Like many organizations managing large capital portfolios, National Grid US’ work planning process involves hundreds of employees across different functional areas. Yet as is often the case, this intricate and critical exercise has historically been executed through a combination of manual processes and multiple applications.
Portfolio financials were aggregated from Excel spreadsheets and project budget data was disconnected from resource forecasts and project schedules. Grid investments were scored against a matrix which offered little in terms of objectivity or the ability to compare dissimilar investments. Project selection was a lengthy, manual process largely based on previous organizational experience rather than a systematic approach that delivers the highest customer benefit for every dollar invested.
As a result, National Grid found it challenging and time consuming to achieve a variety of strategic outcomes (e.g. reliability, safety, etc.) at the lowest cost. With demands on capital programs increasing year over year due to increased modernization, resiliency, and environmental needs, National Grid recognized a substantial opportunity for change.
The Vision for FutureNow
In collaboration with Copperleaf’s partner, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), National Grid began defining the vision for a new digital initiative called FutureNow. The BCG team laid out a vision for four workstreams to address the planning frictions identified by National Grid:
- Investment Entry: Input project details with greater ease and accuracy; capture forecasts and actuals in Copperleaf Portfolio™
- Performance Modeling: Better assess the value of CapEx projects on a common economic scale using Copperleaf Portfolio and Copperleaf Asset™
- Plan Optimization: Automatically produce optimized plans and conduct what-if analyses of different investment scenarios in Copperleaf Portfolio
- One Integrated Plan: Manage the work plan and individual stakeholder responsibilities in a single robust system, including project financials, forecasts, resource plans, asset records, and related condition data
Adopting a Digital Way of Working
What makes a digital way of working so unique? Unlike a waterfall approach, this approach centers on agile, lean, and design thinking methodologies which focus on the end user.
This is exactly what National Grid set out to do with FutureNow: rapidly put the product in the hands of a Digital Team (cohort of end users) during implementation and allow opportunities for feedback and product familiarization ahead of launch. It was critical for users on the Digital Team to understand the business case developed with BCG and participate in iterative test-learn cycles, before defining the product end state.
The Digital Team was empowered to make decisions through a series of experiments and pilot exercises, allowing room to pivot when original assumptions were found ineffective. By involving users at the onset and throughout the entire implementation, the mindset shifts from needing to “sell” process changes, to launching a product end users understand and support, dramatically removing change management hurdles.
Efficiencies All Around
After going live in early 2022, Copperleaf Portfolio and Asset quickly began to alleviate planning frictions by providing a unified, data-driven platform for distribution capital planning at National Grid US. Users are now able to readily access project information, and investments are now valued in a more consistent, dynamic, and objective way.
The results speak for themselves: budgets, resource forecasts, and actuals are now synchronized across systems; investment planners have tools that will help reduce thousands of hours of manual labor every year; and portfolio controllers can make faster decisions to catch issues and keep underperforming projects on track.
When asked to describe the outcome in one word, the answer is simple: efficiency. The journey is ongoing, but by leveraging the business case and adopting a digital way of working, National Grid achieved various efficiencies, including:
- CapEx Efficiency: Early pilots indicate an expected +8% CapEx efficiency for the same plan value, resulting in improved affordability for customers
- Planning Efficiency: National Grid expects to reduce planning time by 10% by creating, forecasting, and valuing projects in a single platform
By having a tool that you can optimize with the click of a button, not days or weeks like in Excel, you actually start to unlock more time.
VP Business Planning & Performance
Beyond the obvious financial benefits outlined above, National Grid also expects to realize several non-financial and strategic benefits, including:
- Improved grid reliability, resilience, and customer satisfaction
- Progress towards Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) targets
- Stronger relationships and trust with regulators because of more defensible, justifiable plans
The Future for FutureNow and Copperleaf
As of November 2022, the FutureNow project—supported by Copperleaf Portfolio and Asset—has also been rolled out across the transmission portfolio, providing a single integrated view of both the T&D portfolios and related project dependencies. However, the FutureNow team continues to seek out opportunities to improve the planning process using value-based decision making.
To learn more, check out this webinar where I had a chance to speak with David Smith of National Grid, and Matthew Sundberg of BCG, to get a more in-depth look at the vision, implementation, and benefits of the FutureNow initiative.