In their own words...
Read on below for some quotes from the podcast.
[00:28] Shay O'Connor (FlowForma): Before we start, I just want to introduce Robert. Robert is a Documentation, Data and Engineering IT manager with Essar Oil. Robert has years of experience in this industry and we're delighted that he agreed to have a chat with us today to give us his first-hand insight into how FlowForma and automation processes has helped within his company.
Let's get started with our case study spotlights today. So Robert, I'm going to fire a few questions in your direction. And please feel free to just let us know exactly what's on your mind. We're all friends here. Can you tell us a little bit about Essar Oil and your role in it?
[01:25] Robert Macknay (Essar Oil): Yes, certainly. Thanks for the introduction. My background is in Engineering, over the past 30-40 years. In the mid-1990s, I moved into a SAP project and IT projects around refinery projects, engineering and operations. Essar Oil (a company based out of Mumbai) basically purchased the refinery in 2011 from Shell UK. It's the second biggest refinery in the UK and it's supplies around about 16% of the UK's road fuel. We have 800 employees here and about 500 contract staff and probably about five thousand people in local industries that we support.
[02:20] Shay: You are, as I mentioned earlier, the Manager of Essar Documentation Data and Engineering IT team, presumably you have a lot of responsibility there, Robert?
[02:30] Robert: Yes, we look after predominately engineering and project documentation for the refinery for maintenance and operations. So essentially, we have to make sure the people working out in the field have the right information to do their jobs properly. As you can probably understand, if they're trying to work with, you know, incorrect data doing their jobs, whether it be maintenance or project or operating the plants, it can cause issues. So yes, it's quite a lot of responsibility that my team have.
[03:09] Shay: What were the challenges you were facing before you decided that you needed to automate your processes?
[03:17] Robert: Yeah, it's a large site, Stanlow, as I've said, and the dates to pre-war, and a lot of the processes on the site are paper-based. One of the main challenges we faced was that the paperwork and the information and documents and data, that weren't residing in an official project or engineering IT systems, was sitting on servers or people's hard drivers, that sort of thing. That wasn't very structured, so we decided that we needed to address that. We decided to use SharePoint 2013 as a document management system, for non-engineering non-projects data and documents really.
We started to implement SharePoint. We had a very expensive consultant doing that work for us. And during that journey that consultant was building some forms and workflow for us, at a very great expense. And we suddenly realized that this was going to be quite expensive and lengthy journey, cause it was time-consuming as well. So that lead us into the journey of looking for something that we could use to do those workflows and forms.
[04:24] Shay: Yes, I would imagine with all your disparate locations and the fact that, you know, you have a company that's taking over other sites; you're going to have the scenario where data retrieval is probably going to be a bit of a headache when you're dealing with all these different locations. From a timing point of view, the gathering of that data, do you need to get that pretty much as fast as possible?
[04:54] Robert: You're absolutely right, Shay. With paper-based processes, lack of transparency and governance and also we've been audited quite a few times and those audits picked up gaps in those business processes. Information used to get lost going around the site, it's a huge site. So yes, we had a lot of problems we needed to address.
[05:17] Shay: What's is a goal of yours at Essar Oil to become self-sufficient? Because, I know, from your company point of view, you need to become efficient, but was it really important that you were in charge of that so that you were self-sufficient in creating and maintaining your processes?
[05:39] Robert: Absolutely, it became quite clear to us after a while. You know, especially with having an expensive resource working on some of these processes and it taking quite a long time. We wanted a little bit more control over that. So we started to look at what was available from an IT perspective to allow us to generate our own forms and workflows within the SharePoint environment. And we looked at a number of vendors. The Essar procurement process commits us to look at at least three. We had them on site. We had demonstrations. We narrowed them down and ultimately, we ended up with your company being the service provider for us.
[06:20] Shay: We take it for granted here to be honest, that no code processes are a facility that is freely available. But did you realize, I mean before you saw FlowForma, that there was a no-code option available within the marketplace?
[06:38] Robert: I suppose the honest answer is no, until we did start to look, we didn't realize that that was one of the options. We narrowed it down to three vendors that we thought would fulfill the criteria that we wanted, which was specifically, we wanted something that end users who weren't IT programmers could use to develop forms and workflows, ie a no code option. Which ultimately lead us to your tool, from both and ease of use perspective, and it was cost-effective competitively for us as well.
[07:44] Shay: How did you find the actual implementation of the process and any of the challenges that you met?
[07:52] Robert: Yeah, it went very well. I think we gave you a bit of a hard time, because I recall we brought one of your staff Paul back and set him a blind challenge to build a process, which we already built using our developer, and he built it in half an hour. Our developer had taken 2 weeks on site to do that, the traditional fashion. So, we were very pleased.
Yeah, so essentially once we settled on you as a provider, we selected a program you have, the SureStart onboarding process. We wanted to use the tool specifically in all areas of the business, not just operations, maintenance and project, but marketing, retail, finance, procurement. Anywhere where we were using paper forms and have inefficiencies and areas for development and improvement.
So we selected 12 key business people, none of them were IT backgound, basically Business Analyst in those individual areas and we train them up with your trainer, and that's worked very well. To the extend now, even with having the big shutdown, where we were out of action for 3-4 months, we have about 30 flows build so far and it's fair to say we've got quite a few hundred more to do in the future.
[09:10] Shay: Did you create any of those flows yourself?
Yes, I did. I couldn't sell it to the site and do the change management bits associated with this project without understanding how the tool worked and using it myself. So, you know, I sat down after the training. And to be honest with you, it is very intuitive. It can be very complex in some areas, but providing you're starting off with some simple forms. I think I've build around a dozen or so myself. And a few of those are in use already.
