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Blog | May 19, 2022

Transforming Operations in the Energy and Utility Industry

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What could you do if you had an infinite workforce? 

What sort of problems could you solve if you didn't have the constraints that processes and human resources place on your business? What are the problems that you would like to solve in your business?

Intelligent automation is already being used to improve how daily tasks are carried out in organizations, such as paying invoices faster or managing changes in water meter locations. But solving the big problems can sometimes still be viewed as unfeasible because a clear cost-benefit isn’t attached.

The energy and utility industry, like many others, is managing through several major and rapid changes. Organizations are being forced to establish new operating models that address financial sustainability, amidst rising customer expectations and challenging sustainability goals from the market, board, governments and shareholders.

In a recent online panel discussion hosted by Asian Power and SS&C Blue Prism, Christine Yong, head of digital at Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), Diana Montes, automation manager at AusNet Services, and Dan Ternes, chief technology officer, APAC, at SS&C Blue Prism, discussed the opportunities and challenges in using automation to solve problems and help transform the energy and utility industry.

How are you using intelligent automation as a core part of operations?

Diana: “AusNet Services has implemented successful automation in procurement, finance and other essential business processes to improve the way we operate. We noticed the greatest benefits in leveraging automation in asset management. For example, when we are using helicopters for asset inspections, the process starts by automatically identifying and contacting thousands of customers who need to be alerted when a helicopter is due to fly over their land, in case livestock need to be moved. High-resolution images of the assets are then fed into machine learning models that identify corrosion or other damage, helping to avoid potential problems and proactively prioritize equipment for maintenance and repair.”

Christine: “At TNB, we are using intelligent automation across various processes, for example providing chatbots for internal ICT service management and deploying OCR to speed up invoice processing. Our center of excellence is also running a program where engineers are working together as citizen developers. This helped us tap into collective intelligence, enabling automation to gain momentum.”

What have been the biggest challenges while implementing intelligent automation in a utility firm?

Christine: “The speed of implementation is the biggest barrier we face. The company has a huge pipeline of cases for automation, but the perception of value is different across the business. If I were to start over again, I wouldn’t look at evaluating each process for automation. I’d look at automation opportunities in each business division and build a single business case for that particular function.”

Diana: “The biggest challenge was to bring people on board and to build trust in automation because not everyone is familiar with the technology and its capabilities. This is critical because while we might be specialists in automation, it’s people in the business who are close to the specific problems that they have. My team promoted automation across the organization using different channels, including videos and presentations and created training courses. We spent a lot of time working with the solution architects and the security teams to establish how intelligent automation could be used. The key was working in collaboration and for everyone to bring in their knowledge. We got everyone’s attention when we leveraged automation and recovered $560,000 in lost revenues from large gas customers.”

Dan: “Helping the business to trust automation is vital and failure to do so can hold organizations back. Another challenge is created when organizations use technology for quick and easy wins without thinking about governance and the impact on other systems. Often organizations don't appreciate the controls and the guardrails they need to put in place to run mission-critical processes on a strategic platform. Governance is important, as is having a head of automation who runs a center of excellence. It's a critical role, and the person that does it needs to be a strategic leader with ambition to make a difference.”

What is your advice for those looking to start their automation journey?

Christine: “The ideal would be to drive automation as a senior management sponsored strategic program where you can deploy intelligent automation at scale. By taking a top-down, ground-up portfolio-based assessment the organization can build the stack of solutions across all the different layers that are required. To get executive buy-in, show them a proven business case. Create a dashboard or report card showing what you have achieved to engage the executive team constantly.”

Diana: “Reporting is key to executive buy-in. For every single automation, we show how many hours we have returned to the business, which currently stands at 220,000 hours. If you translate that into salaries, then you can provide a metric that really helps executives to understand the benefits we’re delivering.”

Showing greater value to automation can help shift mindsets faster and achieve buy-in from the entire organization

Dan: “A lot of organizations start automation in finance or human resources because it’s easier. However, I suggest bringing automation onto the mission-critical side of the business and solving more consequential problems. If you make a splash with that, you will have something that you can market throughout the organization, showing how automation really does change your competitive advantage or your customer journey. That’s going to change mindsets faster than just saying ‘I've improved invoice processing’ or ‘I've onboarded employees faster.’”

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