Megatrend digitization: No self purpose

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This is how business processes are intelligently digitized 

(ew, Edition 5/2021, 28. April 2021)
Digitization is no self purpose. Therefore, it does not make sense to simply digitize existing analog processes one-to-one. Only if the new digital processes bring an additional gain in efficiency will companies benefit in the long term from the measures initiated. Jan-Christoph Ernst and Michel Nicolai use the example of the digital house connection process to show how this can succeed.

One might think that a veritable digitalization mania has broken out in the energy industry in recent years: More and more processes are being digitized, tablets are being issued in the customer centers, and addressing via digital touchpoints is being pushed, to name just a few examples. But despite all the long overdue drive, the question may be asked: Is this always the right way to go?

In principle, every digitized workflow or every digital product is a step in the right direction. But none of these processes should be tackled purely for the sake of digitization. Digitization of the portfolio only makes sense if it is carried out in a well thought-out manner. In other words, when companies put a digital strategy on their agenda, they are well advised to analyze the sense, benefits and advantages of existing processes in terms of modern standards, and to modernize and improve them if necessary. After all, digitizing analog processes one-to-one is not the solution. Companies can only benefit from the measures initiated in the long term if new digital processes bring an additional gain in efficiency, for example, by reducing the workload of employees or service providers, automating processes, or generating new relevant data. This is particularly important for network operators. After all, it is precisely here that employees are faced with the challenge of coping with increasing demands with tight schedules and resources. Well thought-out digitized business processes can provide them with the necessary relief. It also increases efficiency when employees or service providers can work from anywhere: from home, at the construction site, on the road. With the right support from digital processes and apps, this makes it possible to work in a completely different way. This does not only apply to the topic of digitization: In general, processes and products should be put to the test from time to time in order to check their benefit for companies and customers.

Goal: Efficiency gain an user orientation

This is exactly what Harz Energie Netz did when it came to digitizing the house connection process. The previous process was characterized by media disruptions and susceptibility to errors: Excel data had to be transferred manually to the SAP system in order to be able to prepare offers. At the customer’s site, the information was initially even recorded on paper. For Harz Energie Netz, therefore, in addition to the obvious advantages such as time savings and error-free documentation, it was also important to score points with the customer with speed when preparing the offer – it should be possible to send out the offer within 2 instead of 14 days. With the digital house connection process from epilot, the teams at Harz Energie Netz are now much more efficient: they can now initiate the process directly digitally – and do so flexibly with a tablet while on the road or in the customer center. Theoretically, the offer could be ready in just a few minutes. Another wish was to significantly speed up the quote request process for customers in the future: This is now possible by means of a click section on the company’s own homepage – and meets the expectations of many customers who want to take care of their affairs quickly, regardless of opening hours and paper forms.

Continuous optimizations and additions are wanted

The digital house connection process was developed in a pilot group. Together with other network operators of the Thüga Group, the individual requirements and wishes for the process were defined, developed, reviewed and, if necessary, adapted. The advantage of this approach: Each company was able to contribute its perspectives, which is often not the case with a finished product. A special feature of this agile approach is that the jointly developed product, although not worked out down to the very finest nuance, is quickly ready for use. For example, the interface to the SAP system required by Harz Energie Netz was not integrated into the solution until a later date. This approach is sometimes still unusual for the energy industry, but it has enormous advantages. The software-as-a-service cloud provider epilot is convinced that if the product is quickly put into practical use by many partners, it can quickly be optimized to its best version.

Creative breaks are allowed

The innovative mindset of such a pilot group is exemplary for the modern software world, in which it is necessary to act much more transparently and openly and at the same time minimize financial risks – and to do so by agreeing on common goals and a development stage that will enable practicability on the market. In the case of further development of the smallest possible solution, the question of market relevance has already been positively resolved. Of course, such a procedure involves looking into one’s own cards to some extent by allowing insight into internal processes. However, the advantages are enormous. For example, companies do not have to participate in every development step with the same intensity, but can take a step back and let others take the lead. This greatly reduces the workload of the companies involved. In other words, it is not just a matter of spreading the costs and risks of a new development over several shoulders, but also of making efficient use of one’s own working time.

In the digitization of business processes, the use of a pilot group is standard at epilot. Together with the community, the needs of modern energy suppliers and network operators are crystallized and the best solution is jointly developed – not only in pilot groups, but generally in joint exchange meetings. In addition to the digital house connection, the processes for commissioning, registration of EEG systems and charging infrastructure, and an installer directory have been created on the network side. Energy services, commodities and broadband can also be sold via epilot. Other products will follow.


Authors:

Jan-Christoph Ernst, Assetmanagement Netze, Harz Energie Netz GmbH, Osterode am Harz
Michel Nicolai, CEO & Gründer, epilot GmbH, Cologne

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