Digital strategies are fast becoming the preferred method of driving businesses forward across a range of industries.
Implementing an effective mobile or digital process into business operations can drastically reduce costs and improve timings surrounding product or service delivery.
This all lends to the desire to engage the customer and better the relationship as hungry competitors wait in the wings.
SGN is a gas and energy infrastructure distributor that operates in Scotland and the south of England. It covers
around 5.5 million households.
As a company it directly employs 3,500 people, and including contract staff about 6,000. The business has a UK
focus on energy distribution. ‘Safety and customer efficiency are at the heart of what we do,’ says Andrew Quail, SGN’s director of IT.
SGN saw an opportunity to digitally orientate its service with the aim of transforming its operations and
improving the customer relationship.
In order to achieve this, the distributor implemented a mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) strategy
that, according to Quail, ‘fundamentally makes our operations more efficient and ultimately provides a better customer experience and satisfaction to the end user of our network’.
MBaaS enables the convergence of mobile app backend services so that they sit on top of a cloud-based infrastructure like that of Amazon or Rackspace.
‘For developers this means that they can enable once-proprietary environments that house backend integration and functionality to be placed in an open environment like the cloud so that any development tool can leverage that backend functionality,’ explains Burley Kawasaki, SVP products at Kony.
Kony has provided SGN with an enterprise mobility platform called MobileFabric 7 to help invigorate and enable its highly mobile workforce, comprising 3,000 engineers who are out on the road.
Kawasaki goes on to suggest that this type of enterprise-grade mobile infrastructure service strategy makes it easier to build apps that integrate and support all backend systems, like an engineer customer review system.
‘The new version enables developers to define or automatically generate application data models and then map
them to a set of backend content sources for rapid data integration, modelling and object development.’
SGN rolled out this mobile strategy in March this year. Quail explains that they have already rolled out a customer
satisfaction mobile app, as an example of just one way that the mobile strategy can serve the business.
‘We’ve introduced the customer service app to our field force, and that’s given us real-time analysis of individuals’ performance, and almost forces the customer into interaction with our staff, which technically didn’t
happen in the past.’
Another solution that SGN is looking to launch on the Kony platform is the digitalisation of engineers’ time sheets as they drive between depot locations.
‘That’s being rolled out as we speak,’ says Quail. ‘So, in a relatively short period of time, we’ve been able to scale up to enterprise-grade mobile services and essentially bring a development function in-house, where the capability
wasn’t there before.
‘It’s a relatively new service, but something that we’ve seen bring value very quickly into the organisation.’ The overall goal in implementing a digital-first strategy is to introduce flexibility, agility and efficiency into
the organisation’s daily operations.
‘The key differentiator,’ says Quail, ‘is that this gives us a scalable yet flexible way of providing solutions to our end
users that are relatively low cost’.
The mobile strategy requires minimal commitment and can be integrated far more quickly into SGN’s enterprise
systems than was the case with its legacy estate, says Quail.
‘This isn’t a technology vanity project. This is absolutely about driving value into our business by making the
operational workforce more efficient and providing solutions that enable us to engage better with our customers.’
Implementing any new digital strategy requires time, acceptance (by employees, and consumers to a
lesser extent) and, of course, money. So it had better deliver results.
Referring specifically to the digitalisation of time sheets, Quail explains that SGN has seen direct cost savings in terms of travel time and fuel.
In terms of figures, Quail says that this specific initiative has saved roughly £250,000. While this isn’t ‘stellar’, it does demonstrate that SGN is now working on minimal costs to deliver the app.
Equally, this represents a return after only a few months, which is impressive. Previously, the company had been
dependent on ERP-type solutions for every single service.
The mobile strategy allows SGN to integrate individual services into other legacy applications, ‘on a case-by-case basis’.
‘This is absolutely benefit-led, and there’s loads more to go for in terms of some of the paper processes that we’ve
got out in the field.’
In the name of flexibility
Ultimately, this system has provided what open source software does for many businesses: flexibility.
Before integrating the Kony platform into business operations, SGN was using an SAP mobile platform, ‘which was
kind of one-size-fits-all’, says Quail.
Any tinkering on that platform, he explains, could have potentially knocked the systems offline. When safety-critical processes like gas escape response, the perils are evident.
This platform, however, enables SGN to stand individual services down or amend them as we see fit, far more
easily than we previously could.
Integrating a fully functional MBaaS strategy that has delivered pretty instantaneous results can’t have been
without its challenges – or can it?
While getting the network connectivity into Amazon Web Services (AWS) did take a couple of weeks longer
than SGN expected, other than that ‘there really haven’t been any huge challenges’, says Quail. ‘It has been a
breath of fresh air compared to other enterprise platforms that I’ve initiated previously.’
He owes the ease of this transition to Kony’s mobile service. ‘We’re able to leverage a wider community of people who specialise in development – that was a key feature of selecting Kony’s platform. We have standards, and we have the ability to go to market for other vendors to help us if the demand is too much for our small team, or
indeed Kony themselves.’
It became evident that implementing the mobile service was part of a much wider IT strategy. SGN is currently undergoing a much broader change of programme, according to Quail.
‘We do have a broader mobile strategy in using other services – some really niche services around map-based solutions. We’re updating maps directly with our assets on the ground, and that will save around £2.5 million over five years.’
SGN is undergoing something of a digital transformation, with the aim of making its workforce more collaborative and, in turn, improving the efficiency of its operation.
This transformation is leading the company into new territory: real-time networks. This is, says Quail, ‘essentially
a censor-based network management that will, using analytics, help us to manage our networks better’.
‘The two-year project will be fairly transformational in terms of how we manage, maintain and run our own
network,’ he adds.
Innovation doesn’t stop there, and Quail reveals that part of his team is working on pipe robotics and general analytics around business modelling and predictive modelling in planning SGN’s workflows going forward.
It is clear that the mobile service SGN has just begun to roll out is only the start of the revised IT strategy that underpins the digital transformation going on at the energy distributor.