Steps P&C Pros Can Take to Onboard Solutions
Whether from conversations at conferences, on-site visits or otherwise, many relay technicians and protection engineers I’ve gotten to know have described similar struggles in achieving solutions for their particular situations. Protection relaying in utility operations is complex work so it stands to reason that getting situated with the right tools for the job can be a challenge given all that there is to consider. Vendor-customer disconnects, company inertia, and highly specific requirements are just a few of the issues preventing solutions from ever emerging for professionals who work in system protection and control.
At a recent industry event, I met a relay technician and her supervisor who were sent by their company to learn about a few trends in protection relaying and to get some training over the latest offerings in a software product their company uses. As far as the software training, they liked what they saw in the new add-ons and improvements, but when I asked about them putting the new features into use, they said they would have to “convince the right people.” I wondered if they would follow through and what their chances of succeeding might be.
A Lot Goes into Onboarding Solutions
The term “solution” probably gets overused, or misused, a lot. My conversation with the two conference attendees merely triggered ideas about getting a bit more value out of a software tool they already used. By no means did it yield a solution. Many necessary pieces had yet to be identified, let alone fall into place, for the solution they seemed to be looking for.
In technical fields like protection relaying, solutions aren’t the result of feature sets and user know-how, they’re the result of collaboration. The problems they solve are problems more than one person sees and sees in more or less the same way, each party having requirements, concerns and priorities of their own. Without consensus on ways forward, and commitments of monetary and human capital for implementation – and long-term sustainability – there probably aren’t solutions. My guess is the attendees I spoke with at the conference were put in the position of making the most of a purchase decision in which they were not involved and from which they had little awareness or training. In their case, my opinion is they have a quality software product but unfortunately, it’s not solving their problem…it’s not their solution, at least not yet.
In other words, the piece of software from our discussion at the conference is what they used for testing relays, no problem so far. However, in their job roles, they also test and inspect other substation devices and equipment. They were in search of a software tool that could handle, if not displace, the paper-based forms in use at their company. Being at the conference was their chance to find out what their peers are doing about this same headache. They wanted to be able to shift from relay testing to recording manual entries for their process documentation easily. If they could do both in one product, that would be ideal.
It turns out they could, but not without dedicating time to setting it up. They would have to go back and show this new possibility to their co-workers. From there it’s a matter of relevancy: is this functionality relevant to others enough that they would sincerely consider changing course from their regular process? Do they agree there is a problem filling out and handling manual forms in the first place? Do they even have time to really look at this and would they be willing to dedicate time for training and working sessions that would require their involvement? Whose budget would sponsor provisioning the additional licensing to substation crews apart from P&C who could also use the tool?
The Steps to Take
No doubt a solution could be as basic as leveraging more functions from a piece of software, or hardware for that matter. But in the context of protection relaying and utility electronics data, any proposed alterations to processes and procedures are matters that require solid justification which invokes significant scrutiny by many. For instance, a standards committee might study the impact to asset management, work management, engineering, and test and maintenance systems. Still other official or ad hoc working groups might form around cybersecurity and cost/benefit determinations for budgetary and strategic planning.
Whew! I know, right? Imagine if we were talking about integrating the digital test forms in this example with a data management system then integrating that into business software. Or automating data exchanges between a central database repository and protection engineering and test systems. Regardless, onboarding any solution, whether for protection relaying or not, follows a beginning-to-end process. Here are the general steps I’ve seen used in the cases I’ve been a part of:
- Identify the problem you have and why solving it is critical.
- Seek consensus but respect dissent concerning the problem. Listen to pros/cons from others to find out what’s relevant to them and why. If unable to reach agreement that there is a problem that’s critical to solve, the process stops here.
- Collaborate to determine at least a minimum viable approach by which all can agree and take ownership. If unable to reach agreement on an approach, the process stops here.
- Identify the systems and personnel involved in the approach and any issues, like technology compatibility and obsolescence, key contributors such as project managers and subject matter experts, any material or skills gaps, and so on. Be thorough: quality information here is critical for all steps that follow.
- Identify a project sponsor and seek funding. Plan for expenditures that could affect capital and operations budgets. Have funding available before proceeding to the next step.
- Prepare your solution criteria from Steps 1-5 and engage qualified vendors. Present the solution you have in mind and evaluate which proposal is best for your situation.
The groundwork has to happen anyway. Stepping through this or a similar process before shopping is a powerful way to onboard a solution at your company.
- Originally published in the The Relay™ Newsletter. Subscribe on LinkedIn.
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