Shining a light on customer needs


Solar PV is proving disruptive in the energy industry. Source: Synergy.

Following a reintegration of formerly separate energy generation and retail businesses, WA’s Synergy has built on its SAP platform to gain a better understanding of what its customers need and give them a better – most recently with a BW on HANA implementation. Freya Purnell reports.

The energy sector in Western Australia, as in many other states, has undergone a transformation over the last decade, with formerly state-owned enterprises being carved up and reshuffled in new configurations. Synergy, now Western Australia’s largest electricity and gas provider, is no different – its antecedent, Western Power, was split into three entities back in 2006, only for generation and retailing to be brought back together under the Synergy banner in 2014.

This reintegration of the businesses brought about a rethink of the business strategy. Some of the company’s objectives rested on having a strong analytics capability, to give the company a better understanding of how its customers are using energy and what types of products they should be selling, according to Synergy CIO Gary Peel. This is particularly relevant as a growth in solar PV energy begins to disrupt the market.

Synergy originally adopted SAP CRM and IS-U in 2008, and then since 2014, has been working through a program of work to implement FICO, Enterprise Asset Management, HR and Payroll, Ariba for procurement, and most recently Business Warehouse on HANA.

As for many customers, the HANA project was driven by a need for faster, simpler data access.

“The HANA implementation was an opportunity for us to understand our customers’ needs through analytics in a quicker timeframe – to be able to offer the right products to customers at the right time, and to really understand our customers’ needs around energy,” Peel said. “Because in-memory was a lot faster, it could hold a lot more data in a shorter timeframe, and the business was able to get the data quicker.”

Synergy also used the project as a testing ground for an agile development approach. Though the company used a traditional waterfall methodology for the HANA implementation, once it was technically stable, Synergy pulled together a team of developers, business analysts and retail business representatives to develop analytic dashboards and reports.

“The retail part of the business wanted to start getting their hands on this fast HANA data to be able to utilise it. What we’re doing is giving them data, and they’re able to develop and utilise that data themselves through HANA tools like Webi [SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence] and Design Studio,” Peel said.

“We felt it really sped up the process because we had this great new system and didn’t want to be slowed down by having to wait for 20-page requirement documents to be submitted to us.”

This system has now been in place since the beginning of 2016, and since then, Synergy has been able to derive some valuable insights into how customers use energy.

“It’s about selling the right products to the right customers – so it could be paperless billing, it could be PVs on the roof, it could be battery storage down the track, so it’s allowing the retail business to make more informed decisions about how they approach a customer,” Peel said.

At the end of June, Synergy went live with a major project to consolidate the generation business systems – previously on another ERP system – and the Synergy retail operations onto a single SAP ERP platform. While it is still early days, Peel said the initial benefit of having a fully integrated system, with the ERP, HR, FICO and CRM systems all interacting, is already bearing fruit.

Resourcing SAP initiatives

Synergy has built its own team of in-house SAP resources, and its experience working together through several major implementations of SAP FI/CO, HR and PM and familiarity with the ERP roadmap has been important in ensuring such smooth go-lives, according to Peel.

Of course, being isolated on the other West Coast can make it more difficult to find specialists in relatively new areas.

“We are always, as I think most companies are, on the lookout for good-quality HANA developers.  Especially if we move eventually towards S/4HANA, I think getting quality resources will become increasingly difficult, so that’s going to be one of the areas we really focus on,” said Peel.

Leading on digital experience

In SAP ANZ’s 2016 Australian Digital Experience Report, Synergy was ranked highest among utilities providers as giving consumers the best online experience.

On the result, Synergy CEO Jason Waters attributed Synergy’s strong performance to the focus the company has placed on digital in the last year.

“The delivery of Synergy’s digital strategy is a pivotal program of work in ensuring our future competitiveness and is reflective of our ongoing evolution to a progressive, contemporary energy company,” Waters said.

“It underpins our drive to reduce retail operating costs whilst delivering improved customer experiences that enhance our brand and reputation. Energy retailers have moved beyond delivering routine customer service transactions online and are now looking to build digital capabilities to drive deep engagement with customers via their public websites and apps that offer much more sophisticated opportunities outside of simply paying an account.”

While he admits Synergy is no Netflix yet, Peel said moving from a RedDot website platform to Sitecore has enabled a much higher degree of personalisation for consumers, driven by the marketing team.

“Having a new contemporary website, from a personalised point of view, allows us to be able to meet the customer’s needs within a quicker timeframe.”

The platform has also been integrated with SAP for the customer ‘move in/move out’ process.

“Rather than customers completing a webpage and then having people in the back-end typing that information into SAP, we have that integration between the two systems which allows for a quicker process for customers,” said Peel.

The road ahead

Synergy is now focused on bedding down the BW on HANA system, as well as learning more about agile development.

“I think we have a good landscape of SAP systems to run our business, so it’s about how we leverage that, and how do we get to mobility for Plant Maintenance. We’ve also looked at cloud for perhaps testing and development,” Peel said.

But for now, adoption of SAP S/4HANA is not on the agenda.

“Certainly we’ve got an architecture roadmap that our chief architect is focused on, and that’s one of the areas we are talking about, but I wouldn’t envisage us going there in the short-term.”

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