Facing rapid expansion, renewables pioneer Vattenfall goes agile

Profile picture for user Christoph Garms By Christoph Garms September 5, 2019
Summary:
When Scandinavian power generator Vattenfall came to modernize maintenance processes for its wind farms it took an agile approach, writes Neptune Software's Christoph Garms

Vattenfall wind turbine

Aggressive growth was putting pressure on operations and equipment maintenance processes at Sweden-based power generator Vattenfall.

With more users, more projects, and more work orders — something had to give.

Vattenfall aims to make fossil-free living possible within a single generation, focusing on renewable biomass, wind, hydro and sun energy sources. It operates wind farms in six countries including the UK, Denmark and Sweden. Staying competitive while meeting this ambitious goal calls for new ways of working.

For project manager Johan Kronman and his team, that meant embracing agile project management and rapid application development as they worked to modernize equipment maintenance processes for employees in the field. There was a need to standardize processes across the company’s 20+ wind farms. Kronman explains:

We needed to be able to grow rapidly without increasing the organization, and we needed to become more adept at sharing resources across the field teams.

Agile PM key to delivering modern workflows quickly

Traditionally, a project like this would be mapped out in advance and then delivered as a finished application with little scope for later change — what’s known as the waterfall methodology.But Kronman’s team felt that an iterative approach — which agile project management is based on — would help them deliver new modern workflows quickly and easily modify them over time.

The main goal was to deliver a mobile-first experience that employees could use in the field rather than having to wait until they were back at their desk to look up or update information. A modern interface would also mask off the complexity of the back-end systems — though it was important to achieve this without adding complexity to the underlying infrastructure.

To help drive business efficiency, they aimed to streamline field maintenance processes across sites — but still taking account of local variations, says Kronman:

“Because we have wind farms in numerous countries, we need to account for local ways of working, while harmonizing and agreeing on one process.”

Rapid application development

Kronman and team chose a rapid application development platform from Neptune because of its ability to deliver modern digital applications that work with existing backend systems.This helped them streamline the project management and development process and implement new work order maintenance apps in an iterative fashion in just a few months.

Throughout the project, regular scrum meetings helped the team manage the multiple needs efficiently. There, they refined and perfected their project plan and incorporated user input. They also visited the company’s wind farms to see what users needed so they could define the key use cases, which included being able to operate at remote, offshore sites in rugged terrain, says Kronman:

We included users in the build process as well, getting their feedback every step of the way, from mockup, to testing, to implementation. Doing so helped ensure we were keeping their needs at the forefront.

The rollout started at two pilot sites, one in the UK, one in Sweden, where the Vattenfall team used the application in the field for two months. Next, they used that pilot experience to improve the applications and processes before they were implemented more broadly across sites:

The rapid application development platform made it easy to iterate quickly. We also found ways to improve backend processes to make sure the logic was presented to users in the best way and we could deliver an efficient information flow.

Improved information flow, smaller maintenance backlog

The outcome has been well received by users, who appreciate the convenience of the new mobile-first interface, says Johan:

Today, users are happy and they like being able to work on- or off-line, anytime, and on any device they choose. They no longer need to come into the office and stop at a desktop to document their day’s work, which saves them a lot of time.

There have been additional benefits for the business as a result of having more timely and complete information available, he adds:

We’ve improved our information flow throughout the field, which has helped us better manage our maintenance backlog. We get more information about our equipment status and new issues, which has all led to faster, shorter lead times for equipment repair and maintenance.

With more complete data available on conditions and measurement values, our planners and schedulers also have much more control over their scheduling efforts, a big improvement to their workflow.

A more replete data set is also increasing Vattenfall’s predictive maintenance and planning capabilities, which the company is counting on to help improve equipment assessments and lower costs as it increases its renewable energy fleet level. Decreasing unscheduled maintenance not only improves the repair teams’ efficiency, it represents a key competitive advantage for the company.

Looking forward to the future

By embracing an agile project management approach, Kronman’s team delivered the standardized workflow that Vattenfall needed, all while maintaining tighter control of technology and development costs.

With the standardized workflow design and improved user experience, Vattenfall can easily add new apps and replicate system changes quickly to all of the fleets. Even better: All of this was accomplished without having to add any hardware or additional technology infrastructure.

The next step is to investigate extending the new interface to embrace additional backend systems, says Johan:

Looking forward, we’re considering the possibility of having apps that combine information from different systems beyond our SAP environment, and want to provide the same look and feel of our new apps.

In today’s world, it’s important for us to measure the business value that IT adds. Finding nimble new ways of working that can help the business grow and adapt quickly and reduce costs is key to being competitive.

Read more about the Vattenfall project and the technology the team used in our case study.