SAP Customer Care and Service Extends Functionality

SAP Customer Care and Service Extends Functionality

By Rick Rogers, The INC Group Inc.

Last year SAP, the Walldorf, Germany-based software giant, introduced its own utility-specific customer information system (CIS) which integrates with its R/3 software, a client/server business software. If the new CIS is as successful with utilities as the R/3 software has been, SAP will have a hit. According to SAP, there are currently more than 350 utilities in Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region using the R/3 system with several involved in the piloting of this system, called IS-U-CCS (Industry Solution for Utilities–Customer Care and Service).

Many of the utilities that have purchased SAP R/3 are in various stages of implementation. Some have declined to use SAP for various specific aspects of their business such as, work management. However, a few have decided to implement as many R/3 core modules as possible and accept the 80 percent fit against their current functionality and then integrate the IS-U-CCS.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. (OG&E) is one utility that has decided to take this approach. OG&E is one of the first utilities to pilot IS-U-CCS and has been very instrumental in the product`s development. According to Marvin E. VanBebber, OG&E`s Power Delivery Business Unit Strategic Services manager, “If done properly integration enables a company to take advantage of several key improvements. It typically allows you to make some significant gains in productivity/efficiency by consolidating or eliminating process steps. Additionally it can decrease the amount of errors by automating data entry and eliminating duplicate databases. When these two things become apparent to the user everyone in the organization becomes excited about what integration can do for their company. They not only trust the system, they begin to look for ways to improve it even more.”

There are several integration points where CCS has been integrated with core modules, specifically, plant maintenance/service management, financials, controlling and sales & distribution. These very functional core modules provide an outstanding base for CCS. Many advocates of the system believe additional consideration should be given to using SAP for as many applications as possible, including integration to third party niche software where appropriate.

The figure illustrates some of the more common areas where CCS is interfacing with various utility systems. There are many things that must be considered when making decisions about integrating CCS with these systems. The following discussion provides some food for thought.

Work Management

Work orders issued from the customer system typically represent 60 percent of the field-related work generated for the workforce. Calls from the customer are normally short cycle repetitive type requests such as “fix my lights.” Therefore, these activities are very hard to manage. They fluctuate on a daily basis, making it extremely hard to manage the workforce. It is noted that there are very few ways to use metrics to improve productivity. Likewise, it is very hard to set initial benchmarks for this type work.

If CCS is integrated appropriately to an external mobile data system, a company can begin to manage the workforce in a consistent manner. Business processes can be automated with an excellent return on investment and service indices can be improved substantially. Priorities can be set in a consistent manner across the organization and supervision can be spread over a larger workgroup. The system can provide a proactive view of backlog work in man-hours on a real time basis.

In order to achieve the possible improvements in work force management, integration of the CCS to computer aided dispatch and scheduling (CADS) should be planned. Proper integration will maximize core values and help companies reach internal service goals. CADS should have the ability to auto-dispatch a majority of all requests or system generated work orders. Skill sets, priorities and leveling should be associated in each type of CADS work order. Establishing benchmarks for each CADS work order type is also important. With proper implementation, it is possible to map service objects from CCS to the appropriate CADS work order, with enough granularity to represent the work group that is responsible and the particular skill set within that work group that is necessary to perform the work. A one-to-one relationship will exist between work orders in each system. Work best representing core business values can be identified as a high priority. For example, service restoration within an electric utility. Reporting should also be considered. The metrics needed to enhance operations and make sound business decisions should also be identified. Work that is too diverse should not be grouped together, as this will tend to dilute your performance measurements.

Service Requests

Service requests have two distinct, pertinent third-party systems. Service restoration requests can be downloaded to an outage management system (OMS) where calls can be analyzed based on up-line connectivity held within the system.

For instance, if several outage requests are received for a transformer, then it is logical to assume that this transformer is without power. The algorithms are dependent on the calls that can be taken and entered. The requests should be held and analyzed within the OMS until an accurately analyzed case can be passed to CADS for auto-dispatch. It is desirable to avoid “stacking” high priority CADS work orders. Completion information should be passed back to OMS for historical and reporting information. When a completed case is logged in OMS, the interface to CCS should create and complete a notification and customer contact for affected facilities and customers in SAP. This information will provide the basis for effective grid management. All affected customers should be noted, not just those who reported their outages. Historically, only 30 percent of a utility`s affected customers call to report an outage.

Geographic areas that are set up in CADS should have enough contingencies to avoid the stacking of high priority work orders a majority of the time. If the needed skills set can be spread across larger numbers of employees, then higher priority work can be completed in a more timely manner. This will improve indices for the higher priority work.

Non-outage service requests should be passed to CADS, where they can usually be auto-dispatched. Dispatchers should manage the work groups by exceptions, setting parameters for alarms when high priority work orders have not been acknowledged. Hours of work must be leveled according to priority and geographic area. If CCS work orders are to be downloaded to CADS in real time, there must be a one to one relationship between the two systems. Therefore, it makes sense to use the CCS work order number as the unique work order number in the CADS system.

Customer service representatives need access to issued work orders` status. To accomplish this, an interface that pulls information from CADS for display should be created, providing a snapshot of a particular time. Authority can be programmed behind these real time interfaces, making it possible to program a “cancel” from the CCS Front Office screen. This function can be used for cases where customers pay their bills but there is a collection work order outstanding.

CADS work order completion information should be passed back to CCS where the CCS work order will be completed. Confirmations of time and materials can occur at this time. It is very possible to identify the cost of service for each individual customer within SAP. The integration should consider the log on and completion time of a CADS work order and then confirm the appropriate time to the CCS work order. In addition, this type integration can effectively eliminate substantial clerical data entry.

