Episode 12: Piloting Remote Inspections transcript
Eric Kingston: I am pleased to say that ESA has been working on the development of our very first app and it's going to be rolled out this year. The app is going to be compatible with all phone and service provider types. We are also going to have specific guidance on the criteria for photos and videos. One of the security features we're going to incorporate is to include the geocoding of where exactly the photo was taken. This safeguard will ensure that the photo is from the correct location. The photos accepted by inspectors will attach to your notification and be available to see in our online service portal. Finally, we will of course be following up with users to capture their feedback as the tool evolves. This is new and we're very excited by the possibilities.
Karen Ras: Did you know that ESA conducts almost 420,000 inspections each year? At ESA we've been working hard to continuously improve our operational tools and processes to make it even easier for you to do business with ESA. Tune in to learn more about how we've listened to your feedback to improve the customer experience. Grounded in Ontario is a podcast for you, the province's licensed electrical contractors, master and certified electricians, and offers safety tips, tech and best practices. Now let's get grounded.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Grounded in Ontario. I'm Karen Ras and I work for the Electrical Safety Authority. Today we are talking all about operations at ESA, everything from our customer service improvements to daily inspections, and with me today to discuss these topics and detail is our Vice President of Operations, Eric Kingston. Eric joined ESA in 2014 as the general manager for our customer service center, and most recently led the Western Region Operations Group before taking on the role of Vice President. Eric brings with him a unique ability to understand the impact of our operations from both a technical personnel and customer service perspective. Eric, thanks so much for joining us today. I'm sure our listeners are eager to hear about some of the great things the ESA team has been working on to further improve the customer experience, so I'm very excited to have you on this episode to share.
Eric Kingston: Thanks for having me, Karen.
Karen Ras: The pandemic forced many organizations to rethink how they conduct business and while photo submissions for inspections have been used before at ESA, it really did come in handy during the pandemic when we had to rethink our approach, especially as it related to lower risk inspections. I understand we have been piloting the concept of remote inspections as a service option on a permanent basis, and I'm hoping you can give some background to our listeners about this initiative.
Eric Kingston: I'd be glad too. Remote inspections are using photos, videos, and live streams is something that's here to stay. Standardizing and enhancing our remote inspection tools is very important as it'll greatly simplify the submission of photos and videos for LECs. It also provides us a more efficient way to conduct low risk inspections, particularly in remote areas. More efficient inspections means a faster turnaround time for the public. Take for example, a low risk defect correction in the far north where we do not visit as frequently, a photo would be a great option for the LEC inspector and the end customer.
Karen Ras: Just so we're clear, can LECs choose to have a remote inspection versus an in-person inspection. Who makes that call?
Eric Kingston: Well, when sending photos is a great option, it's important to note that ultimately the decision to accept those photos will reside with the inspector. Just because you send us photos, we may still choose to physically inspect based on the level of risk.
Karen Ras: And since launching this pilot, have you received any feedback from the license holders that you've incorporated into the remote inspections program?
Eric Kingston: Yes, quite a bit. In fact, last year we sent out a survey to LECs who've been on our remote inspection pilot program to solicit their feedback. We wanted to know what has been working well and what suggestions they had for improvement. The results were very positive. 93% of respondents were in favor of having a remote inspection option. This was particularly strong for defect correction. Another learning was that 64% of LECs said that they would prefer a photo over video and livestream inspections, and then finally, many wanted to see some sort of mobile or online portal where the photos could be submitted. This makes a lot of sense to me as they're most likely using their phones to take those photos.
Karen Ras: That makes a lot of sense to me too. Eric, more and more people like the comedians of doing business on their phone, everything from ordering food to banking to hailing a ride, most companies are now providing mobile options. ESA needs to adapt these technological advancements. Is this something that ESA is considering?
Eric Kingston: It is. I have to say that I'm really excited by this. I'm pleased to say that e ESA has been working on the development of our very first app and it's going to be rolled out this year. Within that app, we want to make things a lot simpler and incorporate the learnings from our pilot program and the LEC survey. Firstly, the app is going to be compatible with all phone and service provider types. We are also going to have specific guidance on the criteria for photos and videos. One of the security features we're going to incorporate is to include the geocoding of where exactly the photo was taken. This safeguard will ensure that the photo is from the correct location. Additionally, the photos accepted by inspectors will attach to your notification and be available to see in our online service portal. This is an added benefit of using our online portal. Really at the core of this, our inspectors will remain in the center of this process. They will still determine if they accept the photos or if we need to conduct a physical inspection. It is all based on our risk-based principles. Finally, we will of course be following up with users to capture their feedback as the tool evolves. This is new and we're very excited by the possibilities.
Karen Ras: Now, the remote inspections app definitely sounds like it will deliver value to LECs and that's something that we hear fairly frequently. I know from my conversations with our stakeholder community, the topic of scheduling inspections often comes up. I know we've done work here to improve our customer experience in this area, and I'm just wondering if you can update our listeners.
