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PGE: driving customer value with network management systems

Derek Handova's picture
Journalist Energy Expert
  • Member since 2014
  • 12 items added with 18,773 views
  • Dec 16, 2015
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During this fall’s Oracle OpenWorld show in San Francisco, utility Portland General Electric (PGE) provided insight on how it’s driving toward its 2020 Vision program by moving from obsolete, homegrown information technologies (IT) to common, standardized systems. In this way, PGE not only streamlines and optimizes its vendor ecosystem but also adds more value for its end customers.

Opening the session, Behzad Hosseini, director, office of the CIO, Portland General Electric, disclosed how he originally conceived of PGE’s 2020 Vision back in 2008-2009. With about 840,000 customers, a 4,000-square-mile service area and 3,400 megawatt capacity, PGE’s vertically integrated public utility engages in generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to residential, commercial and industrial customers. However, it found that its then-current IT strategy did not work properly given its scale and diversity of operations.

“The CIO demanded too many strategies,” Hosseini said. “We wanted to change technology from a 27-year-old management software.”

To start this process, the worst option would be to unplug one technology and then plug in another. On the other hand, a transformational strategy would be best, according to Hosseini. To create this transformational approach, PGE teamed with Accenture.

How PGE got there

First of all, PGE had centralized its customer information system (CIS) to as much an extent as possible focused on functions and operations, according to Hosseini. Centralized and standalone. For example, PGE had 28 different technologies in its CIS.

“We want to go from a mainframe to a client-server (model),” Hosseini said. “We want to make sure all systems are integrated. We want to provide value to the customer.”

At a higher level, the objectives of PGE’s 2020 Vision plan focused on safety, customers, accountability, process standardization, productivity and operation and maintenance (O&M) efficiency.

Starting point

To begin with, PGE used Accenture’s High Performance Optimization Module (HPOM). Using this as a starting point for its strategy, PGE wanted to make sure that it was not making “great” the enemy of the “good.” In other words, the utility wanted a system that was “good enough,” and it desired a culture like that, as well, according to Hosseini.

As in any great changeover of systems and cultural transformation, management can only ensure success if measurements of the before and after states remain at the center, according to Hosseini. Of course, this runs counter to the sentiment of wanting to jump to the future state immediately for sheer efficiency reasons. The problem: people will not remember how inefficient the previous system had been. Lesson learned: To prove increased efficiency of the new system, the old process must be fully documented.

After getting approval for what PGE had in mind for its network management system (NMS), the next goal remained avoidance of reinventing the wheel. That led to the Next Wave program that Erik Cederberg, project manager, Portland General Electric, took on as the second phase.

Next Wave

In reality, the Next Wave program encompassed three separate initiatives taken on simultaneously, according to Cederberg. The objective existed to replace the Work Management System (WMS), substitute a Graphic Work Design system to create designs and manage information in the Geographic Information System (GIS) and supplant a 15-year-old homegrown Outage Management System (OMS).

With the installation of the new OMS, PGE would overlay the old, outdated system with process changes as it became implemented, according to Cederberg. When operational, the new OMS would take input from smart meters, phone calls and other systems to track probable outage causes, provide status updates and estimate service restoration time.

However, for the new OMS to offer an effective solution it must be built on a stable GIS, Cederberg said. Time pressure also mounted to get the OMS turned up before the start of the Northwest storm season in October. As the GIS install wrapped in late summer 2015, the cutover for the OMS targeted August 24, 2015.

Takeaway: Complex application deployments need a minimum of 18 months for business process design (BPD), system design, system build, testing and training prior to finalization. With an August 24 deadline, PGE pushed the envelope to reach production status.

And as the GIS rolled out, the target date of the OMS came into question. To make it happen, PGE expended a lot of effort on change management, according to Cederberg.

New OMS

At the centerpiece of PGE’s migration to a new OMS was an Oracle NMS, according to J.J. Navarro, senior manager, Accenture. Based on Websphere, the new PGE OMS enables customer service reps to manage outages from a dashboard. “We wanted to provide value and remove manual touchpoints,” Cederberg said. But with a complex integration at hand, the timelines lie at risk, according to Cederberg. 

With the GIS rolled out and the CIS integration completed, customers could now get data on outages. Before that any line orders had to go through the Maximo work and asset management solution to automate the process, according to Cederberg. He described it as a “swivel chair manual order” process where the old mobile integration entailed just talking on the radio to field crews.

But under the new Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) integration it shows trucks and crews on the NMS map. This removes guesswork in dispatching the closest available crew to service an outage, according to Cederberg.

In addition, PGE can drive service work and design construction work through Maximo to Websphere to the Asset & Resource Management (ARM) solution. And information from field crew laptops is sent back into the system for retrieval, if necessary.

To know if they are succeeding in dispatching crews in the new outage process, PGE uses Oracle Utilities Analytics (OUA). Operationally, this also lets crews see pending work orders in their feeds.

Most importantly for PGE, the new OMS provides the key pillar of enhanced safety functionality. PGE’s Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) delivered this in two parts. First, AMI pings the meters to tell if they are on or off to verify outages. This functionality helps PGE see if more outages can be cleared off the OMS—an especially critical capability during storms when crew availability is at a premium. Second, meters will send a “last gasp” message to the AMI if they are about to run out of power.

"Smartest IT project"

In working to implement PGE’s 2020 Vision/Next Wave, Navarro described it as the “smartest IT project” with which he has ever been involved. And that for a project which had 40 to 50 full-time-equivalent (FTE) team members at its peak, according to Navarro. Three reasons led Navarro to this conclusion:

1. Partnering among Accenture, Oracle and PGE, specifically Accenture’s integration capability and Oracle’s “cutting edge” products

2. Onboarding of PGE’s business side at every step of the process, which enables those staffers to say to themselves that they completed the upgrade in-house and improves change management

3. Embedding of PGE technical and IT teams on Day 1, making transition to Day 2 operations easy

In PGE’s case, the measure of success meant that the OMS had to work on Day 1. To do this, PGE had to approach the implementation as one piece. The business side, customer side and field side needed representation in the process. PGE had the customer side in all phases. And on all but one part, business got representation. However, the field side engagement proved more challenging. “There was some field engagement but enough,” Cederberg said.

Lesson learned: invest up front, especially in training. That’s because the field is slower to adapt to a new system, according to Cederberg. “It pays to get their engagement up front.” Actually, it took one month to reach all field crews on use of the new systems, according to Cederberg.

When it came to the AMI filtering meter information, the implementation did not go live on Day 1, according to Cederberg. To enable creation of outages in the OMS, Cederberg said you must trust the information about which meters say they’ve run out of power, but many were still powered. And when field crews go to service meters that say they’re out of power and they’re not, it makes field crews “grumpy,” as Cederberg put it. This resulted in PGE deciding not to activate last gasp functionality in an area if it had not received any customer calls reporting outages there. At present, PGE uses its AMI as a testbed that will eventually move into production when mature.

In the end, Cederberg recommends that any utility planning a similar NMS/OMS switch do a thorough assessment of the computer literacy of its personnel. Train your groups up front, he said. For example, PGE took three weeks to individually train and assess the capabilities of its personnel, particularly on their working knowledge of the new systems. “Our NMS is an advanced tool with a lot of functionality,” Cederberg said. “It takes time to get users to maturity. Train, train some more, train again. Evaluate and repeat.”

 

Derek Handova is a veteran freelance journalist and corporate content marketer who contributes regularly to B2B News Network, Infotech Lead and Intelligent Utility. He can be reached at handovafreelance@gmail.com.

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