Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is mobilizing its workforce to improve field operation effectiveness and efficiency. Other utilities are striving for similar improvements. Like Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), they also face a plethora of legacy processes, systems and applications that have been used for years to get the job done.
But in PG&E’s case, the ultimate goal goes beyond increasing operational efficiencies. The utility is working to improve safety, reliability, compliance and data accuracy by transforming the business from manual paper-based processes to an integrated mobile-to-backoffice environment. The scale and complexity of this program requires a new user-experience-centric deployment approach to realize benefits at a desirable speed.
Systems Integration Core
Using electric transmission as an example, PG&E started at the core with its SAP work management system and built an integrated systems framework to both support and govern its business processes. This core enabled mobile solutions to be brought to life.
The core of the utility’s electric transmission systems integration consists of SAP work management with bidirectional communication:
- Portfolio management
- Resource management
- Work management
- Project management
- Financial planning
- Graphical design
- Mobile platform.
This bidirectional communication allows all systems to be refreshed with information as updates occur. It further allows the SAP system to be the single source of truth for how various aspects of the operation are performing. Furthermore, by streamlining the back-end systems, mobile solutions can be integrated more easily with source information, thereby providing smoother solution deployment, accurate and real-time data in the field, and easier-to-use tools for the end users.
Behind the scenes of a streamlined user experience is a complex work management device, applications and systems integration (the core). Each user group has a high expectation for availability and usability. However, groups that traditionally had not used mobile technology presented a unique set of challenges. Mobile adoption by a workforce with low technology skills requires dramatic behavioral and cultural change management. Utilities too often begin by throwing money and technology at the process, believing it will make a significant difference, without thoroughly understanding what needs to be changed and why.
In turn, that creates the typical mobile deployment challenges: process redesign, technology integration, user adoption and device support issues. Mobile projects have a high likelihood of failure unless these four key challenges are addressed and mitigated throughout the project. Although all four are important, the primary challenge is process redesign.
Throughout many projects it has been revealed great technology can only take a deployment so far if the underlying processes are broken. Far too often, utilities fail to truly look at the real processes and, ultimately, end up with very slick technology based on very flawed processes. The technology is not a magic bullet to resolve process issues. In fact, it will function more as a microscope over a petri dish. It will make those things once hidden become readily apparent. For this fact, the technology project is often blamed for making things worse and, ultimately, leads to protracted user adoption. The lack of user adoption can add significant cost and quickly erode benefits.
Developing a User-Centric Approach
To mitigate these challenges, PG&E developed a user-experience-centric approach consisting of four pillars:
1. Robust governance for process redesign, requirements prioritization and sequencing
2. User-group-specific device configuration and system integration
3. Extensive employee engagement throughout the life cycle of the program
4. High-touch, post-deployment user-support model.
The user-centric approach allows the utility to avoid many of the pitfalls associated with a project of this magnitude by first engaging the end users, or grassroots levels, in the organization to identify pain points in the current processes. From those users, PG&E determined an inventory of processes and systems the employees use to perform their daily work.
It is paramount to get the true processes and tools identified at this step, not just what is documented on the books.
It is not an easy task, but, if not completed correctly, it is futile to take another step because the technology solution will be out of alignment with reality.
Engaging the end users early not only allows for a better integrated design, but it also empowers employees early in the process so they see the value of the technology as opposed to fighting or viewing it as something being forced on them. This type of collaboration does not come easily among various stakeholder groups. Often, groups operate in silos with their individual views of the world and are not cognizant of the cross-departmental impacts of their actions or the overall impacts to the business.
Keys to Success
PG&E took several key actions to increase the likelihood of its program’s success. An intensive three-month process documentation exercise was completed. Stakeholders from the different lines of business were brought together in person to agree on data parameters and who would be accountable for maintaining the parameters, so as to maintain an integrated data set and a single source of truth in the core. Existing processes had to be stitched together in an end-to-end fashion with an intense focus on the interfaces between them that previously did not exist.
The process documentation exercises formed the basis for a robust set of requirements on which the core was designed and built, ultimately forming the integrated foundation for a positive and effective mobile experience.
A key lesson learned for ensuring the success of the stakeholder exercise was to bring in a non-biased third party to facilitate and sometimes referee the interactions of these seemingly disparate groups. These groups operated within their own systems and processes; therefore, they often failed to realize the impact their processes had on other groups. Consequently, veins of resistance between groups emerged.
PG&E used an impartial third-party consultant with process experience to help achieve a successful outcome. This neutral party walked through the process, helping to break down the walls of resistance. This allowed the stakeholders not only to understand their impact on one another, but also to identify process steps that had been adopted for reasons long since passed. Using the methodology of having the groups interact in the beginning allowed for about 15% of the process steps to be removed, thus enhancing the workflow without a single line of code having to be written.
The integrated design that has come about from this process has been so groundbreaking that aspects of it are currently under review to be patented. The patent application came about as a result of listening to the needs of the end user and developing integrated processes, systems and reporting to meet those needs, while enhancing visibility and governance. Although several companies have developed reporting or work management systems to support various aspects of the industry, no one had developed an end-to-end integration of the most popular applications so work could be done from the same core set of data, regardless of how they entered the process.
After the process and workflow management technologies were put in place, PG&E continued improving compliance verification and conformance to industry best practices for maintenance and inspection tracking. This effort allows the transmission business to use mobile devices and enables future paperless completion of maintenance tasks when deploying mobile functionality to PG&E crews. These tools provide simpler and timelier reporting of completed work. This enhanced ability will help to support better unit cost tracking and reporting, enabling PG&E to potentially perform more work with existing resources.
In many cases, the utility should see a 20% to 40% improvement in labor and material costs. These cost reductions are the result of several factors:
- Enhanced material forecasts
- Improved coordination of cross-departmental resources
- Reduced setup and mobilization costs
- Better coordination and oversight of the entire electric transmission multi-year portfolio.
Additionally, the costs of maintaining antiquated applications and databases are reduced as these systems are replaced with the integrated tool set.
The design for the new mobile and associated process is based on input from the frontline resources and solves a myriad of issues outlined by those users as hampering visibility of jobs to be done and status of the work. Overall, the benefits to PG&E, resulting from improved planning and efficient execution of its work, are significant, ultimately adding up to a safer, reliable, compliant system.
Crawford Owens (CWO3@pge.com) is the director of technology deployment for the electric operations organization at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. He is responsible for the deployment of PG&E’s mobile technology platform and work execution systems to the various work streams across the territory of the electric operations business. Owens previously served as director of work and resource management and analysis reporting and technology. He holds a master’s degree in information systems/decision sciences and a MBA degree from Clark Atlanta University.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co.| www.pge.com