How the energy sector can embrace process automation

Christian Lucarelli

By Christian Lucarelli, Nintex vice president sales Asia Pacific

For years, Australia’s power and distribution companies have been struggling to meet local demand during peak power loads. At the same time, many of the major operators are constantly searching for ways to operate more efficiently.

With uncertain economic conditions ahead, ensuring operational costs are as low as possible is critical. As a result, growing numbers of power companies are undertaking a program of process automation. The challenge, however, is knowing where to start.

With large numbers of processes already in place, the idea of automating them can seem rather daunting. Do you start with administrative functions or focus on operational areas? What will deliver the most value in the shortest time?

Another factor to consider is that existing processes may not be working as effectively as they should. Simply automating a broken or inefficient process won’t add value… and could actually make things worse.

Focus on the right processes

Before any transformation work begins, it’s important to understand some of the types of processes that exist within energy companies. By focusing efforts on the right ones, managers can achieve maximum return on the investment made in the shortest possible time.

Processes can be grouped in three ways, and each group has its own criteria and level of impact on operations. The groups are:

  • Challenging processes: These processes are large and can prove a problem for many different companies. However, because they are so ambitious, there is a very high return on investment if they can be solved.

    Examples include automating complex processes such as transportation logistics, metering or accounting. Other firms may look at areas such as the analysis of potential new sources of energy or better ways to manage large workforces.
  • Everyday processes: At the other end of the scale are the small processes that support the day-to-day productivity of individual staff. These processes could be anything from document production and storage to transaction tracking and record keeping.

    Fortunately, there are a range of applications already available that help streamline these types of workflows. Taking the time to review and select the most appropriate can deliver significant benefits in a short space of time.
  • Ready-for-change processes: Between the challenging and everyday processes lies a large group that offers the best opportunity for an energy company to gain significant benefit from process automation. These processes may not be particularly complex or exciting, but they underpin important activities. Many may have been in place for years and continue to rely heavily on manual steps to function.

    Within energy companies, examples might include anything from equipment inventory management and safety system maintenance to daily staff rostering and catering.

    Thankfully, processes such as these are relatively easy to automate without requiring massive investments or disruptions to daily activity. Newly-automated processes can often run alongside the manual process they are replacing, allowing change over to occur without downtime or lost productivity.

Focus on processes that are poised for change

Considering these three categories, it’s clear that the best rate of return in the shortest period will be achieved by focusing on those in the ready-for-change category. This will improve the day-to-day functioning of the company without requiring major investments.

To identify which ready-for-change processes can be automated, there are three steps that should be taken:

  1. Engage staff: It’s vital to secure buy-in from everyone involved in whichever processes are being automated. Take time to gain a thorough understanding of the types of tasks being executed every day and how they integrate with other areas of the company.
  2. Conduct workshops: Organising workshops is a way to get everyone on the same page ahead of an automation project. They provide an opportunity for teams to learn about the current state of play, as well as the why, how, and what of the desired outcomes. By ensuring everyone understands what is going on, resistance to change can be minimised.
  3. Plan, plan, plan: No process automation project can succeed without thorough upfront planning. Taking the time to map everything out will ensure the most appropriate technologies are deployed in the most effective way.

By adopting this approach, energy companies can streamline their activities and reduce operational costs. Process automation can become something that adds significant value in myriad ways.