New tech needs stakeholder buy-in

June 19, 2018

“We learn from each other, so we don’t make the same mistakes.” CenterPoint Energy’s Winston Meyer explained how to gain stakeholder buy-in for new technology implementations.

New technology can be enticing and alluring. But someone’s got to see that it’s implemented and integrated effectively. And, before any of that can be done, its cost needs to be justified and approved by stakeholders.

Enter Winston Meyer, manager, gas measurement services, CenterPoint Energy, which operates in six Midwestern states. “It’s a diverse geography,” he explained during his presentation this week at Honeywell Users Group Americas 2018 in San Antonio. “We have about 3.5 million gas users and customers, 8,000 employees and over 75,000 miles of piping in the ground. In the United States, we have a lot of regulatory bodies we deal with. Our rates are determined by how well we run our business.”

A variety of recent technology implementations and projects at CenterPoint required Meyer to convince a corral of stakeholders of the benefits of those upgrades.

“Implementation of technology is a concept for your whole business,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of different departments to deal with and a lot of hands to touch. When we go out with it, we have to have a great plan as well as confidence.”

One such upgrade has been the replacement of mechanical meters with advanced metering infrastructure. “Regulators saw that as a safety improvement for our meter readers, and it yielded more accurate data collection for rate payers,” said Meyer. Regulatory bodies and rate payers are just two of the stakeholders who must shake hands on new technology considerations.

Winds of change

Advanced leak survey technology allows CenterPoint to pinpoint methane leaks using sensor-equipped vehicles, GPS and wind direction. Putting stakeholders in the vehicle to see the technology in action went a long way toward gaining credibility and buy-in.

Because 2G and 3G support is going away soon, CenterPoint has to upgrade its cellular infrastructure to 4G. “We’re doing some rip-and-replace for that, but it’s justified,” said Meyer. In addition, he’s been able to get his organization’s stakeholders onboard with an HMI migration and upgraded measurement data systems, but, given the distance between the six states his company serves, regional acceptance can sometimes be a challenge. And employees’ age differences can be just as daunting as geographic hurdles.

“I’m looking at implementation and how we’re going to maintain that new technology across a widespread geography,” said Meyer. “Someone who’s been at a plant for 40 years has probably been involved in writing standard operating procedures. What about the new employee who’s been there for two weeks? I love the new guys who come in out of college. They’re very intelligent. They can tell us how things are going to behave, but they’ve never touched a piece of physical equipment.”

Geography also creates pockets of isolation. “When you’ve got a large area with employees that are spread out, they may not see their supervisor in several weeks,” warned Meyer. “They may not check a procedure with their counterparts. I have to get him trained with knowledge and give him the resources.”

Common vision needed

Integration requires a common vision. “Without that, you have no chance of good training and consistent behavior,” said Meyer. “You must define the types of products you’re going to deploy for what purposes. We do product evaluation to make sure we can handle it expeditiously. It can be very complicated. If I’m training 40 people over a large area, we have to make sure we’re using a format that helps to make a measure of success for those individuals.”

Meyer loves new technology as much as the next engineer, but he still has to answer to his stakeholders, especially given the industry he’s in. “I like to get my hands on the equipment,” he said. “But I still have to think about the public arena in which I’m operating. I have to start with change management. Why are we doing this? Where is the payback for the rate payer? Stakeholder management starts at the corporate level, but then you have regulatory stakeholders as well. I have to be able to defend what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Once you get regulatory approval and finance approval, then you can budget and source.”