San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Preserves Expertise with Better Knowledge Management CASE STUDY

San
Francisco Public Utilities Commission Preserves Expertise with Better Knowledge
Management CASE STUDY

A
major challenge facing many companies and organizations is the imminent
retirement of baby boomers. For certain organizations, this challenge is more
daunting than usual, not only because of a larger spike in employee
retirements, but also because of the business process change that must
accompany significant shifts in any workforce. The San Francisco Public
Utilities Commission (SFPUC) was one such organization. SFPUC is a department
of the city and county of San Francisco that provides water, wastewater, and
municipal power services to the city. SFPUC has four major divisions: Regional
Water, Local Water, Power, and Wastewater (collection, treatment, and disposal
of water). The organization has over 2,000 employees and serves 2.4 million
customers in San Francisco and the Bay Area. It is the third largest municipal
utility in California. SFPUC’s Power division provides electricity to the city
and county of San Francisco, including power used to operate electric
streetcars and buses; the Regional and Local Water departments supply some of
the purest drinking water in the world to San Francisco and neighboring Santa
Clara and San Mateo counties; and the Wastewater division handles flushed and
drained water to significantly reduce pollution in the San Francisco Bay and
Pacific Ocean. The mission of this organization is to provide San Francisco and
its Bay Area customers with reliable, high-quality, affordable water and
wastewater treatment while efficiently and responsibly managing human,
physical, and natural resources. SFPUC expected that a significant portion of
its employees–about 20 percent–would retire in 2009. To make matters worse,
the majority of these positions were technical, which meant that the training
of new employees would be more complicated, and maintaining knowledge of the
retiring workers would be critical to all areas of SFPUC’s business processes.
To deal with this trend, companies and organizations like SFPUC must rearrange
their operations so that the generational swap doesn’t adversely affect their
operational capability in the upcoming decades. In particular, the organization
needed a areas of SFPUC’s business processes. To deal with this trend,
companies and organizations like SFPUC must rearrange their operations so that
the generational swap doesn’t adversely affect their operational capability in
the upcoming decades. In particular, the organization needed a way to capture
the knowledge of its retiring employees of “baby boom” age in an
efficient and cost-effective manner, and then communicate this knowledge
successfully to the next generation of employees. The two major challenges
SFPUC faced were successfully capturing, managing, and transferring this
knowledge, and maintaining reliability and accountability despite a large
influx of new workers. SFPUC met these challenges by implementing a business
process management (BPM) and workflow solution from Interfacing Technologies Corporation
to drive change efforts across the organization. The system, called Enterprise
Process Center, or EPC, manages knowledge retention and establishes new ways of
collaborating, sharing information, and defining roles and responsibilities.
SFPUC saw the retirement of its baby boomers as an opportunity to implement a
structure that would alleviate similar problems in the future. With EPC, SFPUC
would be able to maintain continuity from older to newer employees more easily.
SFPUC was impressed that the system would span all four of its major divisions,
helping to standardize common processes across multiple departments, and that
it would be easy to use and train employees. EPC sought to identify common
processes, called “work crossovers,” by mapping business processes
across each department. EPC is unique among BPM software providers in its
visual representation of these processes. Using flow charts accessible via a
Web portal to clearly depict the functions performed by each department, SFPUC
was able to identify redundant and inefficient tasks performed by multiple
departments. This visually oriented solution for optimizing business processes
catered to both technology- savvy new employees and older baby boomers. Prior
to the BPM overhaul, SFPUC employees had little incentive to share business
process information. New environmental regulations were difficult to
communicate. Certain inspection processes were conducted on an irregular basis,
sometimes as infrequently as every 5 to 15 years. The knowledge required to
execute these processes was especially valuable, because newer employees would
have no way of completing these tasks without proper documentation and process
knowledge. SFPUC needed ways to easily find knowledge about processes that were
performed daily, as well as every 15 years, and what’s more, that knowledge had
to be up to date so that employees didn’t stumble across obsolete information.
EPC solved that problem by creating work order flows for all tasks performed
within the organization, defining the employee roles and responsibilities for
each. For example, the work order flow for SFPUC’s wastewater enterprise
displayed each step in the process visually, with links to manuals describing
how to complete the task and the documents required to complete it. EPC also
identified obsolete processes that were well suited to automation or totally
superfluous. Automating and eliminating outdated tasks alleviated some of
SFPUC’s budget and workload concerns, allowing the organization to divert extra
resources to training and human resources. SFPUC management had anticipated
that eliminating outdated tasks would have the added effect of keeping
employees happy, which would help SFPUC’s performance by delaying retirement of
older employees and increasing the likelihood that newer hires stayed at the
company. EPC allowed employees to provide feedback on various tasks, helping to
identify tasks that were most widely disliked. For example, the process for
reimbursement of travel expenses was described as lengthy, highly
labor-intensive, and valueless to the citizens of San Francisco. To be
reimbursed for travel expenses, employees had to print a form, complete it by
hand, attach travel receipts, and walk the documents over to their supervisors,
who then had to manually review and approve each item and remit expenses for
three additional levels of approval. Only then could the division controller
issue the reimbursement. To address this need for sharing information and
making documents available across the organization, SFPUC started by using a
wiki, but the documents lacked different levels of relevance. Critical
information pertaining to everyday tasks took the same amount of time to find
as information pertaining to an inspection performed every 15 years. EPC allowed
users to assign levels of relevance to tasks and identify critical information
so that critical information displays when employees search for certain items.
For example, SFPUC employees must comply with various regulatory permits for
water and air quality standards. Lack of awareness of these standards often
leads to unintentional violations. The BPM tool helped users assign risks to
various tasks so that when employees queried information, the relevant
regulations displayed along with the requested documents. Identifying the
experts on particular subjects for mission-critical processes is often
challenging when compiling information on business processes across the
enterprise. SFPUC anticipated this, using EPC to break down large-scale process
knowledge into more manageable pieces, which allowed more users to contribute
information. Users were reluctant to buy in to the BPM implementation at first,
but management characterized the upgrade in a way that invited employees to
share their thoughts about their least favorite processes and contribute their
knowledge. The final product of the knowledge management overhaul took the form
of a “centralized electronic knowledge base,” which graphically
displays critical steps of each task and uses videos to gather information and
show work being done. New employees quickly became confident that they could
perform certain tasks because of these videos. The overall results of the
project were overwhelmingly positive. EPC helped SFPUC take its baby boomers’
individual data and knowledge and turn them into usable and actionable
information that was easily shared throughout the firm. SFPUC stayed much
further under budget than other comparable governmental organizations. SFPUC’s
new knowledge processes made many activities more paperless, reducing printing
costs, time to distribute documents, and space required for document retention.
Going paperless also sup- ported the organization’s mission to become more
environmentally responsible. The addition of video technology to the process
maps helped employees see how they could reduce energy consumption practices
and electrical costs. By automating and redesigning the unwieldy travel
reimbursement process described earlier, SFPUC reduced the time to process
employee reimbursement requests by as much as 50 percent.

Case Study: Can Knowledge Management Systems Help Pfizer?

Read the case study very carefully. Your task will be to answer all the questions in detail. Please be descriptive in your answers. All the same, try to make them to-the-point and succinct.

1.What are the business goals of SFPUC? How is knowledge management related to those goals?

2.What were some of the challenges faced by SFPUC? What management, organization, and technology factors were responsible for those challenges?

3.Describe how implementing EPC improved knowledge management and operational effectiveness at SFPUC.

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