“Our ability to execute is a core achievement. We are now able to build and deploy new mobile apps in weeks. This enables us moving towards our vision of an agile and mobile centric organisation while supporting our customer and RIIO targets.”
– Craig Armstrong, Head of IT, Wales & West Utilities.
About Wales & West Utilities.
Every day our skilled and dedicated colleagues do their very best to keep our 7.5 million customer safe and war, with a gas network they can rely on and a level of service they can trust.
We don’t sell gas; instead we use our extensive network of pipes to transport gas to homes and businesses throughout Wales and the south west of England. We respond to gas emergencies, and we invest £2 million every day across our network, connecting new properties and replacing old metal pipes with new long lasting plastic ones, to make sure the communities we serve receive a safe and reliable gas supply for generations to come.
It’s a vital service – and one we are extremely proud to deliver.
It is Wales & West Utilities ambition “to deliver outstanding levels of gas safety, reliability and customer service so that we are trusted and valued by the millions of people we serve every day.”
With a largely in the field workforce providing such a critical service with a high level of health & safety compliance requirements is challenging. In particular as most work result capture effort as well as compliance (self) auditing is traditionally executed using paper based processes. These, together with some of the backend IT systems, are hard to change, open to data errors and difficult to compliance-monitor. In addition, providing operational and management information fast and reliable is cumbersome.
In addition, Ofgem’s RIIO (Revenue=Incentives+ Innovation+Outputs) new performance based model for setting the network companies’ price controls encourages and rewards network companies to:
- Put stakeholders at the heart of their decision-making process
- Invest efficiently to ensure continued safe and reliable services
- Innovate to reduce network costs for current and future consumers
- Play a full role in delivering a low carbon economy and wider environmental objectives.
Wales & West Utilities has already and successfully standardised on a small number of core IT systems, such as SAP and Ventyx. It has recognised the value of SAP as its core System of Records.
Faced with these challenges, Wales & West Utilities decided it was time to select a core Mobile Enterprise Application Platform that would enable it to rapidly move the largely paper based processes to much more agile, effective, fast and error free Mobile Enabled processes with SAP as its core backend System of Records.
Wales & West Utilities evaluated a number of Mobile solutions as part of its Market Test.
During the evaluation, a number of Cloud based solutions were presented and it became clear early on in the process that these would provide huge benefits in terms of ability to execute, cost of entry as well as a longer term cost saving. In particular the ability to seamlessly scale up was attractive as at the start of the journey as it was not yet clear what the end point would look like and how fast it would be achieved.
“We had already decided on a SAP centric core architecture,” says Stuart Coombs, Wales & West Utilities Business Integration Manager who was instrumental in the selection and early deployment phases. “We identified a number of core benefits that the Movilizer solution would bring us and that made it an early contender:
- The deep and seamless integration of the Movilizer, the fact it is an SAP Certified Solution and coupled with the fact that Mobile Apps are written in SAP’s core development language, ABAP;
- Its ‘develop once, deploy to many’ philosophy, where the deployment on the different Mobile OS-s is executed through native and high performing clients;
- Being Device Agnostic, enabling focus on the benefits of the app rather then the complexity of cross device development;
- Providing a solution with integration capability to multiple current and potential future back-ends and not only SAP, avoiding the need for many single point solutions.
All in all the Movilizer 3 x faster tag line – faster to build, deploy and run – came across loud and clear.”
As part of its Market Test of available solutions that could meat their criteria, Wales & West Utilities amongst others invited Lemongrass Consulting, a Movilizer Implementation Partner and Co-Innovator to execute a full ‘day in the life off’ session. “This was a very positive and challenging session” says Walter Beek, managing director of Lemongrass Consulting. “The Wales & West Utilities team was very knowledgeable, constructively challenging and had a clear vision of what it wanted to achieve. We did a technical benefits deep dive of Movilizer and also talked in great detail about our Agile Mobile App Factory vision. In our view, rapidly developing business user centric Mobile Apps required a different way of working.”
As a next step, Wales & West Utilities embarked on a tendering process for a proof of concept approval solution. Lemongrass delivered a Movilizer proof of concept based on its MiApproval solution. Wales & West Utilities deployed a number of out of the box SAP Workflow approvals. In addition new SAP Workflow approvals for Time and Expenses were written. This enabled Wales & West Utilities to validate that creating new apps could be done as fast as envisaged. The proof of concept was a great success.
As next step and through a formal tendering process, Wales & West Utilities confirmed its choice of Movilizer at the heart of its Mobile Enterprise initiative, and engaged with Lemongrass for an initial Agile Mobile App Factory relationship.