Eric Kingston: We've also been working hard in this area as well. This past year, we updated our inspector mapping tool as an important part of our ongoing digital strategy. This new tool allows ESAs inspectors to optimize their schedules and route in the field. It essentially finds the optimal route to maximize an inspector's time as an added bonus. This system offers a number of improved communication tools. Dependent on where you are in the province, we can provide an "I'm on my way.", message or even an estimated time of arrival. While things can change throughout an inspector's day, we recognize the value in this type of communication. We're always looking at simplified in different ways to improve communication.
Karen Ras: It sounds like this will address many of the pain points license holders had previously expressed about timing homeowner inspections with the inspector. This tool will give them a better indication of when an ESA inspector could arrive. In terms of the online and mobile experience, I know your team has been working hard to make improvements to ESA online services as well. Can you expand on this?
Eric Kingston: We have been continually improving our online services since the launch of RBO in 2020. If you haven't logged on since then, I encourage folks to do so as we've tried to continually improve the system. Some examples we have made include the ability to reissue invoices after making changes to the site information or purchase order numbers, updates to the scheduling screens, such as enabling the final inspection flag, adding an exit button to every tab, better search tools, master rescheduling of group notifications, updated payment default methods to on account rather than credit card and enhancements to the RBO detail screens that list all the benefits and programs that could be earned under RBO. It now shows the pre-authorization programs and where each contractor stands in terms of eligibility requirements, and that's just to name a few. We have so many other benefits that I could talk about. I encourage you to go to our episode page and find the full list.
Karen Ras: Now, what about mobile?
Eric Kingston: Well, this circles back to our remote inspection app. We recognize that contractors are mostly working off their phones and that our online services is really optimized for use on a laptop within our app. I know there's appetite for more. We have to walk though before we can run. We will first ensure that our photo submission is working well, but rest assured that we will continue to add functionality over time. There are lots of possibilities here and we are committing to develop functionality that benefits our customers.
Karen Ras: We know when banks initially launched their mobile apps, they walked before they can run. They started out small and scaled up from there, and I think that that's a good approach to take. Sounds like it's certainly easier to do business with us moving forward. Myself, I love the convenience of being able to go online and get what I need in real time whenever I need it. That includes tracking my kids, but don't tell them that they don't listen to the podcast.
Eric Kingston: Well, I'm not sure your kids would agree, but in essence, that's exactly the goal we're talking about. We're encouraging all our account holders to use our e ESA online portal. Again, if you haven't logged in, please check it out. The way we all interact with organizations is continuing to change. It's very important for us to do so and remain easy to interact with. Consider things like faxes. We used to use fax machines all the time. As faxes phase out, we instead interact through self-service tools like apps and online solutions. This allows our customers to interact with us when it's convenient to them. Of course, we're also available to answer questions you have through our customer service center. Personally, I love having options.
Karen Ras: I couldn't agree more, Eric. Now, I was hoping we can transition to a topic that some of our listeners may not be aware of and that is ElecCheck, otherwise known as General Inspections of Homes pre-built 1976. Can you share with our listeners what happened to this program?
Eric Kingston: Certainly back in early spring 2022 ESA discontinued its Elec-Check Service, a non-regulatory line of business that was offered to homes that met specific conditions and criteria. We felt that other service providers such as our licensed electrical contractors were able to not only offer that service but perform the work necessary to repair any deficiencies identified at the same time. Discontinuing Elec-Check allows ESA to concentrate our resources on our higher risk regulatory inspections. It is important to note that we will continue to meet our obligations to conduct general inspections under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act where there is a referral from the fire department.
Karen Ras: That is good safety information to know, and I know that we're coordinating with our municipal partners in the fire departments across Ontario. So appreciate that update, Eric, before we close, I do want to ask you a question submitted by one of our listeners, Chris from Barry. They wrote, "I want to put power back on the grid and get paid for the power by using my electric car. When will ESA be allowing bidirectional charging?"
Eric Kingston: EVs are something that a lot of us are excited about. Fortunately, there are already provisions in the Ontario Electrical Safety Code for bidirectional vehicle applications. For exporting to the grid you would have to check with your local utility. You can however, use your vehicle to provide power to your home, which would reduce the amount of electricity that you use and lower your electricity bill. It really is exciting to see the electrification of transportation. Things like bidirectional charging is going to be very useful for areas that experience frequent power outages. Just as always, ensure you contact us to take out your notification.
Karen Ras: Thank you for this helpful answer and for joining me on this episode of Grounded in Ontario. Eric, I really appreciate your time.
Eric Kingston: Thank you very much, Karen.
Karen Ras: Thanks for listening to Grounded in Ontario. If you have any questions on this topic or any other electrical safety topic, we want to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com. We plan to answer some frequently asked questions in future episodes. Make sure you follow this podcast wherever you get your audio content so that you'll get notified about new episodes. Until next time, be safe. Work safe and stay grounded.