In the Vanguard of work planning

29 September 2000

British Energy has worked with Indus to provide a fully integrated, web-enabled solution to the problem of work management and related tasks.

Three years ago, British Energy identified that its work management software was becoming out of date. The technology was ageing, but perhaps more important, the history of the previous system meant there was scope for improvement in several other respects.

Bill Doig, British Energy’s generation director explains that the company’s history as two separate organisations was partly to blame. The plants at Hunterston and Torness were previously owned by Scottish Nuclear, while British Energy owned plants at six sites in England. The Scottish sites used a different basic package from the English ones: what is more, each site also had its own work management system. All the plants are unique and many of the packages had been heavily customised.

Software maintenance was very expensive, and it was difficult to carry out benchmarking comparisons between the various sites. The unique designs and histories of the plants meant that for British Energy something as simple as spares management became a complex operation: and since identical components could have different identification numbers at different plants, the company could never be sure which spares it held.

British Energy wanted to standardise on one system – but that was not all it wanted. Bill Doig is project director for the Indus collaboration, which British Energy calls the Vanguard Work Management Project. He explains: “Inevitably there is pain associated with rolling out new software: the business of making sure it works correctly, user training, and so forth. If we were going to go through that pain, we wanted a lot more in return than cheaper IT support and assured compliance, although we clearly needed those. What we really wanted was a comprehensive business information management solution.” So British Energy was looking for a system with far wider scope than its predecessor. In the old setup, each site had multiple software systems that had information in common with the work management system, but did not share its database. That meant duplication of input effort and of stored data – which, in a highly quality-conscious environment means extra tracking and verification. “We decided to capture our whole process in one baseline product,” says Doig. “We were determined that each item of data should be input only once and stored in just one place.” This implementation is expected to have a direct impact on the bottom line. Doig sums up: “With the Indus system live, our maintenance processes will be more effective, which should mean that our plant will be available more of the time. That in turn means that our generating capacity will be greater, with the risk of incurring penalties for non-delivery reduced.” PARTNERSHIP Although British Energy was already using an older version of the Indus software at some of its stations, the selection process started from scratch, Indus being considered on its merits along with other candidates.

Indus says it is the biggest single supplier of such systems to nuclear power utilities worldwide, and that the product’s modular approach makes it intrinsically flexible. But Indus says that what clinched the deal in its favour was its willingness to work in close partnership with British Energy.

Until it started speaking to Indus, British Energy had faced a dilemma. It had precise, stringent requirements and was not prepared to compromise on the way it ran its operations. On the other hand, having already experienced the disadvantages of highly customised software, the company was bent on avoiding them.

The partnership offered a way to reconcile these aims. “Indus agreed to modify its base Passport product in the light of our requirements, and the modifications have become part of the latest release of the package,” explains Doig. “We have a product that does the job the way we want, without the need to deviate from the standard package in a way that would impede our forward support. And Indus has built our experience of operating power plants into its product modules.

PROJECT PROGRESS The process of selecting a new system began early in 1998, but it was not until May 1999 that the contract to design, build and implement the new system was signed. During the run-up to the signing, joint teams comprising staff from both partners were already visiting the stations and holding workshops with users to tease out the exact requirement.

The project has continued to be a joint effort. “Management on both sides has worked hard to ensure that we’ve never regressed to a client-versus-supplier relationship,” Doig says. While Indus product developers in San Francisco, USA coded the amendments requested by British Energy users, British Energy staff prepared test scripts and verification criteria to be used in module and system testing. A British Energy test team spent January 2000 working in San Francisco alongside Indus developers. Project members have collaborated throughout via the internet, shuttling messages and software electronically between the UK and the USA. The time difference can be an advantage, since a problem identified in the UK one day can have been resolved the next morning by team members in the USA.

The fruit of this collaboration, release eight of Passport, was completed on schedule at the end of March, in what Bill Doig describes as “a tremendous outcome for the team and for both companies”. Despite the enhancements added specifically for British Energy, error levels were found to be exceptionally low and adherence to specification exceptionally high, he says.

By mid-summer of 2000, release eight was already being installed at a number of Indus customer sites. At British Energy the importance of compliance with requirements for health, safety and environmental protection, together with the sheer scale of the operation, dictated a further period of preparation. So British Energy staff were able to test and familiarise themselves with the particular features of release eight they had requested, prior to the delivery. Rollout is due to begin in December 2000 and continue for the following 18 months.

It’s unusual for a project this size to meet its targets, so what’s the secret of this success? Bill Doig says that that Indus and British Energy managers have all been fully aware of the need continually to interact with the future users to make sure that they ‘own’ the system, yet retain realistic expectations. “We’ve taken whole teams of experts out of the power stations and got them to participate in the conception, design, development and testing. The effectiveness of this stakeholder management is what has made the project work to date, and it’s what should drive our roll-out to a successful conclusion,” he adds.

EXPECTED BENEFITS The business benefits of the system should be far-reaching. Each item of data will be entered and stored once and once only. As well as cutting down on data entry and verification, having a unified database allows inventory control to be performed across all sites, so that British Energy can consolidate its ordering to increase purchasing power. It is easy for one site to have access to another’s information where appropriate, encouraging the sharing of experience and the propagation of best practice.

Other advantages arise from the fact that several different functional areas will now be covered by a single system. Doig illustrates: “ Soon, one person will be able to retrieve all the information required to initiate a maintenance job from a single database, and we’ll also have a much more comprehensive record after the event.” The process will update all relevant records and can kick off further processes, so that for example pulling out a spare will trigger the steps necessary to ensure that stock levels are kept optimised. There are interfaces between the Indus software and British Energy’s Oracle Financials and HR systems, so that these can be automatically accessed and updated by the work management process. Indus is managing the integration work with the participation of other suppliers.

The system should be more-user friendly than its predecessors. Being able to access the system via a standard browser makes information available to a wider audience, since the user does not have to learn a special user interface. There are supplementary ease-of-use features, such as a “co-pilot” which pops up to provide on-the-spot training for the occasional user.

“We started from an established piece of software, one that has already been proved at a large number of sites,” Doig points out. So it should amount to British Energy getting all the benefits of a bespoke solution with very little of the risk. Meanwhile, Indus is able to offer other customers the fruits of British Energy’s considerable experience embodied in its package.

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