From Down Under to On Top - Keys for Management Success

By Gregory Oaten

Ed. note: This article is reprinted with permission, Change Track Research, Sydney, Australia

EnergyAustralia operates one of the largest electricity networks in Australia distributing electricity to the Sydney, Central Coast and Hunter regions (an area of 22,275 km2) with about 1.6 million customers. The electricity supply business has operated as a State Owned Statutory Corporation under the Energy Services Corporations Act (1995) since 1 March 1996.

EnergyAustralia's territory. (Click for larger view.)

EnergyAustralia's network includes more than half a million poles, about 28,000 substations & kiosks and over 46,000 km of underground cables and overhead conductors. The network supply area is administered by more than 40 local government authorities and the related Digital Cadastre Database contains 1.3 million land parcels.

Like many IT initiatives, the implementation of a GIS in the mid 1990's promised much, seemed relatively simple and was thought achievable in a short time. This under-estimated the range of challenges that lurked beneath the facade of this exciting new technology. These challenges were thought to be technological but were in fact all about people, organisational culture and data.

The Transformation
Situation in 2002. Data conversion had been partially completed with varying degrees of success. Users were generally hostile; disenfranchised GIS staff were resistant to change which they saw as threatening and, in some instances, were found to be impeding progress of the data conversion and maintenance effort. Data capture was lagging more than six months behind and the business was rapidly losing patience.

Figure 1: Improvement initiatives and on-time processing service levels during the transformation. (Click for larger view.)

Situation in 2009. Data is up to date to within five working days of commissioning or energisation. Over 1,000 staff across the business use the GIS regularly. A further 300 staff use personal navigation devices with GIS data loaded to locate network assets. The GIS Data Operations group is well respected as a professional team focused on delivering high performance outcomes to an engaged client base. They are highly adaptive and see change as a source of opportunity rather than threat.

What were the keys to this transformation?
The keys to the successful transformation were to understand what drives performance from the systems, process and people perspectives; and then to develop and implement a plan that would address those drivers to achieve sustainable improvements in capability and business performance. This required a structured and disciplined yet adaptive approach. Critically, it was necessary to create the conditions for the team to succeed.

Fundamental Inputs to Capability (FIC)

Building capability requires attention to the fundamental elements that contribute to it:
  • Recruitment and retention of the right People.
  • Organisational Support and facilities are correctly aligned with company objectives.
  • Efficient Structures and Processes.
  • Targeted Training for our staff so that we can leverage our human capital.
  • Timely procurement of the right Equipment to optimise effectiveness.
  • A focus on innovation and planning for Development to ensure customer needs are met.
These six elements continue to represent the foundations upon which GIS Data Operations capability and performance has been built and they provide a framework for future planning and improvement initiatives.

Planning was undertaken at several levels. A strategic plan was developed to set an aspirational vision, a ten year goal and seven strategic goals or guiding principles. An IT Systems roadmap was prepared to address technology challenges and software needs. A template for annual operating plans was developed and, thereafter, operating plans became an intrinsic component of the planning and budgeting cycle. These operating plans drew on and incorporated activities from a range of strategies which were developed to address specific challenges drawn from the FIC.

These challenges included process management and improvement, land base management, spatial data quality (accuracy, precision and completeness), career management, resources, equipment, facilities, recruitment and training (GIS staff and users across the company), and organisational structures.

Spatial data quality was a particular concern and four major projects were embarked upon:
  1. A complete audit of the central business district high and low voltage underground electricity distribution network (a 4 year project);
  2. Collaboration with other parties to upgrade the accuracy of the digital cadastre database in the Central Coast of NSW (an 18 month project).
  3. Spatial adjustment of assets (a 3 year program of work);
  4. Centralised address data validation system for asset locations, network connections and customer data (physical and postal addresses).
Measuring the 'People' Component of Performance
Any change process relies on people becoming engaged, accepting the changes and adapting to them. ChangeTracking is an effective tool for measuring the success or otherwise of key decisions or actions. It also provided the justification, in several specific instances, to take decisive and dramatic action, such as dismissal, redeployment, other disciplinary action and organisational restructuring. The most decisive actions occurred in December 2002 (widespread re-training of staff), March 2006 (completion of backlog data capture project) and January 2008 (major restructure following completion of the CBD data capture project), while momentum was lost in late 2005 due to management changes resulting from a company-level restructure. The correlation between people factors and key performance indicators is striking (compare Table 1 with Figure 2 below).

