Australian utility reinvents itself as competition nears

Electric utilities in Australia are facing far-reaching reforms to break down government-based monopolies and introduce new competition. The objective is to achieve reforms similar to those in the United Kingdom, creating a national grid to separate generators from distributors. Retail competition will be encouraged.

The State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV), the largest vertically integrated electric utility in Australia, has the most at stake. Like the other utilities, SECV found itself entrenched with outdated work practices. Facing such challenges, SECV decided to reinvent its approach to distribution field activities, including line and pole maintenance, construction, faults, customer connection and system augmentation, according to Anderson Consulting`s Delivery newsletter.

The project focused on improving and integrating field activities and also aligned and addressed issues in personnel, organization, infrastructure, policies and protocols. The end result was a comprehensive design for the future operating environment.

Stakeholder commitment and ownership were essential to realizing the benefits of the new business structure, so a primary aspect of the project was a strategic change management program targeting key stakeholders such as unions, customers, area communities and employees. SECV also developed an integrated program to supplement the core reengineering initiative, which focused on redefining mission-critical jobs and upgrading technology. The program also addresses career paths, performance measures, management style and leadership, organizational structure, communications and job aids.

SECV managed to achieve quantum improvements in the time, cost and quality of its customer services.

The utility boasts a 75 percent improvement in connect time for new customers, with connections done by appointment. Funds required for maintenance and fault activities dropped by 20 percent to 50 percent, and the duration and frequency of outages for planned work is down.

The pilot project was established in 1992 and affected regions are beginning to see the anticipated improvements, and stakeholder groups are becoming more closely aligned with SECV`s vision of the future.

For the first time, the Delivery reports, SECV`s management, employees and unions share similar values and goals for the industry`s evolution. The reinvention continues, as the utility works toward higher values for stakeholders through competitive challenges.