Where’s the (IT) Money: Front-office vs. Back-office in the Utility Industry

Not long ago, I was brought into a large utility provider to present to the General Counsel and IT leadership on the transformative impact that enterprise information management (EIM) can have on an organization.

Doculabs has done a lot of work in this industry, and one area we’ve found that utility providers badly need transformed is the way work orders are produced and delivered to maintenance staff. The production of a work order is most often handled by a combination of a system like Maximo and a homegrown document management or image management system, but it’s not uncommon to find that some combination of the required as-builts, maps, and engineering drawings are also paper and need to be physically retrieved. Many maintenance engineers are accustomed to getting their work orders in paper. Modern EIM systems provide a more unified approach that can reduce the amount of time it takes for a preventative maintenance manager to assemble the necessary documents for a work order and provide them to the maintenance engineers.

I was half way through this pitch about improving the efficiency of the work order process when the VP of IT stopped me. He informed me that they have already digitized that process and given their maintenance engineers iPads or laptops with air cards. They had established that process as a high need area years before and had already solved that problem.

Call me impressed.

Their big problem now, he said, was how to transform the working environment of their corporate office. They wanted to address issues like:

  • HR Personnel Files: Most of the personnel files for HR are still paper. When a file is needed, HR staff have to go to a file room and have a clerk pull it.
    Shared Drive Clean-Up: Storage volumes on the company’s shared-drive environment is skyrocketing. It used to be bad back when the J Drive was the default storage for office docs. But now “exotic files” (like WMA, JPEG, TIFF, and MP4) are becoming more common.
  • Internal Collaboration: Email has been functioning as the collaboration system of choice. Together, shared drives and email were working well for single departmental projects. But when management needed insight into a multi-departmental effort, it’s been next to impossible to pull together just the relevant documents from each group.
  • External Collaboration: There is currently no approved environment for collaborating on a project with outside resources. But requests are hitting IT from all over Corporate. Real estate wants it for acquiring new easements, engineering groups want it for dealing with contractors, Public Relations wants it for building new communication pieces with marketing agencies.

For this utility organization, the hard nut to crack isn’t going to be finding a technology that can meet its needs. It already owns a couple solutions that could do it. It’s a profitable organization, and (at least until now) it’s been getting high marks for customer service. But it faces an entrenched way of working in the back office that has been “good enough” for the past 30 years. The EIM program has people’s attention now, but they know they’ll need to show transformational impact fast, or they will lose the faith of the end user and the attention of the executives.

In upcoming posts I'll talk about some of the keys for making sure this program is successful. But for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Contact me on twitter @doculane or in the comments below. Looking forward to the conversation!

Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.