driving excellence through business process automation

Don Rueter, Pantellos

More and more, utility executives are turning to their IT and supply chain organizations to explore innovative ways to drive results. In turn, these organizations are seeking out faster, better, cheaper solutions that can automate business processes, maximize IT assets and further workforce productivity–all without taking their eye off their primary goal of supporting power generation and delivery.

One approach utilities should consider is extending the capabilities of their existing enterprise asset management (EAM) systems to drive operational excellence. These significant technology investments have the inherent capability to extend beyond the corporate firewall and automate manual tasks, which spurs further business process efficiencies, greater technology ROI and cost savings across the organization.

Two highly-secure options available to extend EAM capabilitites are e-marketplace connectivity and hosted applications and services.

how are EAM systems used today?

EAM systems are repositories for all kinds of data generated by utility assets throughout their respective lifecycle. They are used to monitor the health of those assets, forecast asset maintenance schedules and ultimately determine asset disposal and replacement.

Utilities have become adept at collecting and storing information in their EAM systems; however, they are still dependant upon human resources to input information, place orders, run reports and trend data throughout the asset lifecycle. Considering the sheer number of assets a utility tracks, these mundane manual tasks consume time and resources and ultimately impede the operational excellence corporate executives demand.

Some utilities have already found that establishing point-to-point connections between their EAM system and suppliers—to—point connections between their EAM system and suppliers’ order management systems can partially automate transactions. But, they are finding that the time, technology and human resources required to maintain those multiple point—to—point supplier connections have quickly diminished their benefits.

e-marketplace connectivity

E-marketplaces are essentially electronic transaction hubs that streamline the sourcing, procurement management and payment for materials and services. They:

“- reduce costs. With its “connect—once—to—transact—with-many” model, an e-marketplace provides a single, highly-secure connection for all supply chain transactions and replaces expensive, unwieldy point—to—point supplier connections. By leveraging an e—marketplace connection, replenishment orders initiated by an EAM system can be automatically processed in a streamlined and error-free manner while reducing overall procurement costs for goods and services.

“- save time. A full-service e-marketplace reduces the amount of time it takes to plan, source, procure, manage and pay for goods and services. Procurement specialists not only save time by utilizing e-marketplace services, but also reduce the time-to-delivery and time-to-payment for the orders they initiate.

“- enhance supplier relationships. E-marketplaces can fully support suppliers’ existing technology infrastructure so the supplier base can easily connect to send and receive transactions. E-marketplaces are able to route purchasing documents in a supplier’s preferred format.

hosted applications and services

Another way of extending EAM capabilities and functionality is through the use of hosted applications and services–applications delivered and maintained by a third-party provider. Third-party providers’ expertise ensures consistent implementation, management training and support so a utility does not have to develop in-house capabilities to manage and maintain software or drive internal service adoption.

Hosted applications are subscription-based and require little to no additional infrastructure behind the corporate firewall to deploy. They are typically less costly over time than software license fees, upgrades and in-house software experts.

There are several types of hosted applications and services that utilities can leverage to enhance and extend existing EAM functionality, including: enterprise e-sourcing services, contract labor/project services management, contract management services and electronic settlement.

These applications and services automatically feed data into an EAM system to ensure greater accuracy and insight into asset lifecycles. More importantly, they deliver more accurate project documentation, expense details and real-time project status reporting so that all project-related information can then be tracked and comprehensively managed within an EAM system.

The combined use of hosted applications and services with an EAM system also eliminates time-consuming manual tasks and allows employees to spend more time on strategic activities.

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