Figure 2: Tracking the ‘people’ dimension of performance during the transformation. (Click for larger view.)

Business Benefits
Benefits of the transformation were quantifiable improvements in key performance indicators:

Table 1: Key Performance Indicators during the transformation. (Click for larger view.)

Right First Time (Data Quality)

The aggressive approach to data quality was matched by a deliberate investment in quality assurance and leadership. This quickly delivered results with people taking responsibility for identifying and correcting errors, making suggestions for improving data capture procedures - the result being a significant improvement in the accuracy and consistency of capture within the first 12 months. Improved data quality has contributed to improved safety outcomes in the field; greatly increased efficiency in network control, electrical design and storm and emergency management; and, importantly, users now have confidence in the GIS data.

On-Time Processing
In 2002, the most data being captured related to work completed over 18 months ago. By March 2008, the time lag was less than five days. This huge improvement enabled the successful implementation of the outage management system in 2007 and the integrated Asset Management System in early 2009. It has also allowed us to implement our 'eCapture' process which delivers enhanced electrical design capability to engineers and planners across the company and is contributing to our five-year $8.6 billion capital works program.

Cost to Serve (Productivity)
Productivity improvements averaging 28% year on year for the past six years have been achieved. This has translated into operational savings of over $15M. It has also demonstrated the success of capability improvement initiatives and confirmed the projected return on investment (ROI) stated in business cases. Demonstrative achievement of projected ROI proved to be a powerful factor in securing subsequent capital investment approvals.

Arguably the greatest benefit has been in the area of staff development. The up-skilling and personal growth of a large number of staff, who have seized career opportunities, has been a success-multiplier. This has been exemplified by the emergence of a culture of innovation, implementation of sustainable processes, ready acceptance of competency-based training and assessment, and the application of technological solutions where appropriate - working smarter. As the GIS group has grown, the leadership team has also evolved and matured. There is no longer a reliance on any one key individual and teams have taken ownership of their areas of responsibility. They have developed the confidence to take accountability for outcomes.

Other Major Achievements
The six-year change process also saw other significant milestones:
  • Training for users so that geospatial information and products are put to greatest effect.
  • Full implementation of our automated 'Dial Before You Dig' (One Call) enquiry system.
  • Implementation of an Outage Management System covering the Sub-transmission, high voltage (11KV) and low voltage networks.
  • Implementation of an integrated Asset Management System with functional locations for HV feeder components loaded and updated from the GIS.
  • Provision of GIS data files on portable navigation devices for field staff use.
  • Automated capture of service wires from service provider work notifications.
  • Implementation of an 'eCapture' capability to load electrical designs directly from CAD into the GIS (more of a cultural shift for engineers!!).
Transformation change cannot be achieved through technology alone. As geospatial professionals, we are enthralled by the possibilities that our technology offers, but in most companies power resides with the 'spatially-unaware'. Thus, it is broader leadership and management skills that must be applied in concert with geospatial technology if success is to be achieved.

Summary - the keys to management success
  • Leadership is vital. Workers want to be led. Leaders are expected to make the hard decisions - if you don't someone else will. Not all decisions will be popular but if they are fair and consistent, staff will respect the judgment of those decisions and management's right to make them.
  • Don't be afraid to take on challenges but when you do, make sure you win. This builds trust and confidence in the leadership team.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Detailed planning is essential to achieving return on investment.
  • Create the conditions for success - do the thinking, anticipate staff needs, win the resources and provide reasons for success not excuses for failure.
  • Get the 'people-stuff' right and the results will follow. Provide role clarity, engage employees appropriately, provide them with a vision and align the direction of the team with that of the business. Set clear expectations, provide regular honest feedback, and provide support for people to improve but be prepared to take decisive action when necessary.
  • Thinking in more than two-dimensions has its advantages!

Published Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Written by Gregory Oaten

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