Iberdrola USA, Inc.’s two New York subsidiaries, Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E) and New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), schedule work orders differently due to the geographic makeup of their respective coverage areas. RG&E serves an urban area, providing electricity to roughly 360,000 residents and natural gas to about 300,000 residents and businesses in nine counties that make up greater Rochester. The utility has divided the urban service area into four divisions and assigns field personnel to a particular job within a single division. A technician’s daily to-do list, for example, might include a dozen or so meter repairs all within a single division.
Conversely, the more rural NYSEG coverage area, which is separated into 13 divisions, consists of roughly 871,000 customers receiving electricity and another 250,000 receiving natural gas. In contrast to RG&E, this area is served by technicians who might be responsible for a variety of jobs during a single day, from meter maintenance to installations, reconnects, and disconnects.
Seven years ago, Iberdrola USA configured its legacy SAP Mobile Asset Management for Utilities solution to schedule work orders based on the NYSEG model first. The RG&E model, then, required customization to change the NYSEG assigned scenarios to zone-based scheduling. Even with customization, manual workarounds became standard practice as technicians would arrive at the corporate office and essentially override the schedule generated for them on the SAP system. Drawing on experience and perhaps some roadmaps of the urban areas, technicians would often re-route themselves to make better use of their time. A manual schedule created at 7am, however, wasn’t optimal considering unplanned changes or reroutes due to emergency calls or outages could occur throughout the day. Also, from a customer standpoint, this method didn’t allow workers to pinpoint service
windows with much accuracy.
"At first, I was concerned with the logistical issues of deploying a global team, but this challenge turned into an advantage because everyone had the right attitude and a willingness to learn and to listen to one another."
— Ann LePore, IT Applications Manager,
Another workforce scheduling challenge this strategy presented was that, unlike RG&E, NYSEG’s operations group did not have automated real-time dispatch capabilities for its trouble and outage work orders. For NYSEG, the SAP system touched only customer service work, such as repairs, so trouble and outage work orders were either written down or called in from the field. In addition, Iberdrola USA wanted to increase the data speeds it was experiencing with the integration of the SAP system with the SAP Utilities Customer Care and Service solution. The business wanted to minimize the time that drivers in the field would have to wait for information on their next jobs. With more than 300 trucks using that SAP technology in the field at a given time, even minor delays could add up quickly to create many idling trucks and wasted man-hours.
"We didn’t want our technicians to be waiting to receive data, which had started to become an issue for us throughout our divisions," says Diane Chester, Lead Business Analyst at Iberdrola USA. "We knew the time was right to go out and find a new mobile solution."
Ending Inefficient Downtime
With the two main objectives of standardizing its work management between RG&E and NYSEG, and automating scheduling for NYSEG trouble and outage operations, Iberdrola USA decided to implement the SAP Workforce Scheduling and Optimization application by ClickSoftware. The project team focused on integrating the application’s modules — for scheduling, field service, and real-time mobile services — with SAP Utilities Customer Care and Service, all of which would help drive greater efficiency than what the legacy system provided.
The functionality for scheduling was at the heart of the workforce management optimization solution automating resource allocation and route optimization, and providing real-time dispatching. Utilizing this feature, Iberdrola USA could then do away with manual overrides for RG&E scheduling, as well as automate trouble and outage scheduling for NYSEG for the first time. The field service functionality allows the business to analyze and leverage the scheduling data to customize future performance based on past results, such as making a scheduling modification if a certain job is always taking longer than the time allotted. The mobile functionality gives field personnel the ability to receive and review scheduling and customer information on intuitive interfaces on their laptops or tablets.
A Team Comes Together
When Iberdrola USA initially put together its project team, it faced a similar challenge to the one its drivers faced dealing with manual scheduling for a large geographic expanse: The team members were quite spread out — the Iberdrola USA locations in Maine with separate offices in New York for NYSEG and RG&E, colleagues in Spain, the consulting engineers in Germany and India, and a mobility vendor in Massachusetts.
"At first, I was concerned with the logistical issues of deploying a global team," says Ann LePore, IT Applications Manager at Iberdrola USA. "But this challenge turned into an advantage because everyone had the right attitude and a willingness to learn and to listen to one another, especially at the beginning when we didn’t know each other. It really was amazing watching the team come together."
Another logistical challenge for Iberdrola USA was that, in parallel with the project, the company opted to either equip or retrofit its fleet of 661 vehicles with improved cellular communications, requiring antennas, docking stations, modems, and other equipment to ensure uninterrupted communication. This work was performed from September 2012 through March 2013 and was complicated in part by an above-average snowfall that winter. "It was a tremendously difficult effort for a company that works 24/7 to get 661 trucks where they were supposed to be," says LePore. "Like the team structure, it was just trying to get everyone and everything in the right place at the right time."
Having a strong team in place helped Iberdrola wade through several technical challenges, like integrating SAP Workforce Scheduling and Optimization with the SAP Utilities Customer Care and Service solution so that it would recognize how work schedule rules differed between zone-based RG&E and NYSEG, for example. In addition, Iberdrola USA wasn’t simply automating what had been manual processes; by implementing the solution, RG&E and NYSEG added new functionality that required manipulating data in new ways. This functionality included capabilities for real-time schedule optimization, accommodating unexpected events, and updating a schedule accordingly while still optimizing service windows.
This meant extensive testing for the project team, and an 11th-hour change from a planned six-week rollout to all coverage areas to a far more phased rollout. Iberdrola USA went live with its first coverage area in January 2013 and finished in October 2013.
"We had a lot of challenges with the automated scheduling results," LePore says. "We knew it was normal to tune the system after implementing the automated scheduling, but even though we had done an immense amount of testing, it was difficult to simulate the data constellation we would have in production. We needed some time to resolve that."
Iberdrola USA attributed much of the success of the project to its implementation partner, ENERGY4U GmbH — an Atos company. "They didn’t just dictate how things were going to get done; they questioned us on certain things," Chester says. "We’ve been on projects where the consultants took over and we were left with blank looks, but this project was very different. They worked closely with us to make sure we were thinking things through, and that team effort was very helpful."
Users Go with the Flow
Another reason the project team opted for a more deliberate rollout was to ensure the approximately 800 technicians and field personnel using SAP Workforce Scheduling and Optimization were thoroughly trained. For the roughly half of technicians who had been using the previous SAP system, change management wasn’t an issue, in part because the team aimed to keep a number of interfaces the same.
"Users are still working on the same laptop or tablet, so it was just the software being different," Chester says. "Where we saw more of a challenge was with NYSEG operations where we brought on brand new users for gas and electric in all 13 divisions. It was a culture thing. Nobody likes change, so it has been an adjustment to use it."
According to Stephanie Crisman, Business Analyst at Iberdrola USA, one user completely new to an automated process actually handed her back a laptop and said he wasn’t going to use it. "He’s now one of our best users," she says. "So they quickly see how efficient the new solution is; it’s just getting them to log in and use it every day. And the more they use it, the more they like it."
Even the users of the former SAP system who didn’t have to re-learn new interfaces were still presented with a better user experience. "The difference is that while they still have everything they were used to seeing, it’s easier to access. They can see everything all at once, whereas in the old application, there was a set order of having to go through the screens for the required information," says Crisman. "The feedback has been very positive from the field; they have a singular snapshot of everything they need in one place."