What We Did Well
Looking back, there are quite a few things we did well:
- Recognise Need for Tailor Made Apps – Wales & West Utilities recognised that their pursuit of high productivity and excellent customer service relies on staff being able to obtain and input accurate information very quickly, wherever they may be; it was clear that doing this would require development of tailor-made apps for smart devices;
- Appoint an Empowered Mobility Owner – Wales & West Utilities recognised the importance and impact mobility would have and appointed a Mobility owner in Stuart Coombs, who was empowered as a single point of contact across all components and functions to make the Programme a success; “In our observation and from our experience across customers this is the single most important critical success factor for early deployment of Mobility” says Walter Beek;
- Start with an Approvals App – An approval app has a high level of visibility and enabled touching a large number of Wales & West Utilities team members and across all parts of the business with the first Enterprise Mobility App; the app is extending existing approval processes on mobile devices and does not change those processes; this is important for a proof of concept as it enables removal of the app without a big impact if proven to not be successful; it also enabled Wales & West Utilities to demonstrate that it is not always about a hard business case: very quickly the softer benefits of providing a modern way of working in support of a mobile workforce became apparent;
- Create the MiEnterpriseForms Framework – Wales & West Utilities and Lemongrass recognised early on that many apps had a similar core structure and have collaborated to create the MiEnterpriseForms framework that now enables creation of new Mobile Apps in a matter of days; more importantly, apps are created by business users and not by developers, providing a unique dimension to Wales & West Utilities agility and ability to Mobilise its business;
- Deploy Re-Usable Frameworks – the MiApproval, MiEnterpriseForms and MiAdminCockpit and MiHierarchy solutions provide Wales & West Utilities with extendable frameworks; these frameworks allow rapid build of new apps, and make the app management administration and testing effort more efficient and effective; MiApproval has been used to provide on device approvals for a home-grown Time Reporting solution as well as bespoke Work Order Capture mobile solutions build on the Movilizer platform; the MiEnterpriseForms solution has enabled the creation of over 20 different mobile apps; the MiAdminCockpit provides a uniform mobile app management cockpit across all users, devices and apps while the MiHierarchy solution provides a single and consistent point of organisational hierarchy reference for use in multiple apps;
- Develop UX Guidelines – A consistent user experience is a key driver for Enterprise App adoption, efficiency and benefits realization; we early in the lifecycle developed a number of User Experience Guidelines and Architectural Standards that enabled development consistency;
- Use an Agile Approach – Core Agile concepts such as appointment of the Product Owner, fast and iterative Prototyping, definition of User Stories, multiple and evolutionary Releases and execution of Daily Scrums all have contributed to the success;
- Think Outside the Box – Design of Mobile Apps is not a technical role; good design requires technical, business process and user experience skills to come together with a healthy dose of out empathy and of the box thinking; design governance is key.
We also learned some valuable lessons:
- User Involvement – Face to face involvement, enabling to build relationships with key business sponsors and users, executing regular ‘show and tell’ sessions are critical to ensure app development does not go down the wrong way; this does not come natural to development resources that can be reluctant to show an in their perception ‘unfinished product’;
- Cost of Leading Edge – Enterprise Mobility is still a relatively young discipline, both in its Technical and Operational Enablement; there is a clear cost attached to being leading edge; we learned valuable lessons around User Enablement and at times were pushing beyond the boundaries of what was Technically anticipated;
- Change in Project Ratios – When utilizing tools such as the Movilizer, the actual app development time is relatively small and classic developer to non-developer ratios no longer apply;
- Administrative and Testing Overhead – the multiple components involved in delivery of business apps – mobile devices, device clients, operating systems, mobile device management solutions and mobility platforms – all rapidly change and not necessarily in harmony; the administrative and regression testing overhead this causes increases with the number of mobile apps and deploying a structured and automated regression test capability becomes a critical enabler;
- It’s an End to End Process – There is a risk of defining Mobility too narrow and forget the changes it brings to or requires from upfront and follow up processes including reporting and analyses, follow on action handling etc.; this may impact the ability to capitalise on the benefits Mobility brings;
- UX Governance – It is important to apply consistent UX governance across all app development groups to ensure a balance between consistency, optimisation and affordability.
The mobile strategy has been a great success. Wales & West Utilities already deployed 1,500 smart devices (phones and tablets) which are using ~50 apps developed for a range of business needs and with all the data going back into SAP, further capitalising on the investment in SAP as System of Records. With those we have speeded up processes, reduced unnecessary paperwork and achieved cost savings. The Wales & West Utilities apps represent a leap forward in the use of technology.
Our apps are aligned to our company’s business priorities. Some particular examples are:
- Driving outstanding Service:
- The Platinum Service App is used by 600 employees and collects immediate customer feedback, including an option for a call back within one hour. Since its introduction it has generated >85,000 returns; an increase of 300% and had a positive impact on our satisfaction scores.
- Demanding safety always:
- Aligned to the concept of ‘develop once, deploy to many’, our forms framework enables colleagues (not developers) easily to create apps focusing on replacing audit and compliance forms. They have the flexibility to obtain photo evidence and signatures, plus responses received, in near to real time. System integration enables follow-on actions, such as auto email alerts, to managers about serious issues; over 4,000 safety audits have been completed to date using the apps.
- Our Pressure Calculation App automates the calculation for the time required for pressure tests on low/medium pressure pipes – information that’s now instantly available on a smart device.
- The Pressure Test Evidence app verifies pressure readings entered by an engineer. It captures photo evidence to support the pressure test on services, attaching them to work orders in our core system.
- Delivering Value for Money:
- The Transition to Mobile apps for the Mains Replacement program has increased efficiency and enabled us to capitalise on efficiency improvements.
- Doing all we can to provide a reliable gas supply & promote sustainability:
- The Status App emerged from feedback during a trial period, where we recognised the need to show the status of submitted information, particularly as our solution meets the principle of offline capability on smart devices. The Status App is a framework where all apps can integrate and has provided the added benefit of enabling contractors to reconcile their payments.
Wales & West Utilities has significantly de-risked many of its core business processes and has achieved substantial efficiency savings.
At present, over 20,000 data transactions a month are processed back to core systems via apps, replacing time-consuming manual and paper processes.
“I recently presented our achievements at our parent CKI’s Group meeting” says Craig Armstrong, Wales & West Utilities Head of IT. “There was great interest across the group in our ability to quickly deliver ‘apps’ that empower enhanced business performance. Our Mobility Programme working hand in hand with our Business Intelligence capability has assisted us in innovatively maintaining our outstanding Customer Service achievements.. Perhaps more importantly, it enables us to be much more agile where we are now able to respond constructively and with confidence to required process changes in response to external challenges.”