldman is offering or pay for a license? Could this tool be free and help municipalities and utility vendors minimize spending? And the most important question is would this software, app, or platform really work?
Let's take a closer look at the three types of project management software available on the market.
Free (or almost free) generic project management platformsThere are around two dozen generic project management apps and platforms. For teams who have never used project management software before or have limited resources, the best way to get started is to try one. These types of online collaborative apps are designed for all kinds of projects, from bathroom remodeling to creating marketing campaigns.
Everyone working on a specific project can log in and see what they're supposed to do and when. These employees also record their progress on their allocated tasks and add relevant information. With the appropriate permission level, people can also see what everyone else is doing, what requirements must be met for them to get them done, and when.
The very best project management apps detect problems before they happen. By tracking the progress of work and individual tasks, project management apps can display a notification when a deadline is in danger of slipping before it actually happens.
The most powerful project management apps can automatically reflow the project schedule when tasks fall off course. They can also generate reports that give managers insights into which field workers have too much or too little work assigned to them.
We believe these apps can be helpful for planning modestly sized electric or water meter deployment projects, where a municipality has to locate, select, and purchase new meters, get a vendor involved who would replace them, and notify residents about the project.
Most of these free products offer introductory trials or have a basic version that does not require monthly payments. Some apps are free for a few users and offer paid subscriptions for larger teams.
Experts review these apps on a yearly basis. The most respected IT media outlets that publish such reviews are PC magazine and Cloudwards. In a recent chart of the best project management apps by Cloudwards, the top performers are Monday.com and Asana.
The most popular and awarded project management solution, but the free plan doesn't have a lot of features.
One of the best platforms on the market, with a great free plan for beginners.
Inexpensive and durable project management software.
One of the oldest platforms with excellent reporting features.
Ideal for Agile project management and admired by developers.
The best kanban platform, but with scalability issues.
Has the great Gantt tool but is a bit expensive.
All these apps are great as introductions to project management software. For utility projects, field workers are often required to collect large volumes of specific data, like old meter serial numbers and new meter numbers, and the best field software should have an exact workflow for this type of job with the ability to accumulate all meter data.
License-based software for utility projects
The second category of software is created specifically for mobile workforce management for utility field projects and gives companies visibility into all operations across the back office, dispatch centers, and workers in the field. Most utility vendors have been relying on this kind of software for years.
The oldest and best-known software in this field is Clevest. Established in 2002 by Canadian entrepreneur Thomas Ligocki, it was acquired by Swedish corporation IFS in 2020. IFS is known for developing and delivering software for customers from manufacturers to distributors, has a team of 4,000 employees, and serves more than 10,000 customers. According to a press release, IFS's intent was to enter the utility field service market by adding Clevest to its portfolio.
As Thomas Ligocki said in an official statement, "We will undoubtedly be able to offer the best [...] solutions on the market. It also brings new opportunities and clear benefits to Clevest partners and customers as they seek new ways to scale globally.”
IFS — Clevest is recognized software that has been around for twenty years. When it was first released, it had a unique IT solution and offered a customizable field workflow. The software can take a photo of an old meter, collect meter readings, replace the old meter with a new one, and, finally, collect the meter ID. We believe that Clevest made a huge impact on the industry, shaped the way vendors approach meter exchange projects and established high standards for vendors' IT teams.
EnsightPlus is another license-based field project management software for utilities. It started as an IT division at Utility Partners of America, a utility vendor based in South Carolina, where the IT team created in-house software for field projects. In 2016, this software became available to everyone else in the utility industry. EnsightPlus is an ambitious company with a passion for helping utility vendors with their digital transformations. EnsightPlus uses the Clevest-IFS path by offering a customizable workflow and tracking each step of the meter exchange prosses.
Both Clevest-IFS and EnsightPlus offer a well-known, license-based pricing model. After signing a contract, clients pay a yearly fee for the software and are usually required to purchase a license per user. For example, if a project requires ten field workers, a vendor would have to purchase a license for each of them. Both the software solutions have basic, ready-to-use field workflows, and if a client wants to make changes, they can be applied by a company IT team at an additional cost.
Cloud-based platforms for utility projects
Around 2010, the IT industry underwent a fundamental change when leaders like Amazon, IBM, and Google created public cloud services. Today, we all use cloud services to store photos, emails, and streaming videos on demand. It affected FPM software for utility projects as well.
It all started in 2006 when Amazon launched Amazon Web Services and Google introduced Google Docs services. In 2007, Netflix introduced its cloud-based streaming video service. Later, a few universities, including The University of Washington, MIT, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon, signed up to use resources provided by IBM and Google and learned that computer experiments could be done faster and for less money.
New technology has allowed customers to pay significantly less for IT services.
Mass migration to the cloud had begun. By 2020, most leading IT players didn't have an option but to recreate software offerings for the cloud. Typically, this is a very time-consuming and massively expansive project. Imagine you have to settle into a new house and leave all your belongings behind. Most significantly, you are supposed to build a new house, but you can’t use a ready-to-build plan; rather, you have to create a custom-made design by hiring an architect.
This is very similar to software migration to the cloud - companies have to code new platforms from scratch. Due to the cost, migration has been very challenging for medium and small IT software providers.
Deloitte predicted that revenue growth from cloud services will remain at or above 2019 levels (i.e., greater than 30%) for 2021 through 2025 as companies move to the cloud to save money, become more agile, and drive innovation.
Fieldman platform was created in 2020, and our software has been cloud-based since the beginning. We didn't have to rewrite code, build a new house, and relocate all existing projects. Fieldman is like Netflix, which didn’t exist in the pre-cloud era.
Why should the location of software matter for a municipality or utility vendor?
- Cloud costs are considerably lower compared with traditional software.
- The software is scalable, meaning that adding new field workers to a project takes an hour rather than the days required by traditional software.
- There are no additional hidden expenses and no payments for data centers or servers, etc.
The most significant features that cloud platforms are capable of are speed and adaptivity. It is like changing your house style but only taking a few hours instead of weeks of remodeling.
With cloud architecture, changes in a project workflow can be done in seconds!
Undoubtedly, project management software has changed how businesses and crews achieve their goals, and with the shift from old styles of planning to digitization, new IT solutions are becoming necessary in all companies, including small municipalities, utility vendors, and meter manufacturers.
It doesn't matter which type of software your company chooses; it will be taken to a new level of performance, and team members will appreciate what the right IT tools are capable of.