It’s a message utilities have been hearing with increasing urgency in recent years – we must innovate, and digitise, in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. But while most utilities know they need to digitise their operations, the question of how to do this across multiple elements of a large scale business – many of which have spent decades utilising analogue operating systems – can present a significant challenge.
The reality is, for today’s utility, the emergence of new business models, and the escalating market penetration of digital opportunities, have made most traditional product and service delivery processes obsolete. A particular challenge in this space is the need to automate existing, paper-based processes, such as incident reporting, for reporting and/or legislative requirements.
It seems like it should be a straightforward process – find an appropriate solution, educate your staff and implement the solution – but for many, the process is far from simple. While the digital economy is an opportunity to transform businesses and drive an organisation’s performance through digitisation, for many the process is so daunting that rather than being viewed as an opportunity, it is seen as a threat.
What can we do?
The problem many utilities have when it comes to automation and digitisation is working with partners who offer an off-the-shelf system. While the solution may initially seem viable, often, utilities will find that a standard off-the-shelf solution does not meet all of their requirements.
For example, with incident reporting, the process will be similar from one utility to another – but inevitably, individual organisations will want to follow their own processes and procedures. This is where a customisable off-the-shelf solution can offer major benefits. It allows utilities to take a program which is largely uniform, but then add their own customisations to make the basic program suit their own particular needs.
finao is a solutions provider that works directly with utilities, assisting them in the successful transition from manual, paper based forms and processes to fully automated, smart online systems. finao enters into a partnership with its clients, conducting a detailed analysis of the business, its goals and the potential structure of digitisation in the organisation. The team can then determine realistic goals and create a roadmap that will get the organisation to its digital destination.
Returning to our incident reporting example – finao offers multiple incident reporting systems, but not one of them is the same.
“We find clients want their own incident reporting system, they don’t want to change their process and procedure to fit an off-the-shelf system,” said a Terry Down.
“This is where we come into our own. This is the major difference between finao and our competitors; we don’t start off with a predetermined process or system, we start off with our basic system, and build the forms and processes onto this platform.
“Therefore our customers get 100 per cent of what they need, and nothing they don’t need.”
finao’s customised solutions are built on the powerful PRIME platform. Key functionality is incorporated through a modular system, with features and functions based on specific business requirements. Modules include forms (the data collection component), custom workflow and notifications (through email and SMS). Each component generates actions, ensures accountability and communicates relevant and timely information.
The benefits of moving to digital recording systems are enormous. For example, looking at efficiency gains alone – if a company completes 20,000 forms per year comprising of 1-5 pages per form, and assuming it takes approximately 60 minutes to complete each form, that company will be spending 1.2 million minutes (20,000 hours) per year on completing forms.
Allowing an average staff cost to the business of $50 per hour, the cost to the business of processing these forms could be around $1 million per annum. A finao Management system would cost a fraction of this cost to build, support and maintain, therefore providing cost savings in the first few months. The systems also prevent double handling of data, as the information is keyed in once. This makes all users more efficient in their day-to-day tasks.
The fact that a number of manual processes become automated with a finao system also offers significant benefits in terms of increases in employee efficiency and productivity. Automated emails, SMS and online notifications keeps users informed of expectations in terms of forms to be completed and data to be collected, all within specific time frames in real-time.
Systems in action
finao has 2 major systems currently in place at Sydney Water: the Delivery Management Data Portal and the SWConnect system.
The Delivery Management Data Portal was originally designed to enable contractors to be on-boarded, to be assigned to projects and to complete real time forms (such as site diaries) to allow delivery management to review project progress, measure contractor effectiveness and be made aware of any issues (through Request For Information or incident reporting forms).
Since it was first introduced four years ago, the data portal has continued to develop to serve and meet the ever-changing needs of delivery management, from both an operational and reporting perspective.
Sydney Water’s Delivery Management team is responsible for delivering much of Sydney Water’s capital investment program – this means ensuring projects are delivered safely, on time and within budget, and with minimal impact on the community and environment.To do this, the team needs to manage hundreds of project sites. The Delivery Management Data Portal custom system allows Sydney Water to on-board hundreds of staff and projects. Through the system, work is allocated and managed as part of a collaborative contracting model.
The online system tracks and manages the progress of multiple construction projects (of various values) in line with GC21 contract conditions utilising accredited management systems compliant with ISO 9001- 14001/AS4801 and Australian Federal Government Safety Commission accreditation scheme.
Sydney Water’s SWConnect system provides several in-field services to the broader networks and customer delivery business, ensuring:
- Compliance of new assets connecting to the network
- The integrity and maintenance of existing assets
- The safety of staff during network operational work (FIFM, chlorination and flush and sample, among others)
The old process was manually managed by 40 office and field-based staff. Customers initiated work via a variety of forms emailed to centralised mailboxes. Field implementation was via hardcopy, with variable quality and availability of data. The old process was highly transactional and manual with minimal automation, and was supported by five administration staff.
The SWConnect system takes paper-based transactions, systems and processes and converts them to an automated digital process. This increases productivity and efficiency, reduces paper-based administration, ensures accountability (at all levels) and improves communication.
The aim of this system is to increase the efficiency of the office and field-based staff and reduce reliance on manual business support.