Starting from scratch on April 20, 2016, First Gas was created by acquiring the Vector Gas business, excluding the Auckland gas distribution network.
The target separation date was the end of August, by then First Gas had to create a new, standalone ICT corporate environment that included all the major corporate systems that Vector used.
“Our challenge,” says First Gas’s IS manager, Huw Griffiths, “was to select appropriate systems using a cut-down RFP process and then run ten major projects, and go live within four months.”
In parallel to this activity, the IS Strategy was being created that also defined the IS organisation, IS budget and IS strategic programme for the next three years he says.
The IT team defined the following as critical:
A Transformation Programme was developed to define the scope of the task and what systems were in place at Vector that needed to be replicated.
Governance was developed to define how the programme would be governed, with reference to the new First Gas board.
Finally, Project Management was defined for each project as to how it will be managed with sponsor, owner and manager and so on.
Each project had a clear goal, objectives, scope and milestones to measure success.
“These were woven in with the overall programme of work, to ensure we kept control of the many project dependencies and interfaces,” says Griffiths.
“Operationally, when First Gas was created, there were many engineers but no corporate staff. For example, there were no finance, billing, marketing, regulatory or IT people in First Gas.
“As these people were employed, we had to bring them into the programme of work as new subject matter experts. All this was done with regular and close communication from the programme team.
“We met the goal of going live with Microsoft NAV, Microsoft CRM, Maximo, ArcGIS, Health and Safety, Drawing Management, Billing, Distribution Telemetry and Business Intelligence. We also created new corporate IT infrastructure,” he says.
The main innovation in First Gas was the rapid implementation methodology, used to implement the 10 major projects in a four-month timeframe.
“This ensured the technology met our business requirements within the timeframe,” explains Griffiths.
“We used a Throw/Catch methodology to define what was currently in use by Vector, as well as what were the viable alternatives that met the same functions. We also considered simple market analysis on ballpark costs and viability of the solutions, within the four-month timeframe.
“Then we approached possible solution providers to get proposals. We kept ‘Plan B’ alternatives on hold, in case these providers could not deliver. This approach commonly took two to three weeks to go from analysis to board papers, contracts and then project initiation,” Griffiths says.
“We also then had to control the dependencies between the projects within the programme.
“We used the normal mechanisms for this,” he says.
These include a Steering Committee for overall programme governance; a Business Advisory Group to inform key stakeholders and ensure business needs are met; and a Technical Advisory Group to manage technical aspects and interfaces between systems.
As well, there was what they called ‘a NASA Plan’, which showed through graphs their state of readiness for the go-live event.
Griffiths says there is a clear separation between operations and projects at First Gas.
“At present, our IT operations are outsourced due to the speed of the company’s creation. This is under review, with an RFI process underway to help reduce costs and increase our focus on our customers.
“Costs were reduced considerably (using our previous parent as a benchmark) by the new systems we chose. Notably Microsoft Dynamics NAV is considerably less expensive that similar ERP systems.
“Our strategy in this area two-fold. We want to outsource technical expertise that does not add value directly to First Gas business operations, which is to say business agnostic technology like network design.
“We also want to insource business solutions areas such as continuous improvement. These areas require a good understanding of the First Gas business and how technology can improve it.”
He says the IS Strategic Programme defines possible projects over the next three years.
In terms of monitoring progress, there is a regular monthly IS Steering Committee made up of the First Gas Executive and the IS manager, says Griffiths.
This committee reviews project status and KPIs, but more importantly it approves new projects and prioritises the proposed projects in the IS Strategic Programme. The IS Manager runs the IS Steering Committee and organises project and technical presentations to help the executive make informed decisions.
Griffiths says the Business Advisory Group used in the transition process has also been morphed into a key business owner forum. Here the key users of the systems can come together to discuss improvements, any issues their teams may be having with systems and how to make the most of the systems in use.
The Business Advisory Group acts as a key forum for line managers and key users to meet regularly to discuss the use of technology.
“This is augmented by inviting key users to technology forums, such as the recent ESRI Forum in Auckland. This allows the business users and IS team to view the latest innovations in technology together, and see where it can help the First Gas business,” he says.
“Visits to remote sites are a regular tool for keeping close to other users around the country, he says.
“They are also a good way to find out what is really going on at the coal face. Not everyone likes dealing with a remote help desk, so having face to face time is important.”
First Gas also has key outsourced key partners to do much of the work on the gas transmission and distribution pipelines.
There are regular meetings with key representatives of these companies like Electrix. As well, the company has an active partner’s community website, containing important documents such as technical standards and network status.