Information that comes from field collection activities should be entered into the CCS in batch mode. Clerical personnel will no longer have to enter field meter readings, which can now be entered on a mobile unit and batched to CCS through a properly designed interface.

Meter Testing

Meter testing programs, requiring a portion of all meters to be tested annually, are mandated by local governmental agencies. These requirements can be handled with an interface from CCS to CADS. Meter replacement and test results can batch to CCS as they occur. A significant amount of back office processing associated with these programs can be eliminated with a properly designed interface. In addition, data consistency can be improved.

Productivity metrics residing in CADS are excellent tools for managing work groups. CADS work orders can have a planned and actual time associated to them. Reporting for average completion hours for each CADS work order type can provide the basis for planning and continuous improvement efforts, substantially improving past practices. Planned and actual times prove to be a very powerful tool for these short cycle repetitive jobs. Again, it is possible through automation to obtain metrics without impacting clerical staff in a negative manner. In addition, objectives for customer service can be set and measured.

IVR

There have been a lot of discussions concerning customer perceptions of interactive voice response (IVR), but if done right, there is evidence of an overall positive impact. Service restoration activities and billing information inquiries should be IVR`s main focus. OMS can feed case related status information to specific business partner accounts and these then can be used during an IVR session. Customers can report outages and this information can be passed to CCS for routine processing as if a customer service representative took the call. Account information can also be made available through the IVR interface. Again, this information is a snapshot for a particular time.

Since real time systems are very dynamic, extraneous value-added services can be offered. For example, the IVR can perform wake up calls for persons that do not have electricity or it can provide relief during high volume times. As a matter of fact, many companies interface their CCS to a third party IVR for overflow call answering.

Appointment Scheduling

Scheduling appointments with customers has caused much consternation in the electrical utility industry. Simply stated, field personnel do not trust customer service representatives to schedule appointments. A real time interface with a person or crew`s work schedule can provide the basis of appointment scheduling. Schedules can be kept in CADS but are accessible from CCS through an interface. CADS can fill the calendar-based schedules, which are missing in SAP. Some CADS vendors are trying to provide a long-term view of a crew schedule in order to schedule complex jobs for crews and equipment. Customer service representatives can set the appointment from their computer through a third party CADS system interface.

AM/FM/GIS

Automated mapping, facilities management and geographic information system (AM/FM/GIS) interfaces are very important in several areas. Batch loaded connectivity information to the OMS is the basis for accurate analysis. Equipment loading information can be passed to OMS for use in simulated switching routines. Engineering personnel have the need to view customers that are associated with certain equipment. Meter reading results that are held in CCS can be the basis for the loading calculation. Many companies use some type of loading algorithm to estimate loading either on a real time or peak time basis. To accomplish this, there must be a logical link between the different systems. The unique transformer station number works very well for this purpose. It can be a common thread if the systems are designed appropriately.

Project estimating has been considered a weak link for SAP. However, with the right interface, an estimating layer can be placed on the AM/FM/GIS, making it possible to determine project costs in SAP through the interface from AM/FM/GIS.

GPS

Global positioning systems (GPS) used in conjunction with CADS can also be a powerful tool. The union can provide a measure of safety for field crews. A graphical representation of crews in the vicinity of energized lines can provide comfort to remote switchmen. Additionally, GPS can be used to manage field personnel, enabling them to use a graphical representation of their work orders to route their daily work. This is less sophisticated than some routing software but is usually sufficient.

SCADA

Substation control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are important to outage analysis when substation breakers are involved, creating a business case for interfacing SCADA to OMS. This interface can create an outage case automatically and dispatch it immediately, putting a work order in the hands of the appropriate resource before the first customer call can be taken and entered.

Interfaces

SAP`s hierarchical structures are set up to support the various systems commonly used by utilities. Using a combination of classifications and superior functional locations within SAP seems to have advantages over other options like object links. These structures can hold key information that links the various systems.

If interfaces are handled correctly, continuous improvement in each system with little or no impact on the interfaces is possible. There are several “canned” interfaces that allow integration between various software products. Furthermore, the technology is available to extend the functionality in a standard manner. Interface types such as OLE, BAPI and IDOC can be used to accomplish integration.

Decisions must be made concerning timing. Is real time or batch information needed? What are the transaction volumes? A processing threshold may need to be placed where batch transactions wait until the server is below the threshold before processing begins. High volume times generally follow severe weather phenomenon, making CCS outgoing information more important than completion information.

Conclusion

Needless to say, the opportunity for business process automation has arrived. Return on investment can be maximized if the planning is completed in advance. A long-range vision is imperative. There are many pitfalls where mistakes can cost significant dollars. Although it is impossible to eliminate redundancy, it should be kept to a minimum. Maintain as much business data as possible within SAP. The systems that are mentioned in this article are available today. They can be integrated and improved beyond the discussions contained herein. Several very tight knots must be tied. This integration can provide the platform for a competitive utility. Status Quo is not an acceptable option. Change is inevitable. There is a dichotomy–utilities can actually reduce costs while improving customer service.

Author Bio

Rick Rogers has been involved in electric utility operation for the past 24 years. He is currently a consultant with The INC Group Inc. Prior to joining The INC Group, Rogers spent more than 19 years with Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. (OGE) in various positions. He was most recently involved in SAP CCS development where he served on the steering committee and was the liaison with the SAP CCS team. He continues to communicate with the SAP CCS developers. Rogers began his career with OGE in the line crews performing construction activities.

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