Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mobility and SAP for Utilities

As signposted in the first day's keynotes, mobility was a recurring topic during the 2011 SAP for Utilities conference in San Antonio. Deloitte's Lee Ditmar and Mark White presented a well rehearsed message (and super slick Keynote deck) about going beyond the "veneer" of mobility to offer new operating models and services—plus including other information workers in addition to field teams alone. Again, this sounds terrific but highly aspirational; we'll be giving further thought to practical, real world examples that utilities would actually consider implementing. In fact, we'll be doing this next week at Sonoma County Water Agency, as part of our Fleet Management project.

Other notable take-aways: Mark's advocacy of single task-oriented mobile apps that deliver obvious results is another valuable best practice. And we also liked their characterization of descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics—a good framework in which to think about data and actionable behavior in the workplace.

Conveniently enough, Adolf Alesch from IBM closed the loop on some of this theory later on in the conference with his presentation on Mobility Moments℠. He gave a great example of a mobile app that would enable a field team to photograph a transformer, for example, and connect the image and related GIS data to the SAP Asset Master in order to get real-time maintenance records. This "augmented reality" scenario combines a utility's system of record with its system of engagement to generate greater efficiency and better customer service.

Monday, September 19, 2011

GIS and SAP for utilities - MTEMC and Aquarion Water

Building on last year's great presentation by the City of San Diego, the 2011 SAP for utilities conference included several new examples of GIS' positive impact on utilities' operations and customer service. Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative (MTEMC) spoke about their integration of GIS and SAP EAM, in which they use GIS for design and SAP for orders, accounting, Compatible Units, and materials. This configuration allows engineers to work more efficiently by staying in GIS instead of switching frequently between the two applications.

MTEMC focused on automating work orders and pick-lists for construction projects; automating fixed asset and expense accounting for GIS-generated projects; and standardizing order create, time and cost collection, and project accounting. By starting with these core elements—for example, two work order templates to cover simple jobs and complex projects‐MTEMC was able to eliminate data chasing and deliver automated, real-time views of inventory. Amidst all of the technical explanations and ambitious goals, Chip Pinion gave a little reality check by noting that, "Linemen want to be linemen, they don't want to work on computers."

Another good example of GIS and SAP was presented by Mark Fois from Aquarion Water, which uses GIS to note critical customers that can be seriously impacted by scheduled maintenance and unplanned events, such as main breaks. Aquarion uses GIS to map designated customers, such as schools, hospitals, and toxic chemical-producing businesses such as hair salons, and keeps this data fresh by contacting customers annually and updating records when move-ins and move-outs occur.

SAP for Utilities kicks off

Chris Ball's welcome message had a couple of good points about innovation, one of which we interpreted as being that the customer experience of an innovation is just as important as the innovation itself. Great to highlight this. But presenting smart grid and electric vehicles as "disruptive" tech seems a bit aspirational to us at this point. Mobility solutions for sure, though. And it was cool to see screen shots of old SAP R/2 and R/3 interfaces.

Bob Corteau went on to discuss growth, and, reiterating the mobility theme, the concept of "managing anywhere." Compiling information from individuals, new enterprise apps, and external sources will facilitate quick decisions, increased productivity, and better results. His imperative to "sweat your assets" — pursue short-cycle projects, collect data, show a return — is our typical approach to client projects.

So, the emphasis on leveraging new technology sounds great in theory, and we're hoping to hear some concrete, real world examples in the coming sessions. Utilities typically move methodically, so, beyond field teams responding to (or striving to preempt) trouble, we wonder how the ability to make rapid decisions will fit into that context.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SAP New GL and FERC Data

We're on an SAP New General Ledger roll. Expanding on our prior posts (1, 2, and 3), we had some further thoughts about New GL migration strategy and FERC data. For utilities that have been on the Classic GL and IS-U/FERC module for many years, a New GL migration will certainly not be undertaken without careful consideration and risk management. We recently put together some top-level deployment scenarios that mitigate risk and provide a utility with different options before committing to a specific one for production.

This SAP New GL migration approach retains the existing FERC module, while concurrently developing a prototype of the New GL that shows FERC accounts posted to GL in real-time. We would show finance stakeholders how to render the FERC account assignments to actual New GL line items in the FAGLFLEXT (totals) and FAGLFLXA (transaction) tables. Based on our combined knowledge of the New GL and the existing IS-U/FERC module, we would build a model that shows the actual FERC accounts in the Functional Area field of the New GL. In addition, based on the utility's assignment of regulatory indicators to both internal and PM orders, we could use the actual CO object assignments to regulatory indicators to create a Business Add-In to populate the Functional Areas in the New GL for both primary and secondary cost element assignments. In cases where full FERC_C3 (Trace table rules) apply for assignment of A&G (e.g. account 923 Outside Services), we would deploy substitution rules to assign the correct functional area.

As a result of this prototype, the utility would see a direct integration of CO to FERC for all activity type charges, assessments, and overheads (all CO module allocations) to each FERC account. The utility would gain real-time FERC derivation at the point of document entry. We would also demonstrate how users could overwrite the FERC assignments (a feature some accountants may find useful) during document simulation prior to posting (e.g., transactions FB50N/FB50L).

But that's not all: we could also link all secondary costs to the New GL such that any transaction posted in CO would update the Functional Area postings to capture cost movements between CO objects that affect FERC account assignments in the Functional Area.

Through this migration approach, the utility would have the choice of maintaining its existing FERC module or deploying the real-time, fully integrated New GL solution by reviewing real-world test data before making a decision on which method to use in production. With our prototype, financial stakeholders would see how to present FERC account information as each source document is entered, thereby eliminating a month-end close process to run the FERC trace and drilldown. In addition, the accounting department would be able to override FERC derivation on the fly during document entry and simulation, a feature not available with the classic FERC module.