Addressing the needs of utilities’ equipment infrastructure and handling customer relationship management is crucial in gaining a competitive advantage in newly deregulated markets. State-of-the-art work management systems can provide the solution.
The utilities industry is experiencing major change, having to operate in a dynamic, competitive environment very different from the previous monopoly world. But, one thing remains the same: utilities continue to engineer, construct, maintain, and retire the assets that make up their technical infrastructures.
Today, this long-established need is coupled with a new reality: utilities need to carefully manage customer relationships. After all, the way a business interacts with its customers is key to keeping them coming back to it.
This is where a state-of-the-art work management solution comes in. Addressing the needs of utilities’ equipment infrastructure and handling customer relationship management, this type of solution gives them a competitive advantage in newly deregulated markets. Industry specific software solutions from major technology vendors such as SAP, one of the world’s largest software makers, are now available to address all aspects of utility work management. SAP alone has more than 600 implementations of its solution mySAP Utilities Asset & Work Management.
From the generator to the meter, utility industry specific solutions have to offer a complete view of a utility’s infrastructure. This view should present the same basic organisational elements and functions in all lines of business, providing the consistency and accuracy that is necessary for integrated operations, employee safety, and enterprise reporting. Therefore mySAP Utilities makes use of the same basic elements when mapping a power plant or an apartment house with its meters and service connections. Thus generation, transmission, and distribution are really linked together.
The ability to integrate with external systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), process control, computer-aided dispatch and scheduling systems (CADS) and geographic information systems (GIS), enhances the overall value of a work management solution. A thoroughly developed data model can become the backbone for the technical installation documentation and an integration point for external systems.
Figure 1. mySAP Utilities Asset and Work Management links generation and distribution
Industry-specific utilities work management solutions can provide an overall view of the installation structure to determine the households and customers affected by a planned or unplanned interruption of service in the supply grid. This information is also crucial for analysis, statistics, performance figures, and installation history.
All these evaluations become significantly more informative when companies can break them down along the installation structure and summarize them at the next highest level. Figure 2 illustrates an example of a supply grid. The transmission, substation, and distribution data models can all be interconnected and visually depicted in mySAP Utilities. And the same is true for the technical objects at the customers side, like meters and service connections.
Ensuring work completion
Utilities are always working on, maintaining, or expanding their infrastructure, which means they process huge numbers of work orders every day. New software can handle both asset-centric and customer-centric order processing. Tying these together into one solution ensures seamless support for customers, and that in turn ensures high levels of customer service and facilitates efficient planning, job execution, and customer billing.
Examples of asset-centric work include: preventative maintenance on the generation station; maintenance activities on the supply grid; substation repairs; constructing, upgrading, and retiring distribution facilities. Examples of customer-centric work include: installation of new services; energy consultation; unscheduled meter readings; disconnections and
Solutions such as mySAP Utilities Asset & Work Management support both of these with:
- Real-time event notifications
- Work order planning with real-time costing, scheduling, and approval processing
- Compatible unit planning via configurable task lists
- Seamless procurement and inventory integration
- Billing and accounts receivable integration
- Complete Internet-enabled processes, including customer, vendor, and contractor access
- Easy-to-use time entry functions
- Measurement and calibration capturing
- Robust preventative maintenance functions
- Feature-rich reporting options
Technology solutions bring together customer care capabilities and work management creating seamless, integrated business processes such as:
- Irregular device readings – When a customer requests an interim bill or a control reading, companies can automatically generate a service order.
- Disconnection and reconnection – Service orders for disconnection and reconnection can depend upon the reason for the disconnection. For example, a disconnection for nonpayment can differ from a disconnection at the customer’s request.
- Meter installation, replacement and repair – When companies first enter data for new customers, they can generate a service order for a new meter. Then, as meters must be periodically replaced for certification, companies can generate service orders from sample lots and from periodic replacement lists. For repair, companies can generate a predefined service order for defective meters.
Some solutions, such as mySAP Utilities Asset & Work Management, can now be tightly integrated with external, third party systems. To link external systems to order planning and execution, these systems must be integrated into the overall process as active, dialog-enabled components. Each system handles a partial step in the process, ensures seamless data transfer, and guarantees a generally consistent flow. Figure 3 illustrates one possible scenario.
Figure 2. Technical objects in a supply grid
Spatial systems: Geographic information systems (GIS) map spatial relationships between various technical objects, such as piping, grids, lines, and instruments as well as apartment houses and service connections. Work management solutions, however, map the logical relationships between technical objects. A single point of data entry and maintenance is the most compelling argument for spatial integration. Companies can realise other benefits, such as reduced costs and increased engineering efficiencies, by transferring designs from a spatial planning tool to the work management solution and vice versa. For example, companies can initiate work orders in the GIS, which then redirects the required data to the solution.
Therefore mySAP Utilities includes the GIS Business Connector (GBC). The GBC allows to easily integrate mySAP Utilities with a GIS. With the GBC both systems have access to the data and the functions of the respective system: there is no leading system any longer. Moreover, the GBC takes care for the data consistency between both systems. GIS industry leaders have certified interfaces, so companies are not restricted to a single GIS.
Figure 3. Integration of mySAP Utilities with external systems
Outage management systems (OMS): Outage management systems analyze disruptions in the supply grid. If disruptions accumulate in a specific section of the grid, the OMS decides if the situation involves a central disruption, such as the failure of a transformer. The system can trigger correction of the disruptions and determine which customers are affected. To do so, it accesses connection information from a GIS or a network information system (NIS) and customer information from mySAP Utilities. Therefore mySAP Utilities offers the Work Management Interface to integrate OMS as well as CADS systems.
