In this article we’re addressing the benefits of workflow automation and business process automation for the energy and utilities industry. We’re specifically targeting business process improvement and automation for utilities, power producers, generators and transmission operators.
Versify’s suite of energy and utilities industry software is helping our clients:
- Improve commercial and financial performance
- Achieve operational scalability and efficiency for generation and transmission portfolios
- Reduce fragmented systems, manual processes and IT costs
- Standardize consistent processes, KPIs and reporting
- Streamline processes and improve communications
Here are a few examples of how it’s being done… see if you aren’t asking yourself the same questions:
What are the benefits of Workflow and digitized Forms for the Energy and Utility Industry?
Utilities, generation power providers and transmission operators can benefit from automating and digitizing both simple and complex business processes. Workflow automation drastically improves operations and communications by streamlining and focusing everyone’s work effort.
Workflows provide a way to automate processes, reduce the number of steps it takes to get things done and increase capacity by ensuring you always have the right people on the right tasks at the right time. You can convert your paper forms, documents and checklists to an electronic version that can be filled out online or through a mobile device (e.g. field force technicians).
While you likely have standardized business processes, they probably require each person to not only remember what to do at each step, but also requires execution in precisely the same way each time. This leaves a lot of room for error and inconsistency. With Versify automated workflows, employees need only select an item on their list to see what needs to be done, any associated documents or files and any data needed to complete the task.
Workflow software can improve commercial performance and reduce O&M costs by providing visibility and communication to those that need to know.
By converting the manual processes to a workflow software solution designed specifically for the energy and utilities industry, you will quickly realize an increase in employee performance, more accurate and consistent results and a notable improvement in your organizations scalability. We’ve seen customers justify Versify’s workflow enabled software applications in the time savings they realize in six (6) months!
Once a task is finished, the workflow immediately continues its journey either to the next person for approval or to completion.
By leveraging workflow automation, your department and/or company can have a single platform to manage work and ensure it’s getting done in the correct order, timely and accurately.
Here are top reasons we’ve heard from our generation, independent power providers and utility customers as to why they utilize workflows.
How can we improve Commercial Performance?
We’ve seen customers use workflows to enable visibility into the outage management scheduling and planning process. For instance, by adding a commercial or power marketing team review and approval step into the generation or transmission outage management process, outages can be reviewed for potential commercial and market opportunities.
The commercial team has a chance to review market and pricing conditions before the outage is scheduled or commences. There may be significant pricing and revenue opportunities missed if a power plant or equipment takes a derate or outage during peak pricing and market conditions. Workflows developed for the energy and utility industry processes can provide visibility that will positively impact revenue.
When a person’s job is focused on the performance and reliability of generation plants or transmission lines, they rightly have tunnel vision to their appointed objective. This means revenue opportunities, market price changes, congestion issues and other commercial considerations may be missed when requesting such things as outages, derates or taking equipment out-of-service.
When there is a request for a generation or transmission equipment derate or any event having commercial relevance, a workflow can be started and the necessary people can review, comment or approve prior to starting the activity.
Below is a “before” and “after” visualization of an outage management process that has been modeled into a workflow. But you can workflow-enable almost any business process
In the “before” example below, we have a manual outage management process where plant managers request a plant outage or derate. With a manual outage management process, communications and coordination efforts may include multiple phone calls and emails, possibly recording the outage in an ISO/RTO web portal and then following a variety of steps to initiation, schedule, execute and follow up. It can easily get confusing to remember who is required to do what at each step. It’s not scalable. Mistakes are made and there is very little visibility between the various stakeholders.
In the “after” example below, we’re taking the same outage management process and leveraging workflow automation. Workflows were created so Plant Managers can request outages or derates, while Commercial Operations has an opportunity to review the timing and duration of the outage for market and trading impact. Once approved, the outage or derate can be sent to an Outage Coordinator or Outage Manager for review and submitted electronically to an ISO, RTO or Reliability Coordinator. Asset Managers can be included in the process to review outages or Contract Administrators who may want to see if the outage complies with contract requirements.
How can we improve Power Plant & Transmission Reliability and Safety?
The energy industry, utilities, generation and transmission owners have a multitude of technical engineering and safety processes. Workflow automation combined with electronic logging, notifications and alarming can help the team capture all the information needed, be more efficient and reduce the time spent on administrative duties.
For example, you can digitize forms such as Safe Work Permit, Application for Work, Permit to Work, Switching Orders, Shift Turnover, Shift Handover, Operator Logbooks, Work Instructions, etc. How many emails, spreadsheets and in-house developed stop-gap applications are used to maintain these different processes? How many of the paper forms have incomplete details or inaccurately recorded information?
Bring these disparate processes under control, enforcing standards and best practices. All your company’s policies and procedures can be modeled in a workflow tool bringing staff and management across multiple departments into a single tool.
Here’s how one client solved a problem…
One of our clients had a manual Safety Work Permit process using a Safe Work Permit form (Safe Job Procedures or Job Safety Plans) in paper format. Field force technicians would fill this form out when they were to begin work on a wind turbine or solar panel. They literally had a paper form and checklist they would fill out on site and eventually send to corporate for compliance. For compliance and safety reasons, the energy company was required to maintain and store all the safety work permits for historical purposes.
