Every spring and fall, when power usage across the country is lowest, power plants routinely have temporary outages for maintenance and modifications. When that happens, the facilities’ produce no power for that duration, and their revenue drops to practically zero, so getting them back online as quickly and efficiently as possible is absolutely imperative. These are preventative, pre-planned maintenance and modifications, so you can understand how critical getting them back up can also be when they have to shut down for maintenance during high-use months. Orchestrating the workforces necessary for these projects can prove to be a monumental undertaking.
Today, technology has made it possible for firms like Day & Zimmermann to manage as many as thirty of these outages at a time, involving tens of thousands of workers, with a myriad of skill sets. It’s an exceedingly complex process, but it’s made infinitely simpler through Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, especially when these resources are fully integrated into the business
Ultimately, if such technology can streamline utility maintenance and modifications, it can yield dramatic results for other business operations, as long as CIOs keep in mind several key lessons.
“We took the standard business suite from SAP and made it work for us, by finding a seamless, end-to-end solution, rather than an ad hoc approach that doesn’t interact with other systems”
To first appreciate the scale of improvement made possible by Enterprise software, consider how these outages were handled just twenty years ago. Understand that each effort means recruiting the right amount of labor, making sure workers are certified and on boarded correctly, monitoring their progress and quickly addressing any problems that may appear. The work has to be done within scope, on schedule and on budget, in windows as short as six weeks.
Handling even a handful of these outages at one time is an unbelievably sophisticated process. With the tools available years ago, companies could only manage a few projects at a time. They required a lot more manual managerial work, and they still were not as efficient as is possible now. There was immense pressure on site managers, whose use of technology ranged from handwritten schedules, spreadsheets to standalone databases.
About a decade ago, D&Z sought to improve this process by fully integrating ERP software. Starting with SAPdeveloped software, we created what we call the TEMP HELP System, a workforce management and recruiting tool that now allows for unparalleled efficiencies. It remains the largest single resource and technology investment ever made by the century-old company—an investment that has not only paid off, but transformed the way it handles these projects. From the beginning, we sought to integrate technology only if it could do any of three things: optimize internal operations, improve the supply chain and bring services to the market better. We viewed technology as a tool to advance the overall flow of operations. Whatever solution we found would have to hold advantages for the entire enterprise, not one specific department or even for one specific goal. We also made it a priority that if any tools would have to be viable in the long term—they needed to be adaptable over time as technology advanced and business circumstances changed.
With those parameters, we avoided two common pitfalls CIOs make. The first is focusing on technologies that are great at fixing specific issues but are not integrated throughout the whole organization. They may be fantastic at addressing one goal, but they don’t improve the overall process. And they may not be good for the enterprise overall.
The second mistake is to look for custom solutions. Custom solutions pose the risk of becoming outdated because they are hard to upgrade over time. It may seem like sacrilege, but we don’t believe you have to solve every problem perfectly.
Sometimes, the more precisely you fix one issue, the more distracted you get from looking at the big picture. Instead, we took the standard business suite from SAP and made it work for us by weaving it throughout the organization, tailoring it to our needs. We prioritized finding a seamless, end-to-end solution, rather than an ad hoc approach that doesn’t interact with other systems.
Of course, you can’t pick up a newspaper today without hearing about a new opinion on how to solve a problem. That’s good in some ways, because it pushes the envelope. But it also causes tunnel vision, causing leaders to become hyper-focused on solutions that are too specific.
Our philosophy is that integration is first and foremost. The key lesson from D&Z’s experience in the power plant maintenance and modifications space is that, a smart investment in the right technology can lead to dramatic returns. Over the past decade, the firm has doubled its revenue from this business. Those results directly stem from early decisions to approach technology with the proper innovative perspective: always think of the enterprise, take an overall look, and lean into the power of integration.