Avista Corp. is an energy company providing electric and natural gas services to the U.S. Northwest region, including Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Avista launched a complete replacement of its customer information system (CIS) and asset management systems used in the production, transmission and distribution of energy to its 375,000 electric and 335,000 natural gas customers. For this major implementation that would last three years, the company engaged Black & Veatch as program manager, charged with keeping the project on-budget, on-scope and on-time while achieving the expected customer and business benefits.
As the program manager, Black & Veatch oversaw change management, deliverables acceptance and budgetary processes. Working in constant coordination with Avista's senior leadership, Black & Veatch managed a team that peaked at 275 employees, consultants and contractors.
The CIS and asset management upgrades has put Avista in position to execute new initiatives like automated meter infrastructure (AMI) and eventually an improved outage management system, as well as other customer-centric initiatives. Company officials say the effective customer care and billing (CC&B) implementation has now established a project management model that is being leveraged across Avista for all other major business/technology projects.
The project team’s first major go-live milestone was the new asset management system for generation. Generation assets were historically managed on paper, so the transparency and ease-of-use offered by the new online solution represented a significant upgrade over past processes.
After this success, work continued on the CIS component as well as asset management for electric transmission/distribution and gas. But the three-year effort was not without challenges. The core CIS components were over 20 years old, and changes impacted every critical aspect of Avista's way it served and billed customers, as well as its internal operations.
Because Avista's legacy systems mingled both customer service and work management capabilities together, the CIS implementation represented two simultaneous large-scale deployments. Regulatory commission requirements from three different jurisdictions had to be under constant consideration and documented. All customer serving and work management processes were created or updated, and new asset management processes had to be developed.
As program manager, Black & Veatch helped coordinate more than 100 integration points among 11 separate systems, from supply chain management and crew dispatch to customer portals and outage management. Project stakeholders delivered tens of thousands of hours of training regarding the new processes. All the while, the Black & Veatch provided oversight for how customers and employees were kept informed, and coordinated preparations for the dress rehearsals leading up to the system go-live.
It was also important to adequately fund such an extended project. Each request for project expenses to be included into the utility's base rate was approved by regulators in all three states, a strong endorsement of the project's overall success.
The CIS implementation was so successful that it was recognized with the Expanding Excellence Award, Level 1, by CS Week 2016. CS Week's judges considered the overall quality of a CIS implementation on five dimensions: budget adherence, schedule adherence, operational efficiency after go-live, innovation and improved service levels. Level 1 competitors included all eligible utilities with gross revenues over $500 million. CS Week specifically saluted Avista's decision to engage an independent project manager as one of the distinguishing characteristics that led to the success of the project.