A few months ago, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) presented Exelon Corporation with the nuclear energy industry’s highest innovation award for digitizing its plant maintenance processes. NEI’s recognition of Exelon’s electronic work package (eWP) solution came on the heels of another prestigious award—this one bestowed in January by the Electric Power Research Institute—which cited Exelon as the first commercial nuclear power plant to replace its paper-based work packages with a completely digital solution, from planning through closeout.
Such industry accolades are clearly justified. With eWP, Exelon planners, supervisors and technicians are transforming their maintenance capabilities, collaborating with their peers, taking optimal advantage of digital technology to drive performance improvement, and solving problems with user-friendly desktop and tablet applications. The company has already reduced its work package lifecycle overhead by 50 to 75 percent and is well positioned to achieve benefits that could translate into millions of dollars of efficiencies.
While I’m certainly proud of what Exelon has accomplished (and pleased that Accenture was able to play such a critical role in the solution’s development), I’m most excited by what the Exelon story may ultimately mean for the industry. The program’s success shows what is possible when a utility embraces digital innovation and eschews incremental performance improvements in favor of true transformation. It opens up many more opportunities for utilities to shape the digital plant of the future. And it helps to dispel many of the misconceptions and worries that keep other utilities from pursuing digitally enabled change. Specifically, the Exelon eWP initiative shows that:
Opportunities abound. Digital can enable sustainable business and financial improvements in even the most complex operational areas. Maintenance is a core function of any utility—and one of the riskiest to modify. Yet, Exelon demonstrated that even complex maintenance activities that have gone relatively untouched for 30 years can be successfully transformed by digital. As this example so ably shows, no area should be off-limits.
Digital is not as costly as some may think. Many utilities look at the Exelon example and assume that a mobile solution like eWP requires a pervasive—and expensive—wireless network. It doesn’t. Exelon’s eWP solution was designed to be self-contained on a mobile device, and doesn’t need to be tethered to deliver the efficiencies of digital. Other utilities will soon learn that digital transformation does not necessarily require a significant infrastructure investment.
Digital is not a technology play. It’s an enabler of business transformation. In the case of Exelon, eWP is not about how the utility is applying technology. It’s about how Exelon is fundamentally changing the way it manages its maintenance performance. Change should always be based on a business need—not pursued solely as a digital opportunity.
The industry is on the cusp of something monumental. All eyes are currently on Exelon. And that’s as it should be, given the one-of-a-kind nature of its eWP solution. Soon, however, the initial buzz will diminish. Other utilities will take up the baton and apply digital solutions in ways we can’t imagine today. Over time, Exelon will be remembered as the first in a long line of utilities that used digital to transform the industry. And I, for one, will be proud to say, “I was there.”