IT Integration Improves Maintenance Performance

Linking ERP with project management systems has delivered certifiable results.

By linking enterprise resource planning and project management systems, electric utilities can make the most of their IT investments while significantly improving performance.

Integrating separate systems-and doing so in a way that will not require ongoing efforts to keep the systems synchronized-can be a difficult task, but a successful integration can be very beneficial. At the Nebraska Public Power District, integration has helped cut down on the time it takes to complete plant turnarounds/shutdowns, which can save millions of dollars. E.ON Benelux estimates that it has saved hundreds of man-hours per year and reduced daily maintenance costs.

Tight Integration

In the last decade, electric utilities have been busy implementing enterprise software applications. They’ve spent large sums of money in hopes of achieving better managed and improved business processes. A single organization may now have multiple, heterogeneous software applications installed, each one managing a single set of data. To get the most value from these massive IT investments, companies must tie these disparate systems together.

One place where this becomes most noticeable at a utility company is in the management of its maintenance activities. Because of the scope and importance of daily maintenance and plant turnarounds, there are typically thousands of assets involved, requiring an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for accurate tracking and management. At the same time, these assets must be incorporated into a planning and scheduling system so that contractors or maintenance personnel can map out specific jobs and maximize the use of each asset.

Instead of integrating these disparate systems, the ERP system’s built-in scheduling functions can be used, but while quick, this solution falls short for two reasons. First, the scheduling functionality built into an ERP system is often not powerful enough for the high level of maintenance activity being performed at a utility company, and second, companies have invested so much time and money on separate systems because each vendor has its own specific domain expertise solving specific business problems.

If a utility company does have an ERP system installed to manage assets and a project management application to schedule daily maintenance or plant turnarounds, it is necessary to transfer information from one system to the other. The manual transfer of data is an option, but a poor one, that requires a lot of time, costs a lot of money and is prone to human error.

By tightly integrating the two applications, both planners and schedulers are able to work in a comfortable and familiar environment and share the most updated and reliable data, creating an efficient and cost effective maintenance organization.

Certifiable Results

At E.ON Benelux and the Nebraska Public Power District, integrating ERP with project management systems has delivered certifi-able results.

E.ON Benelux, a division of E.ON Energy, the world’s largest investor-owned power and gas company, estimates that it has saved more than 1,600 man-hours per year and has reduced the overall costs of daily maintenance tasks by minimizing erroneous data and eliminating the need for manual data entry. Before the integration, each year an estimated 7,500 work-orders with a total of 15,000 tasks had to be typed in manually. The new system not only saves time and money, it reduces the risk of human error.

The integration at E.ON Benelux came about after an internal re-organization placed resources formerly spread throughout 14 different generation facilities under the direction of two schedulers. Those resources, which were previously dedicated to specific locations, now serve as a resource pool to be allocated wherever they are needed within the company. The schedulers organize daily maintenance in a project management application, while numerous planners execute work orders in an ERP system. With the integration, relevant data is being shared in a timely and accurate manner between the two groups, increasing visibility into the process for planners, and allowing schedulers to make better informed decisions about allocating resources.

The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) integrated ERP and project management systems at its nuclear generation facility in Brownville, Neb., to facilitate scheduled refueling outages and daily maintenance activities. Plant refueling outages at the Cooper Nuclear Station involve approximately 12,000 activities, and take about 25 days to complete. Integrating the ERP and PM systems helped NPPD cut man-hours scheduled during an outage in half by eliminating manual entry, downloads, and imports of the activities required to keep both systems consistent. It also improved schedule adherence and accuracy by allowing staff to build schedules based on real numbers and accurately collected data. Employees can now make confident decisions, knowing that the information provided is reliable, complete and up-to-date. Refueling outages have been reduced from 50 days to the current planned outage of 25 days.

In addition to scheduled shutdowns, NPPD uses an integrated system for scheduling and planning day-to-day maintenance activities. The number of activities that occur on a daily basis are significantly lower than during an outage, but the 150 to 200 activities being performed every day by 40 to 50 people still require accurate scheduling. An integrated solution gives NPPD confidence and security that all operations are in-synch at all times, and that scheduling and work management tools are in line.

Improved daily maintenance helps protect against unplanned shutdowns, but when an outage does occur at the facility that forces a shutdown, the integrated systems help improve NPPD’s response time. Unplanned outages cost two or three times more than a planned project, and each lost day of production costs $450,000 in lost revenue, so every minute counts. By being able to quickly synchronize systems and build an accurate schedule, NPPD can start maintenance work within four to six hours of an unplanned outage.

Synchronization of data between two systems significantly reduces schedule development and maintenance time, enabling NPPD to generate accurate reports and plans, which improve internal communication and scheduling, and result in timely project planning and management.

A single organization may now have multiple, heterogeneous software applications installed, each one managing a single set of data. To get the most value from these massive IT investments, companies must tie these disparate systems together.


Warren Utt is president and CEO of Impress Software, a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of packaged integration applications that enable integration of project management and geographical information systems with SAP. He has more than 25 years of technology industry experience, with a focus on enterprise applications.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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