Inside the Alden Conference: Utility Professionals Come Together for Real Talk

Posted by Ashley Little on September 13, 2022

What happens when you gather together with joint use professionals and utility industry leaders and give them an open forum to share ideas and speak frankly?

At the 2022 Alden Conference, we came together with asset owners, attachers, and engineering and service firms to discuss common challenges as well as opportunities to work better together. During the conference, Alden One users networked with colleagues, and learned about how utilizing the platform’s features translates into time savings.

  • Structure owners discovered how to maximize their staffing resources to keep up with increasing workloads;
  • attachers learned how they can speed up their time to market;
  • and engineering and service firms found out how to increase revenue.

The most exciting part was what happened when we asked this question: How can we start working better together? This simple question revealed that joint use stakeholders have more to agree upon than meets the eye.

The Challenges of Joint Use Represent an Opportunity, Not an Obstacle

We all know that utility stakeholders are being asked to do more than ever before to meet increasing 5G demands. And it’s not just volume that is ramping up: it’s the complexity of projects, requiring more intimate coordination with more entities involving new modes of technology.

Despite the diverse aims, there’s a lot of common ground among structure owners, attachers, and service firms. Each would like the other to standardize more processes to help ensure accountability and accuracy, with the aim of keeping projects on time, while improving safety.

Establishing that everyone in attendance shared a common interest was key to understanding each stakeholder’s role in joint use collaboration. It’s important to acknowledge what is working well. For example, structure owners and service firms both reported appreciating how attachers are the bridge to connecting communities. And structure owners and attachers place a high value on the professionalism and preparedness that many service firms contribute to their projects. Meanwhile, structure owners were appreciated for establishing standards and procedures, while extending mutual trust to partners.

Real Talk, Real Solutions

Clarity and time are of the essence. Attendees communicated that making even a few small adjustments can be the difference between a frustrated partner and a successful collaboration that fulfills regulatory guidelines and meets expected timelines and safety standards.

Have you ever wondered what could improve your interactions with the companies you work with?

At the conference, we asked each party – asset owners, attachers, and engineering/service firms – to list one thing that the other could improve and then come up with suggested actions that could help. Below is a summary of responses.

Structure Owners

Participants shared that they need owners to take steps to decrease misunderstandings. Examples included providing more clarity around the scope and timeline of a project, providing more accurate records, and offering more flexibility when the job called for it.

  1. When advising of larger projects (beautification project for example) provide as much detail as possible up front – scope, where, when, and timeline. Provide updates – even if to say everything is still on track.
  2. Provide single Point of Contact – if different contact for different regions have it posted somewhere – or share where it is posted.
  3. If asset data is provided, try to have it as accurate as possible.

Suggested actions:

  • Perform more regular attachment inventories.
  • Share current construction standards with stakeholders.
  • Hold touch point meetings with outside contractors.
  • Provide accountability with a single point of contact for all parties.

When it comes to this group, the refrain that echoed was to improve adherence to codes and achieve better response times, whether returning communications or rectifying a safety issue. It was generally acknowledged that staffing turnover often contributed to the need for more context around project standards.

  1. Adherence to contract terms
  2. When using contractors, make sure they are aware of asset owners’ permitting and construction requirements – ultimately the attacher is responsible for the actions of its contractors.
  3. Attend or be represented at field visits, project meetings, etc. Do not be the one to say, ‘I wasn’t aware’ or worse ‘No one told me.’
  4. When there is turnover, provide contact information on all sides of the project.

Suggested actions:

  • Provide a central place for communicating pertinent information.
  • Also provide a single point of contact.
Engineering and Service Firms

A recurring theme in most comments centered on communication. We heard requests for firms to be clearer about where they seek to attach to avoid post-inspection issues and just to be clearer in general, whether with internal communications or in clarifying requirements. This was the same as attachers when representing the attaching company, and same as asset owners when representing them.

Suggested actions:

  • Deliver online real-time updates. Some examples: If there is a delay, advise “the whys” of the delay. Advise as quickly as possible if there is a change in scope.
  • Avoid buried emails and increase visibility.
  • Communicate about upcoming projects when coordinating with asset owners.
  • Post all correspondence in one place.

It’s clear that almost all users reported the need for a single source of truth that gets (and keeps) all parties on the same page.

At Alden, we believe in creating better communities through better infrastructure. When industry stakeholders come together to ask the right questions, we can begin to elevate the conversation about joint use challenges and begin to seek actual solutions. The interactions from our conference indicate that improved collaboration among all joint use stakeholders is not just a lofty aim, but rather an achievable goal.

It’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sometimes, that step is simply to listen and understand first. Let's keep the conversation going – send us your thoughts or questions today. We are listening.

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