Monday, October 25, 2010

SAP World Tour - It's all about mobility, BI, and SOA

Last week, we attended a local event on the SAP World Tour. Key topics included the future of in-memory computing, computing in the cloud, and mobility. The clear message was that the future is all about the iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android. It's NOT about the desktop. We should expect specific apps that distill SAP software down to core information relevant to each person who needs it, whenever they need it, along with the ability to act on it. Another big takeaway was that during the next decade, we’ll see technology to enable managers to collaborate better with one other both inside and outside their companies. The new middle manager will work with customers and suppliers in real-time, with technologies that remove any semblance of corporate walls.

This is consistent with another key theme we noted at the SAP for Utilities event last month: utility customers will ultimately receive better customer service through more effective use of BI, SOA, and mobile technology.

We expect to see more granular, powerful functionality based on user roles in the future. This will be driven by leveraging Business Objects, by new analytical tools that make captured information readily available and actionable, and by increasing use of mobile devices. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) will facilitate third-party application integration with SAP while maintaining high security and enabling bi-directional flows of information that previously were not possible without far greater effort and expense.

Given these advancements, the right information will find the right users based on specified rules and real-time analysis of operations. Customers and field crews will be the most obvious beneficiaries of these developments . Work orders, for example, will change in real time based on actual need and geographic proximity, such that the four-hour appointment window disappears. Customers will get what they need faster and with less hassle, and utilities will make even better use of their resources.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SAP's Linear Asset Management and Operation Account Assignments

At last month's SAP for Utilities event we learned more about two specific enhancements in SAP Business Suite 7 that are particularly interesting to utilities. Linear Asset Management (LAM) for Plant Maintenance enables very granular documentation of assets like power lines and water pipes, such that maintenance (and associated costs) can be tracked to specific portions of the asset instead of the whole entity—for example, a segment of line between two mile markers, or a distinct vertical location on a length of pipe.

With Operation Account Assignments (OAM), utilities will gain useful functionality to assign multiple operational accounts to one work order. Tasks will be allocated to the right accounts, resulting in fewer order numbers, greater flexibility, and detailed information for Finance—without increasing complexity for the field. In fact, when properly implemented, we anticipate that crews will have an even easier time, as they won't have to think about accounting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FERC's rational response to violations

In today's issue of APPA's Public Power Daily there's a brief article by Robert Varela on FERC's "rational responses" to violations and fines, in order not to jeopardize smaller utilities. This is consistent with our own experience with FERC on behalf of clients. We've also seen a similarly constructive attitude from RUS, which offers a bi-annual educational conference on accounting for utilities. Everyone seems to recognize that complying with FERC and other regulatory reporting requirements can be a challenge for resource-constrained utilities; the financial data needed either isn't readily available, or it's there but not in the right format. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a special report on best practices for FERC and NERC compliance. Or take a look at our enterprise solution, which was recently certified by SAP.

Friday, October 1, 2010

GIS and SAP for Utilities

One of the presentations at SAP for Utilities that we enjoyed greatly was Elizabeth Mueller's on "GeoSynergy." The City of San Diego uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to improve customer service and increase operational efficiency.

By integrating GIS into its SAP EAM infrastructure, San Diego is better able to anticipate potential maintenance issues even before customers call to report problems. And when people do call in—for example, to report a street light outage—the City can pinpoint the specific lamp that's broken based on the customer's address, determine if it belongs to the City, and then repair it and close out the work order promptly. Huge ROI here.

GIS also helps field teams to work more efficiently by presenting the relative location of different work orders spatially; instead of relying on a basic list of addresses, crews can see their target sites overlaid on detailed maps, thereby making it easier to understand where to go next to make the best use of the day. We'd expect to see more utilities integrate GIS with their SAP systems to capitalize on opportunities like these, as the business case for them seem highly compelling.