EA Networks (EAN) had been operating for decades before it was introduced to Montage.
It began as a power board in 1923. Over time, reforms transformed the electricity industry at all levels throughout the country and ended existing generation, retail and distribution arrangements. Electricity Ashburton Ltd was formed to run Mid-Canterbury’s line and distribution business, trading today as EA Networks.
EAN needed to look beyond being a traditional lines company doing a reliable job of keeping up power to consumers. Jeremy Adamson, EAN Commercial Manager, summed up the future: “We know the disruption is coming. What it looks like - who knows?”
One change EA Networks embraced was providing ultrafast broadband via fibre. However, bigger changes loom including electric cars. Governments around the world are setting targets for the demise of the internal combustion engine. So far, EAN has installed three charging stations in Ashburton, Rakaia and Methven to support such vehicles.
Solar panels are already commonplace. Network batteries could service a small farming community to ensure continuous delivery of energy during an outage. Consumer batteries are another possibility as the battery can be charged off-peak to obtain cheaper electricity and release that during the peak.
EA Networks have to watch all aspects of the technology closely. Significant network benefits could follow including network resilience, reliability, peak reduction, fault response management, customer satisfaction and pricing.
These opportunities required a new way of looking at the business, moving from asset-centric, the company’s traditional and trusted way of doing business, to customer-centric.
Every development has support the core business. Does it support customer engagement, or make the company relevant to the consumer in the future? How could EA Networks change its systems and approach to consumers to make sure they remain relevant in a fast-changing world?
Something else had to happen before the potential of a changing world could be recognised. EAN had to look at their own systems, many of which were at the end of their life cycle. The company pondered, Jeremy said, “how can we make this machine work better so that it’s fit for the future?”
They didn’t want to see potential in an opportunity only to find their internal processes let them down.
Gordon Guthrie has been EAN’s CEO for 17 years. His company had been at the forefront of change he enjoyed, and he wants to stay there. In 2015, he knew they needed some help to do that.
EAN were a typical organisation with legacy systems. They had databases all across the organisation, holding the information they were designed for but they didn’t share it very well. They needed to pull that information into one place so that they could use it for analysis.
EAN could then develop and drive insights into decision-making and planning so they knew what was happening electrically in the network and analyse that with financial and other sources of data.
Said Jeremy: “We have nodes out in the network which are grabbing information every five seconds. But we haven’t had the tools to use or manage it. Our data management wasn’t very good. We didn’t have in-house a lot of those skills that you need around data management or even designing those systems.
“We knew that what we had was not fit for purpose going forward. Nothing was broken, it just wasn’t particularly efficient.
They needed a single source of the truth, quality, reliable data, to do what they did better.
Leading the project was Duncan Turner, Montage’s Practice Lead for BI and PMO. The first step was to undertake a BI Discovery, through which Montage would go through the business, a consulting-led piece of work, requiring buy-in and commitment. It’s designed to ensure an organisation has an optimal BI solution that is scalable, flexible and cost-effective.
To answer such questions, Montage uses a scorecard to look at people, process and technology - areas critical for a successful BI programme. EA Networks really bought into the process. “They were aware they had lots of data but no information. They weren’t using good information to support decision-making.”
Jeremy remembered: “They came and did a Discovery. They looked under the hood. They interviewed a bunch of people. They asked all sorts of questions. They reported on that and gave us a synopsis of what they found.”
Said Gordon, CEO: “I guess that was the eye-opener.” That led to Montage’s recommended road map.
Following the Discovery, the first phase of work laid the foundations of their BI solution which scaled through other low scope, high impact projects. The projects enabled EAN to get to know Montage and how they worked and to see the skills they could bring. They knew about projects and how to prioritise them.
The programme supported EAN’s strategy to strengthen their information infrastructure where data could be easily accessed and used for planning and insights, shifting from disparate databases to more integrated systems. The development of a data warehouse where the company could use its flood of data was key.
EAN had many very skilled, intelligent people with vast experience. Those people could make gut decisions because they knew what had happened in the past and they knew intuitively what had to be done. Like many businesses, EAN had a looming succession issue. What happened when those people were no longer there? Processes had to be systemised and properly documented with analytics. That couldn’t happen without up-to-date information.
To compound this, at any one time, EA Networks could be working on 100 or more projects. The company was already concerned a couple of mission-critical projects might fall over. EA Networks talked to Montage and arranged a PMO Discovery to evaluate their Project Management maturity; the Discovery revealed that their concerns were justified. Could Montage help resolve the problems?
Many benefits had already been realised, Jeremy said. They were largely in the plumbing. Completion of that meant other benefit realisations could begin. An analyst has been hired to leverage the investment in the data warehouse and Tableau – EA Networks chosen data analysis and visualisation software.
More and more information from the systems Montage have connected are being released. With controls and checks and balances all the way through, the company can finally have confidence in its data.
On the PMO side, they have a far better grasp on project progress.
“Overall, they’re better managed,” Gordon said. “We have some discipline around that. We have all these projects and it helps us make them all work together in an organised framework. I don’t know what would have happened if we had just carried on as we were. Outcomes wouldn’t have been met. We are still to realise the ultimate benefit, I think.”
There were indirect benefits, such as having a Montage Project Manager, who spends two or three days a week with EA Networks, as part of the team. “Having their skill-set on the Asset and GIS projects and almost being like a linking pin between the two has really helped facilitate better timing delivery of those projects, even though they’re still a work in progress,” said Jeremy. Duncan is also proud of what has been achieved. “They have transparency of their projects and know how they are performing; and are able to make decisions based on facts,” he said.
They know Montage staff are batting for them. They even bring them in for talks with suppliers or into other discussions, knowing it will either help them or help Montage staff understand the business which will lead to further efficiency later.
“We’re a reasonably big company in Ashburton but small in the New Zealand context and we do find getting particular skills to come and work for us quite challenging,” Jeremy said. “So you often have to have that third-party consultancy arrangement to get access to that skill resource. They certainly filled that gap for us.
“I like their approach which is to essentially build but then hand over and then come back in a support function. They don’t want to be constantly at the forefront. They do want to hand back and give it to your internal people to work and then support. And that model really resonates with me. That’s where the trust comes in.”