Utility Week

UTILITY Week 6th November 2015

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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22 | 6TH - 12TH NOVEMBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Operations & Assets Market view P lanning the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a 25km "super sewer" which will help tackle the tens of millions of tonnes of untreated sewage that pour into the tidal River Thames every year, presented a unique challenge for us in the IT team and required some innovative thinking. We needed a procurement and financial solution that could be quickly rolled out and at minimal cost, with built-in flexibility, easy configuration capabilities and low levels of complexity. Typically, functions such as finance, pro- curement, customer relationship manage- ment (CRM) and human resources all sit on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) plat- form. However, Tideway was launched as an independent utility company on 24 August 2015, separate from Thames Water. This meant implementing an ERP platform that would be easy to configure to our specific requirements. Nonetheless, it still needed to be robust enough to meet the stringent requirements of a regulated utility provider and be able to support the critical finance function. This limited the scope for experimenta- tion and prevented trying untested solutions. Due to its experience with implementing and configuring cloud ERP platforms, we brought in Accenture to help with an inno- vative approach. Aer evaluating our busi- ness needs, we decided to use a cloud-based platform and selected the NetSuite OneWorld ERP solution. As a result, Tideway is the first regulated utility in the UK to implement a true multi-tenant cloud-based ERP system. Using a cloud-based solution brought a number of immediate and recurring benefits. First, because the system is a cloud-based soware offering, there's no requirement for on-site servers and IT support staff and sec- ond, as NetSuite manages all upgrades and system maintenance, there's never a point when you are on an old version of the so- ware. You are guaranteed to be running the latest version. This leads to a big reduction in upfront costs and a faster return on investment. Accessing the platform is done by log- ging in via an internet browser. Client data is stored across a number of cloud-based servers and is protected by robust security protocols. Implementation is also much quicker. In working with Accenture, the project took four months to complete, compared with more traditional on-premise solutions, where implementations can take considerably more than a year. The flexibility of the system is also a major advantage. In a start-up environ- ment, requirements evolve. For instance, we decided to adopt a modified purchase- to-pay process at Thames Tideway Tunnel with simplified approvals routing, which was straightforward thanks to the system's adaptability. Much of the configuration can be done by point-and-click and English-language com- mands, rather than having to write code, which is a major time-saver. There are also a number of important recurring benefits. There's no need to carry out disruptive maintenance and upgrade routines. This is done out of sight by the so- ware provider on its own servers, for the ben- efit of all users, twice a year. There are also a number of functional- ity advantages. It allows the chief finan- cial officer, for instance, to gain real-time visibility of the finances via a dashboard rather than having to wait for the IT depart- ment to generate a report. The way the data is presented also makes it much easier to manipulate and analyse even to the point of dynamically drilling down to the underlying transactional data. The user-friendly nature of the platform means that business users are able to do much of their own analysis without the sup- port of an IT expert. For instance, they can mine reports all the way down to individual transactions simply by clicking their way through the entries. Overall it's an approach to usability simi- lar to some of the top online retailers where customers can easily make purchases, track them and keep a record of their activities. The transparency and ease of use trans- lates into fewer errors and makes it more straightforward to train staff on the system. This has resulted in improved employee engagement and satisfaction. A third advantage is the way new soware products populate the platform. Though Net- Suite has an in-house development team, it also allows third party vendors to create so- ware products to fill gaps in demand. Not only does this prevent us from being tied purely to the soware vendor for innova- tion and product enhancements, but it also spurs a responsive vendor community and a regular flow of new product enhancements. In turn, implementing these products, which are already integrated into the plat- form, results in minimal implementation headaches. A close analogy would be down- loading an app on to a smart phone. In today's changing business world, cloud-based solutions offer an immediately available, innovative second-tier ERP solu- tion where utility companies looking at mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, divestitures, or new business units, can move quickly and with the agility required by these new businesses. If anything they're an ideal and innova- tive two-tier ERP solution for regulated utili- ties looking for a cost-effective IT solution to support smaller subsidiaries or the launch of new ventures. Robin Johns, head of information systems at Tideway, the company created to deliver the Thames Tideway Tunnel Tunnel in the clouds Turning to cloud computing allowed the new Tideway company to set up its IT systems more quickly and cheaply than a conventional system would have allowed, says Robin Johns. Key points Enterprise resource planning (ERP) sys- tems tie together the main IT functions of a company. Start-ups or newly-formed subsidiaries need to be able to set up their ERP sys- tems quickly and cheaply. Flexibility and user-friendliness are key aspects of a cloud-based ERP system.

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