A Real Look at Change Management for Utility Technology Implementation

Paul DeCotisKate Schatmeyer

John Lang

Change Management

Abstract

A wealth of literature exists on the need for change management in technology implementations and how deliberate the process needs to be for electric utilities to achieve successful and sustained business and technology transformation. Yet, there is little information available on the challenges a change management team will encounter within a utility's unique organizational structure. Many legacy barriers exist that need to be overcome for technology integrations to be successful.

This article presents a case study of how change management is successfully implemented for large technology upgrades, with best practices and insights from several other similar change management programs embedded in the case study. Like most change management initiatives, the case study provides an insider’s view of how the team engages various departments in the utility, and how change management professionals increase employee knowledge of the utility’s overall technology ecosystem prior to training on any new system implementations.

Overview

Utilities recognize the need for change management professionals to work along-side implementation teams to address and overcome barriers to technology integration from a business perspective. While utility information technology (IT) professionals might typically manage such transformational projects, these projects are by their nature intended to support the business. Change management professionals know there is more to change management than writing communications, disseminating information, and developing and implementing a training program.

Organizational Structure and Barriers to Technology Integration

Change is always difficult within large organizations, but utilities have unique characteristics that make change management more challenging. Most utilities enjoy the benefits of having an experienced and stable workforce. However, these same workforce resources tend to become less open to change over time, and much of the organization’s internal documentation has been institutionalized due to this familiarity and time within the organization. Impacts of this include; (1) business personnel accustomed to performing known and routine tasks on legacy systems, (2) knowing how work outputs impact other departments and systems within the organization, and (3) knowing how to fix system glitches with workarounds as they arise.

        Different units within the utility might also have varying levels of knowledge and documentation of existing systems. Quite often, a change management team is tasked with creating documentation on the new technology processes without having any documentation on current processes. While legacy employees know the system, how to use it, and how to do workarounds, the change management team writing new training documents and plans do not have the benefit of knowing how things are being done before the change, due to lack of documentation. And, when asking business employees how they use the system, each employee has a different perspective and different workarounds to fix glitches or overcome system limitations. There is typically little common understanding of current practices or how a new system upgrade will impact it.

While these challenges are people oriented, the challenges depicted in Figure 1 below, are organizational in nature. For successful change management, people, organizational processes, and technologies must be aligned. Change management professionals hold the key to unlocking the value of technology to bring about all of the benefits promised when the decision was made to invest in the technology. Many utilities are embarking on very large initiatives involving complex implementations over long periods of time.

 

Figure 1: Unique Organizational Aspects of Change Management

 

 Unique Organizational Aspects of Change Management

Utilities have many diverse and siloed business units that are impacted by large transformational initiatives and technology upgrades. For example, think for a moment about the different makeup of a call center and a net metering group, both using the same software platform but for different purposes. The two units have very different responsibilities and uses for the system and different regulatory metrics and aspects to ensure that customers are not negatively affected by the technology upgrades. Training needs to be tailored to consider for example, hourly employees or call center employees that must be on the phone for their shift while undergoing training.

Internal training tends to be more concentrated within utility business functions that have direct contact with external stakeholders. While this strategy has demonstrated significant benefits in terms of field safety and satisfaction with customer interactions, it can exacerbate limitations in back-office knowledge and business process documentation. A change management team needs to spend time bridging the gaps between technology teams the organization’s business functions. 

This case study highlights a utility company implementing a multi-phased technology system upgrade/implementation for several of its operating companies. Sustained focus was on getting the operating companies on a common platform in order to gain permanent process improvements and cost savings. Typically, such systems have significant impacts to customers along with employees and processes. Given the IT nature of such projects, utilities tend to place more focus on operational readiness rather than on sustainable change for the business. They want to ensure everything is ready before the technology’s implementation date, but with less emphasis on what will be required to sustain the changes after implementations go-live. Setting expectations early and having a thorough plan for post-implementation is essential for successful transformation.

An Inside Look into Utility Change Management: Case Study of a Large Technology Implementation

The client was embarking on a large technology implementation over a multi-year period. The change management team was created external to the organization as a part of the project management office. The following sections will outline some of the challenges the team encountered and the solutions the team deployed to overcome them.

Barriers to Change

The knowledge of the current technology was the largest barrier the team encountered. Many employees knew how to perform their responsibilities in their role but did not have knowledge of what the technology did for the utility overall, or how the upstream or downstream effects of their processes affected other business units. Employees knew the steps of how to get their daily tasks completed but did not necessarily know the reasons behind why they were asked to complete the tasks they were required to perform. This stemmed from a lack of training when the technology was last upgraded almost a decade ago, making it difficult to explain what the new changes would be and how and why they were being made. This also made it problematic for the change management team to get complete documentation of the old system and the old processes in order to have a starting point in what the new version would bring.  