At the end of the year, only a quarter of the permits to work made it back. And with the paper forms being hand delivered, it could take days or weeks for management to be able to review the completed work permits.
To resolve this problem, they converted the Safe Work Permits into a workflow, translating the complex paper form into an organized digital form. Field force technicians could then use a mobile device, filling out the form using a tablet and immediately submit it. With the ability for the digitized forms to prepopulate certain fields for the technicians (contact info), they also saved a lot of time in filling out the permit. The digitized permit for work was immediately available for supervisors to review and they can capture all of the forms online.
Click here for more info on a Safety Work Permit System.
How can we improve NERC and Operational Compliance?
Workflows offer the ability to track who clicked what and when, capture or attach evidence such as digitized questionnaires and documents, and maintaining the history of each workflow and/or task. Think of processes such as Incident Management, Inspection Rounds, Shift Changes, Transmission Switching and Isolation, and NERC CIP reporting requirements. These are critical events needing proper data capture from your over-booked staff. By providing standard forms, questionnaires and easy methods to report you can increase the reliability of your compliance data capture and reporting.
Workflows can be modeled to manage and gather data for these compliance frameworks and provide a single platform for reporting. Your staff can easily and quickly record incidents and near-misses. Things like AVR Status or NERC CIP events can be recorded and communicated throughout the organization in a consistent fashion to the people you designate as need-to-know. Field force technicians and engineers can use a tablet to record activities and incidents while in the field, making data collection more complete and accurate.
Bringing all these people, processes and communication tools onto a single platform provides unmatched improvements across the board.
Click here for more information regarding NERC CIP events.
A simple shift change process using digitized Shift Turnover checklists…
Shift Turnover or Shift Handover checklists are another area we’ve seen huge time savings and improved compliance. Shift turnover checklists are used by shift operators to record the day’s activities. Traditionally this is performed by a paper form. To become more efficient, accurate and help prevent missing checklists, customers have converted them to a workflow. Going one step further, they’ve automated creation of a form every 12 hours and assigning it to the shift lead, requiring them to fill out the form at the end of each shift. The shift operator and shift leads will find their digitized shift turnover checklist in their inbox waiting for completion.
How can we reduce O&M costs?
Getting key individuals in the loop, giving them an opportunity to weigh in, offers many possibilities to reduce O&M costs. Automated workflows allow you to be proactive, look for possible bottlenecks and see where you’re potentially losing money or taking unnecessary risks.
Reducing the number of tools required, eliminating double entry and shortening the duration it takes to complete a workflow can provide material operational savings.
If a process that occurs thousands of times a year can be reduced from one hour to 30 minutes, this time savings impacts revenue and allow companies to be scalable!
How can we improve Communication across Departments?
All the information gathered from these automated processes are available in a single workflow tool that everyone in the organization can view (if granted permissions). Users can view, report and create dashboards of the events and activities so they can see what’s new, what needs their attention and where in the process each workflow resides. Departments and users such as Operations/Dispatch, Plant Operators, Traders, Asset Management and even external counterparties can easily access the workflows and assets they are granted permissions to and view the latest activity or previous history.
In the “How can we improve Commercial Performance?” example, multiple parties can be involved in creating and reviewing a process such as outage planning and scheduling. This is just one example where the entire company can be aware of what’s happening, the impact and setting expectations.
Energy and Utilities Industry Processes
Think of all the spreadsheets, emails, phone calls and paper documents used to record and communicate information across multiple business stakeholders. Stakeholders such as asset managers, plant operations, control room operators and dispatch, portfolio managers, traders and power marketing. The number of manual processes used to keep a company moving along is staggering. Many of them are time consuming, fraught with opportunities for error and many times late or missed altogether.
Below is a short list of standard energy industry business processes that can be automated for improvement and efficiency:
- Outage scheduling and planning
- Communications Logging
- Dispatch Instructions
- Safe Work Permits
- Shift Turnover Coordination
- Switching Orders & Isolation Points
- Maintenance Call-outs
- Contract Management
- NERC Compliance
- Morning Reports
Look at the processes in your organization. You’ll quickly find inefficiencies and lost productivity that cost you money. This doesn’t have to be this way. The solution is not complex. Versify offers out-of-the-box self-service workflow accelerators, logging, approvals, notifications, and compliance tools. Plus, quick deployment, low IT cost and exemplary customer service.
In summary, leveraging workflows to automate and digitize simple-to-complex business processes for energy companies, utility companies, generation power providers and transmission operators can have a significant impact. From making staff available for other projects, reducing errors and accidents and allowing for visibility into commercial decisions. Versify’s cloud-based workflow tools are targeted specifically for the energy industry, it’s employees and their processes and offer some of the best options in the market. Requiring little-to-no dependency on internal Information Technology (IT) resources, these types of energy solutions can be deployed quickly, cost effectively and provide a realized ROI in a very short time.
This post was published on April 26, 2018 and updated on May 6, 2018.