Power reliability and customer satisfaction are top priorities at Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G).
Power outages are inconvenient to consumers, disruptive to business, and in some cases, debilitating, as power has become the lifeblood of commerce and recreational activities.
When customers call their utility provider to report these outages — or even just to get service information or turn their gas or electricity on or off — they want prompt and efficient service from the customer service representative.
After a major system upgrade, Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), the holding company for PSE&G, recognized that system performance had become increasingly important, and its IT department decided to take the necessary steps to ensure transaction response times met business and customer needs.
“As a regulated utility, we cannot afford to let a system slowdown affect our call center performance,” says James Earp, Senior IT Consultant and SAP Production Management Team Lead for PSEG. “These are the teams that interface directly with our electric and gas customers.”
While still ongoing, PSEG’s efforts in these areas have already produced both an improvement in customer service as well as a dramatic change in how its IT organization approaches the management of its SAP environment and all of the systems that interface with it.
Ensuring Customer Satisfaction
PSE&G is the largest utility in New Jersey, serving 1.8 million gas customers and 2.2 million electric customers — nearly three quarters of the state’s population — across a 2,600-square-mile service area. The company first implemented SAP ERP in 1999 to avoid anticipated Y2K issues and to standardize its IT systems on a single integrated platform. Eight years later, the company decided to expand PSEG’s SAP landscape by implementing SAP for Utilities, an industry solution built around business processes unique to the utilities industry. The new industry solution replaced the legacy customer system, providing enhanced capabilities for servicing customers.
After the SAP for Utilities go-live, managing and monitoring the SAP landscape and system performance became more complex. “Prior to that implementation, we had about 1TB of data,” says Earp. “Today, we have about 20TB and growing. Our IT support staff and partners were faced with increased support demands and needed a better process for support and maintenance. The increase in support demand required PSEG to do something different.”
Good system performance is key to ensuring both customer satisfaction and efficient internal operations for a utility company. “Our call centers handle anything from responding to electric or gas emergency situations to scheduling service calls to simply changing customer master data — for example, modifying a customer’s service type or billing address — within the SAP system,” says Earp.
PSEG realized it would benefit from some outside assistance to make the most of its expanding SAP landscape and ensure it could maintain high levels of system performance.
Service Through Solutions
One major step that PSEG took was to sign up for an SAPMaxAttention service agreement. The contract included a designation of a technical quality manager who was assigned to monitor PSEG’s landscape and provide recommendations on how to improve performance and avoid problems. One of the first suggestions the technical quality manager made was to adopt the Run SAP Like a Factory methodology using SAP Solution Manager at the core of that strategy. The two pieces work together to improve system performance.
PSEG had already implemented SAP Solution Manager but wasn’t fully utilizing it. At the technical quality manager’s suggestion, PSEG upgraded to version 7.1 and configured all of its SAP production systems to be monitored by SAP Solution Manager, which provided much greater visibility into its entire IT landscape.
Implementing the methodology took a bit more internal work. As Earp describes it, Run SAP Like a Factory involves assigning responsibilities and processes to individuals, so when SAP Solution Manager identifies trouble in the system, there is a methodical, standardized process to address the problem as a whole, not an isolated approach to solving each issue.
“Run SAP Like a Factory advocates commonality,” says Earp. “There is a common approach to problem detection, troubleshooting, and resolution.”
A key component of that approach to problem resolution is SAP’s root-cause analysis process. According to Earp, this process entails taking a holistic approach to system performance and examining the hardware, the application, and the database in a structured and sequenced way to find the cause of a given problem. Utilizing this process involved some change management to align the support teams with a more consistent approach.
“In this methodology, you follow the same process every time, so when you go through your post-mortem and do a review, everyone is talking the same language and understands what steps were taken and what processes were followed to reach the resolution,” he says. “It can be difficult to encourage a seasoned team to follow a new process like that.”
Another opportunity to maximize performance in PSEG’s growing SAP landscape involves the interfaces between non-SAP and SAP systems. For example, the utility uses a specialized outage management system (OMS) to track power outages across its network, and this system interfaces with SAP ERP so the two systems can share data such as service visit information.
Visibility into the origin of problems occurring between the two systems can be challenging and complex. If the OMS support team doesn’t receive the right data, it calls the SAP support team to look at the SAP system to find the issue, and then there’s back-and-forth communication to try to solve the problem.
The next phase of the Run SAP Like a Factory implementation will involve bringing interfaced systems, such as OMS, into SAP Solution Manager so that it becomes much easier to diagnose issues around the interfaces. The expectation is that SAP Solution Manager will be able to identify where interfaces may be out of their acceptable performance ranges and provide a first step in solving the issue.
“SAP Solution Manager allows us to interact with SAP support seamlessly when needed,” says Earp. “We can create requests for support right within the solution.”
SAP Solution Manager also helps PSEG detect system performance issues before they become serious business problems. For example, when a customer phones the PSEG call center, a customer service representative immediately looks up the customer’s account within the system. It’s a crucial initial step in the customer service chain, and the faster that first step occurs, the higher the customer will rate PSEG’s customer service level.
To ensure its SAP system will provide a fast customer account lookup, PSEG has set SAP Solution Manager to use a robotic agent, called End-to-End User Experience Monitoring, to test the system’s performance in these areas and report back. The agent is configured to execute important SAP transactions every 15 minutes. If the time it takes to execute the transactions is beyond a set threshold, an alert goes to the support staff responsible for that area indicating the system performance is out of range. The alerts can indicate when performance starts to drift, highlight major problems, or simply identify peak usage hours.
“In this manner, we can proactively assure transaction response times stay within required thresholds,” says Earp. “But it’s important to make sure the business is involved in setting those thresholds. Only the business can define an acceptable performance range for a specific process.”
The proactive nature of the maintenance and simply knowing how long certain processes are taking can improve customer service and satisfaction. “By implementing SAP Solution Manager and the Run SAP Like a Factory methodology, we’ve taken what would be purely an IT monitoring process and turned it into a way of bringing more value to our customer service team in the call center,” says Earp.
On the Horizon
To further improve system performance, PSEG is currently migrating to a new hardware platform and upgrading many of its SAP applications. The IT department is also exploring the possibility of implementing a similar monitoring process for its mobile dispatch operation. The process of receiving and logging customer service calls and dispatching service technicians requires a lot of back and forth between the SAP system and other systems as well as mobile devices. SAP Solution Manager can be used to monitor the speed of the messages going across the wireless network and alert the support team if it goes out of a desired range.
“Our use of SAP Solution Manager is an evolution,” says Earp. “As we look at expanding our SAP landscape into areas like supplier relationship management and possibly using SAP HANA, we have to include those areas in SAP Solution Manager as well.”