[10:02] Shay: We find it a lot with clients, where they may have an initial process, like a quick win scenario. To engage the rest of the business, did you focus on process and basically get buy in, was that how you approached it?
[10:20] Robert: Yes, you're absolutely right. It's always good to have a quick win and something that demonstrates the functionality. We were very lucky, we had engineers at a particular issue with some work requests to go around the site. Which we were legally obliged to retain, and quite a number of those paper documents were lost, with it being such a big site, you know, approx 2000 acres. They wanted us to solve the problem and we had the tool to do that. So we very quickly build the form and workflow process for them. And I had a look, prior to this, we only did it before Christmas and we've already got somewhere in the region of 3000 forms have gone through that digitized process to date.
[11:05] Shay: Fantastic, and a great basis from a reporting point of view for everybody also. It's funny, even though places would have a lot of manual documents, the fact of applying a process, and something that can be overlooked, is that you've saved a lot of time, but it's the integrity of the data. You don't have to transcribe information from forms into a database now, or onto spreadsheets. You're getting a pre-validated information on your process. I presume that had a big impact on the integrity of the data?
[11:50] Robert: Absolutely, that was part of the natural evolution here because once we started to digitize the forms and the workflows, obviously with using SharePoint you got tables and lists etc associated with those, and quite quickly the businesses saw that I could extract data very quickly and we started now to use some apps to do some charting, you know, so we can look at process improvements, look at web blockages in the process of delays in the process, and get some stats as well to see how well we're doing. So, it's been you know, quite a good journey.
[12:47] Robert: The most beneficial elements is the speed that those processes can now go through. If you can imagine the big site moving paper down getting signatures on documents ready, very cumbersome, very time-consuming. So, I mean, I said five times faster but in a lot of cases, it's far far faster than that.
We have the traceability with those processes, we're talking about producing visualization charts, now looking for continuous Improvement. It's all part of the wider digital transformation journey that the company is going on at the moment.
One thing I should have mentioned as well - we haven't just let these analysts loose around the site with the tool, so that we can generate forms, left, right and centre. We have a centralized development area, where they develop the forms and then they move them into the library or the production areas of SharePoint. But we have a team of several people, including myself, who vet those processes so that we make sure that that prioritized, we put the ones with biggest benefits first and work our way through them. And we might have some processes there that we want to get rid of as well. Some of the paper processes may no longer be valid
[14:37] Robert: it's a start of a journey for the company. And, you know, FlowForma in SharePoint are just two elements of the bigger picture. But it's certainly been a great enabler around a lot of our paper-based processes and the site have taken to it very very well. We've just been through a big shut down, where the site has been doing a four-yearly maintenance cycle for about 3 months.
So next week will start to pick up some more of this work on the wider digital transformation. It's been a very worthwhile exercise
[16:33] Robert: I find it astounding that we only started in the middle of last year on this journey and it's cascaded immensely throughout the refinery here.
[16:41] Shay: Yes, it would be typically one of the areas, where people would get, not to say a fright, but it's almost too good to be true that you can turn around your processes and have them automated so quickly, even though you're still managing everything yourself, and doing your day-to-day work. You can actually get these processes up and running at such a pace.
[17:06] Robert: Yes, and as I say you would start with a quick way to some of these processes. We are working our way through to some of the more complex management of change process used on the refinery, but as I say you need to engage with the people, get them involved and have those quick wins if you really want success.
[17:53] Robert: It was one of the nice projects, this one. Obviously, I mentioned before our procurement process says we have to look at least three vendors and ideally, you know, you want to get something that's cost-effective. What our primary objective here was, we must have something that was easy to use by non-IT people, because to be honest with you, we didn't want to keep employing expensive SharePoint programmers. The cost-effective bit was the win, because compared to some of your competitors you are cost-effective. And the surprise was the no-coding needed. We thought we might need a little bit of support from our IT programmer, but in essence unless you're doing extremely complex processes, you don't need an IT background to use FlowForma. And it's very intuitive.
[19:15] Shay: Big differentiator with FlowForma and other products is that it's a 3 in 1 toolkit, so you get your forms, workflow and document generation all in one place, so you don't have to couple workflows with forms etc. And the fact that you've got a no-code basis, it just means that everything gets done faster, so you can utilize your Office 365 investment and you can work off Azure and be up and running really, really fast. We don't store any of your data, it all sits in your tenancy, so it's very important to realize that you're in full control of everything.
[20:05] Shay: All forms are mobile accessible automatically, so you don't have to build apps, we have an app that's available. You decide who gets to see it and the processes are available to those who have access rights and you can work online or offline, using your mobile access. (...) Massive component of FlowForma is that you are self-regulating, so you are in charge of designing the processes. We can help you obviously or show you best practice, but in essence you are going to implement your knowledge of your process without code, and in the manner that you want to see it. It's all self-building mechanism, there is an ability to extend the footprint of the product, if you so wish, we do have an SDK, however, 92% of our clients have never put a piece of code in. So the facility is there, but very few would use it.
[21:20] Shay: We do have a lot of experience in the Oil and Gas and Construction industries and a lot of the clients that we would deal with would need those components, where they would need mobile access, they need online/offline, they most certainly need to adhere to regulatory compliance, and as a result they have the confidence, because they build everything themselves, they are compliant.
[22:05] Shay: If anybody who wishes to try FlowForma, it's really easy to do - get a 30 day free trial. And/or if you want to see it, you can book a demo with us. We can put together a Proof of Concept for you, which tends to make a lot more sense, when you see something of your own there. It helps in understanding how your actual processes might look.