To be successful power and utility companies must manage processes that are mainly human centric and require a lot of coordination and cooperation both inside and outside the company. Those changing processes must react to events and change all the time, creating possibilities for unstructured approaches to problem solving (and headaches for management), even while supporting customers and keeping costs low.

In the normal course of everyday power and utility business, companies rely on emails, document sharing and Excel spreadsheets to manage the wide range of challenges they face. In fact, emails are now used to manage projects, collaborate, schedule and track projects, to name but a few processes. But management by email has limitations, including broken strings, or people being left out of a series of communications. At the same time, managers will likely experience email overflow or a clear understanding about a project’s status.

Two recent articles in the Financial Times and Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal offer excellent analysis about the over-reliance on email that’s typical in today’s office environment. They’re definitely worth a read. The Financial Times story notes that “60-80 percent of processes that make a business run happen under the radar and are managed via documents and email.” The story notes how ad-hoc, unstructured email managed processes cause information overload, waste employee time and lose opportunities.

But the point here is that company’s do have options to overcome the shortcomings of process-by-email and, as the Financial Times article says, today’s current business environment offers a great rationale for every business to see whether money can be saved with better process enablement. clip_image002

Microsoft’s gold-certified partner ActionBase has developed a Human Process Management System (HPMS) which is an Office Business Application (OBA) solution integrated within Outlook, Office and MOSS to enable the creation, tracking and follow-up of unstructured processes such as audit, compliance, health safety and environment, bid and proposal tracking among other processes.

ActionBase has deployed the system at more than 100 organizations including E.ON UK, Israel Electric Corporation BG Group, BayernOil and Nexen. 

As described in the online KMWorld.com tradezine, E.ON deployed ActionBase human process management as part of its Action Tracking initiative.

As background, the E.ON group is one of the world's largest investor-owned power and gas companies. They employ around 17,000 people in the UK and over 93,000 worldwide. Over the last few years they have been acquiring companies in the UK, Sweden, Italy, and Spain. These units operated within the EON Group more or less as independent market units.

In 2008 E.ON made a drive to centralize key functions, like energy trading, to create a more pan-European approach to operations and asset management. The objectives were to drive out efficiencies, take advantage of economies of scale within the procurement arena and define a common approach and standards where possible. The overall goal was to give the organization greater flexibility to respond to volatile energy markets.

While market units in each country manage their operations on a day-to-day basis, more and more of the strategy, direction and setting of standards is now determined by central functions, mostly based in Germany. This change resulted in the need for greater collaboration and coordinating of processes within and across the organization and the use of common systems.

In sum, the strategy required the creation of an integrated business and centralized corporate knowledgebase, and to focus on business processes when dealing with compliance and regulations.

ActionBase was then called upon to enable managers to initiate and engage in human business processes that might typically be handled through documents, Microsoft Excel checklists and e-mail correspondence. But with ActionBase, power and utilities E.ON was able to use a structured editing environment to define a process in a Microsoft Word editor. Users were then able to save documents in a system which in turn extracts the relevant information and automatically sends the process activity to the relevant assignee.

By using ActionBase, the information was no longer buried in the text of emails -- each process step was recorded and executed.

ActionBase optimizes workflows because, as the process work is being carried out, updates, status changes, and any other process related to the event are captured in the system and are propagated back to the same Word document so that it reflects the status of the process. Follow up becomes a breeze.

Clearly, as more demands are made on utilities, whether for environmental compliance or full scale upgrade of the grid, innovative solutions like these will help control and manage the mishmash of processes that would otherwise occur.

To read more about Human Process Management Systems and how they operate, I encourage you to read ActionBlog, the ActionBase blog. – Jon Arnold