Electric Co-ops & Alden One: A Winning Combination for Joint Use Collaboration
It’s a new year with a familiar story for utility joint use asset management. Asset-owning electric utilities and attaching entities are continuing to undergo significant changes in 2024, influenced by the long-term momentum of market dynamics, advancing technologies, the increasing level of joint use collaboration required to complete projects, and an influx of government funding initiatives to build out broadband in the U.S.
With these far-reaching and unpredictable forces at play, utility asset owners and their joint use partners must find avenues to simplify and improve coordination to tackle demands—and take advantage of new revenue opportunities.
Tom Brandewie, Alden’s Senior Director of Sales, understands the scope of the shifting landscape better than most. With his 15-plus years of experience in the electric utility market, holding a variety of roles focused on engineering as well as software implementation, support, marketing, and sales, he has seen first-hand how old processes don’t always align with the new ways companies must work. Years of listening to customers and learning about their experiences have given Brandewie wisdom—along with strong relationships in the industry. These have allowed him to keep a pulse on the landscape and informed Alden’s strategic direction.
We recently caught up with Brandewie, who looked back at the change drivers leading up to this point and shared his insights on how joint use partners can level up their asset management game this year.
Industry Shifts Support Greater Attention to Safety
Over the years, Brandewie has observed a shift in priorities for electric utilities, especially among electric co-ops that generally operate with a smaller staff. Where there was once less emphasis on proactively coordinating with engineering around NESC and other safety standards on violations, companies now appreciate the value of doing so. “Liability was starting to hit these electric utilities, and some experienced seven-figure payouts,” Brandewie says. Subsequently, incidents like pole failures due to ice storms prompted a change in mindset, with utility asset owners and attachers realizing the importance of better communication to promote strict adherence to safety standards.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for broadband expansion, as citizens in “broadband deserts” were left without adequate access to healthcare and educational services or work-from-home opportunities. The industries involved in deploying equipment and services saw government funding come to fruition with the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. And now, increasing broadband deployment projects supported through BEAD funding are rapidly opening up.
Challenges & Opportunities Faced by Electric Utilities Today
Brandewie explains that this recent broadband expansion adds an additional layer of challenges, requiring utility asset owners and attachers to adapt quickly to ramped-up volume.
“I just heard about a co-op that had a person in place who was previously fine with managing one or two permit-to-attach applications every couple of weeks. Now, she's seeing an increase in the number of permitting applications per month, like three to five times what she's used to. And the volume of each of those requests used to involve 5 to 10 poles in an application, but now it can be 40 to 50.”
Volume plus complexity is creating the perfect storm for asset-owning utilities and attaching companies that now must coordinate field activities at an unprecedented level.
This challenge is perhaps more evident in electric co-ops, where dedicated joint use staff is sparse. “Not only do they often not have a person to do the work that's required of them, but frequently, there’s no one on staff with the necessary expertise. Sometimes they lean on contractors, but what they tend to miss out on is the process of organizing and managing whatever this new requirement is of them,” Brandewie says. Compound this issue with the time it takes to get approval for a new hire from the Board, and it’s easy to see why electric cooperatives need a new solution—yesterday.
As electric co-ops and other utilities move toward meeting these challenges, standardizing processes is even more critical, as is maintaining compliance with regulations. Enter Alden One, a SaaS platform for connecting joint use stakeholders around asset management to streamline processes and enable clear communication inside and outside organizations.
Alden One's Role in Overcoming Operational Challenges
Alden One users collaborate through "Conversations," which refer to all communications among utility stakeholders regarding joint use asset data, relevant processes/workflows, and all other information necessary for a task or project to be completed. Conversation information includes documents, notes, photos, billing/rate information, and contracts.
Using Alden One as a centralized database for all communication allows utility asset owners and attachers to coordinate more efficiently and streamline their joint use asset management processes. Inside Alden One, companies use defined workflows to standardize and automate all kinds of business processes, such as attachment permitting or transfer notices, alleviating some of the management burden that would ordinarily fall to an individual or department, effectively reducing labor hours into minutes and, in some cases, removing the need for a person to touch a task at all.
Key Benefits of Alden One for Electric Cooperatives
For electric co-ops that must coordinate among multiple entities in their area and navigate numerous uncertainties, having a single source of truth, like Alden One, helps provide clarity and control.
Alden One can be even more beneficial for electric co-ops in a state or region when they choose to extend this coordination to other cooperatives, or any of their partners, to foster more efficiency in joint use and other field activities. Brandewie notes that this kind of collaborative effort ensures that diverse organizations within in a state, group of states, or virtually any area can communicate more effectively by aligning their processes to speak the same language.
For instance, electric cooperatives in states that have adopted Alden One as their utility asset management software solution can use the technology to effectively minimize process deviations by defining standardized workflows. “It doesn't matter if you're a utility in the western part of the state or your utility is in the eastern part of the state, you're going to follow that same process,” Brandewie says.
Brandewie points out another advantage of electric cooperatives coordinating with one another statewide: It can save money through collective bargaining negotiations for software agreements. By signing one software agreement at the statewide or regional level, they may be able to reduce the costs of individual legal review processes. Just one more incentive for change.
Here are just a few ways that Alden One further benefits electric co-ops:
Process Alignment: Alden One promotes process standardization, allowing electric cooperatives and their asset-owning or asset-attaching partners to follow a consistent, uniform set of processes. With reliable and standardized processes, utilities can swiftly pivot in response to changing circumstances, be it new regulations or unforeseen challenges. This standardization is repeatable, which cuts down on time-draining confusion and ultimately reduces costly human errors.
Training and Collaboration: Unified approaches among cooperatives (or any group of utilities) that band together can facilitate more consistent training and knowledge-sharing, which accelerates the onboarding process for new employees and further promotes seamless work.
Quick Implementation: Alden One can be implemented readily to help co-ops handle increasing workloads. “As soon as we can get the data, it can be loaded, so that quick turnaround is really valuable for a utility,” Brandewie says.
Accelerate Progress, Gain Clarity and Control with Alden One
As joint use and real estate asset management within electric utilities, communications companies, and broadband providers continues to evolve, Alden One is poised to evolve as well, empowering utility asset owners and field asset attachers to readily capitalize on new opportunities or increase speed without sacrificing compliance or safety. “Most people now understand what they need and where their shortcomings are, but what they don't know is what's coming over the horizon,” Brandewie says. That’s where the strategic expertise of Alden Systems comes into play. With industry veterans like Brandewie at the helm driving product functionality with a forward-thinking approach, Alden One’s built-in process automation capabilities helps companies optimize operations and be prepared for what’s next.
Do more with what you have today. Alden One’s standardized workflows, progress dashboards, and process automation quickly aligns all utility stakeholders to keep projects moving forward to deliver on time.
Find out how Alden One will allow your company to 1) Save time and 2) Ensure you work better by working together with all the parties involved in joint use and utility real estate asset management.
Schedule your meeting with an Alden Product Specialist today!