Computer-aided dispatch and scheduling systems (CADS): With the planning board in mySAP Utilities, companies can schedule orders for work teams or individuals. The planning board is particularly helpful for orders of long duration, such as line extensions and construction orders. The integration of a CADS allows to automatically distribute short-term work orders based on criteria as required personnel profile, journey time and priority.
Supervisory control and data acquisition systems: SCADA systems enable communication with distributed control systems. Companies can tie these systems to work management solutions to monitor the condition of equipment and for preventive maintenance. For example, predefined events (like a failed drive shaft) can trigger a maintenance order in the work management solution so companies are always on top of equipment problems. Equipment can also transfer measurement or meter readings to the solution, which automatically schedules preventative maintenance when the readings reach preset thresholds. Integration with SCADA systems reduces the overall costs of maintaining assets throughout their entire life cycles, and they also increase the runtime of critical equipment.
Visual integration: The systems needed to run a complete work management solution should not only be integrated on a technical level. Employees can work more efficiently if information and functions from different systems are displayed in one interface. Web-based portal solutions, such as SAP Asset Portal, are particularly suited for this kind of visual integration. The portal groups together all the functions employees need for their work – from maintenance orders and technical data on the installation to cards from the network information system and information about customers.
Klaus Heimann: senior vice president of the Industry Business Unit (IBU) Utilities at SAP AG
Mobile work management: Personnel in the field can work much more efficiently when they are always connected to actual information from their company. mySAP Utilities supports data transfer to mobile devices. Companies can send work orders and information to personnel in the field, who in return transfer readings, notifications and repair confirmations back to the company system. The mobile solution is based on SAP’s Mobile Engine: the mobile device can synchronize with the company system every time a wireless connection is available. However, if no connection is possible, the mobile device can be used stand-alone as well and the synchronization is done later on. Of course companies can define which data is transferred, giving them complete control over the data flow.
If a utility’s business vision includes customer satisfaction, new technology with the latest advances can provide the solution. As utilities increasingly need to carefully manage customer relationships, work management solutions can provide the tools to make it happen. As the industry sees major change, now is the time for utilities to leverage the opportunity for a better connected tomorrow.
Network management for 24Seven
24seven was formed as a joint venture by TXU Europe and London Electricity in April 2000. 24seven provides an end-to-end network management service to asset owners in the water, gas, and electricity utilities in Western Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It operates the electricity networks serving London on behalf of London Power Networks (LPN) and the eastern region on behalf of TXU Europe Distribution.
Before 24seven started trading, Andy Hooper, IT Director, knew there were a number of challenges ahead. Inheriting the electricity network management system from TXU Europe and London Electricity gave 24seven a huge benefit in terms of the experience and expertise available to them but it also meant they had two sets of staff, two cultures and two sets of working practices.
On the IT side it was more complicated. Two separate businesses had been transferred to 24seven from London Electricity, as well as TXU Europe’s operations. Consequently, 24seven was faced with three sets of IT. None of them were compatible and they all ran on different platforms. It was clear that rationalisation was required. In addition they needed a standard set of business processes across the entire organisation.
Setting new standards
By the end of June 2000 the decision had been taken that 24seven needed to buy an integrated solution. They wanted to avoid the complications of separate systems. They wanted a system that was “off-the-shelf” and low maintenance, that was established and demonstrably in use elsewhere by companies of at least half their size – 24Seven chose
SAP’s solution, with Logica as the implementation partner.
The solution spans finance, payroll, human resources, procurement, inventory management, materials handling and work management. Logica was specifically chosen for the project, by SAP UK, for its extensive work management expertise with other organisations in the utility sector.
This end-to-end solution is now a vital tool for 24Seven’s network operations centre in dealing with customer enquiries, managing customer connections projects and contract services, as well as scheduling field staff for maintenance and fault resolution.
24seven is now running its business comfortably and is already pushing the boundaries and expanding the functionality it uses. Training Event Management is one area which Andy Hooper sees as fairly straightforward to implement. The company also wants to provide a web-based channel to allow its customers to configure, obtain quotes and order new connections, whether they be a domestic customer or a commercial concern. It also has a major project underway to put in a mobile communications infrastructure for its mobile workforce.
“Logica’s ability to deliver this mission-critical project in record time speeds our time-to-market, providing us with a competitive advantage,” said Andy Hoper, IT director at 24Seven. “It has highlighted a key differentiator of our new company and our intention to deliver on undertakings fast and more efficiently. The working partnership between 24Seven, Logica and SAP demonstrates their expertise and unparalleled knowledge of our industry.”
The project, completed in just 10 months, is the UK’s first implementation of an SAP Work Management solution in the utilities industry.
The new system gives 24seven a solid IT infrastructure to help it achieve its ambitious growth plan.
Before SAP was implemented 24seven could not produce a set of month-end accounts without numerous spreadsheets and lots of people. Today month-end accounts are produced almost effortlessly. 24seven can also see its previous day’s trading position; something Hooper says is unheard of in the utilities industry. The work management element of the solution allows engineers to have immediate access to the cost of each job, including labour time and materials. It provides a means of managing complex work and asset structures and reporting mechanisms. According to Hooper: “For me, the most obvious benefit is the revolution in the accuracy and timeliness of management information and knowing it is right because it has all come from the same source. It means everyone in the company has the same set of numbers and you can’t put a price on that.”
There’s a benefit on the IT side too. As the SAP solution replaced over 30 systems, Hooper has far fewer systems and platforms to worry about. “When I put the IT function together in 24seven,” he said, “I wanted a small core of people who managed and worked with our system providers. Using SAP and Logica fits in well with that model.”
“Would I recommend the product and approach to others? Yes, 24seven was established to break the mould of the old ways of thinking in the utilities industry. I believe this project characterises our new approach, which is innovative, determined and focused on delivering what we promise.”