Resource constraints are typical at any organization. However, with complex and sophisticated technology systems in place at any organization, only a handful of employees are true experts on the system. This expertise is difficult to replicate in a limited amount of time. These experts are pulled in many directions over the course of the project with time needed to train others, help the change management team determine necessary communications, and help with testing and validating the new system. Both utilities and project teams need to recognize who these experts are very early on. There should be enough experts allocated full-time on the project, transitioning all their usual responsibilities to another resource. The team saw many resources become overwhelmed with too many responsibilities and a time allocation of upwards of 200%. The project needs to plan for many resource transitions during implementation: moving to other projects, other roles, or even to other units within the organization. This is common and should be planned for.

Solutions Deployed

A table of how the team organized their strategy for the change management plan is shown below in Figure 2. Highlights include:

1.       Stakeholder Analysis

The change management team for this project, based on lessons learned from other large transformation projects, recognized very early that an extremely thorough stakeholder analysis was crucial to the project’s success. Equipped with just an employee organization chart, the team set out to interview all potential areas of the business that might be affected by the technology upgrade. Implementing a large utility project can affect the current processes not only for the billing department, but also for field operations, the call center and IT, among many others. To ensure all business changes were addressed, the team facilitated workshops with each department lead to gain a better understanding of how they currently operate, and where the gaps in knowledge existed. From this analysis, the team was able to create custom training sessions tailored to how each group used the technology. It also gave the team expertise when changes or defects meant that certain processes would have to change over the course of the project; the team was able to quickly determine how it would affect each team.

2.       Peer Trainers

With no internal training group within the organization, a key success factor was having a peer conduct the final training for each group. A peer can speak to the unique ways their group uses the technology. These peer trainers were usually technology experts and their time had to be allocated very wisely to make time for several “train-the-trainer” sessions prior to final training. The team made sure to start training very early on in order to get end-users comfortable with the new system. Weekly hour-long system demonstrations were held on various topics for highly impacted groups, which significantly reduced the knowledge curve prior to final training. The team also created a few unique ways of training, such as online modules for units that operated overseas and teams that couldn’t have many people off the billing or call center floor for training.

3.       Establishing a Change Network

The team also used the stakeholder analysis to create a network of representatives from each impacted area of the utility. This network met once a week in the months prior to final deployment creating an outlet for leaders to voice concerns, ask questions, and retrieve quick information from the project to bring back to the larger teams. The change management team also used these meetings to gauge how each business unit felt about their level of preparedness prior to go-live. The team sent out surveys after each meeting to ensure that every team felt fully prepared for the new technology.

Figure 2: High-Level View of the Team’s Change Plan

 

 High-Level View of the Team's Change Plan

Lessons Learned

One of the most impactful lessons the team learned was of the need to have an extremely agile change management plan. The training was certainly an iterative process, always changing with new workarounds needed to be communicated to the business and new resources being pulled into and out of the project as the system was being implemented. Success for this team was dependent on developing a flexible and iterative change plan after conducting a thorough analysis of how every aspect of the business used the technology. It was also largely dependent upon the expert resources being available to present this training for their peers.

The team challenged the utility to start taking ownership of documentation upkeep and refresh post implementation. An external change management team’s goal is not just be to ready the business for go-live, it is also to develop a path for the utility to establish an internal change management center of excellence that can enforce the upkeep of business processes. As many change management teams for technology projects are external, or even if internal last only for the duration of the project, the utility must use the momentum and the methods developed during project implementation for the efficiency of the next release, which is inevitably on the horizon.

Author Bios

Kate Schatmeyer is a senior consultant with West Monroe Partner’s Energy & Utilities practice, based in New York City. She brings four years of diverse consulting experience within the energy industry helping companies develop organizational training, execute business transformations, and develop strategic employee and customer experience solutions.

Paul A. DeCotis is a senior director in West Monroe Partners’ Energy & Utilities practice, leading the east coast practice and the advisory and regulatory offerings. He has more than 35 years of experience as a utility executive, consultant, and educator and an exemplary track record for applying business and technology expertise to address the needs of an industry in transformation.

John Lang is a manager in West Monroe’s Operations Excellence practice, specializing in Program Management. John has 20+ years of experience and is a skilled business transformation leader who is recognized for successfully leading strategic programs. John’s areas of expertise include organizational change management, predictive and agile delivery methodologies, program marketing and communications, strategic design & delivery, demand management, and portfolio management.

 

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