Paperless System Brings Unexpected Benefits to Power Company
Corrected: August 6, 2008
by Alex Woodie
When Wheelabrator Technologies implemented Quadrant Software's paperless process management (PPM) software, it was hoping to streamline the handling of statements and invoices generated from its JD Edwards ERP system, and to cut down its use of paper. As the implementation got under way, managers with the Waste Management subsidiary found some other ways to take advantage of the software that they had not initially anticipated.
Wheelabrator Technologies generates electricity by burning garbage and other waste it collects from hundreds of municipal governments and private garbage collection businesses (such as its parent company) around the country. It may not be your typical "green" company, but by diverting thousands of tons of waste from landfills and converting it into electricity, Wheelabrator is technically in the renewable energy business.
The Hampton, New Hampshire-based company has operated in a lean manner for as long as IT manager Ernie Botte can remember. For the last 16 years, Wheelabrator has utilized the JD Edwards World ERP software running on AS/400, iSeries, and System i, hardware, a combination that "just works." Only 900 employees are needed to run 22 multi-megawatt plants spanning from New England to Northern California. The IT department, anchored by the AS/400, gets by with just seven people.
While the company avoids implementing "technology for technology's sake," some of its business processes needed sprucing up, and technology would provide the answer. In particular, the flow of paperwork at each of Wheelabrator's 22 sites was slow and cumbersome, and amounted to a poor use of employees' time. "We were very much decentralized," Botte says. "About two years ago, we decided to go toward a more centralized shared service center, and try to eliminate the need for handling paper so much."
The paper flow involved upwards of 10 employees at multiple locations. Three sets of documents had to arrive through the mail or from other sources and be matched before a Wheelabrator manager could enter a voucher number in the JD Edwards accounts payable (AP) software to cut a check, which was then mailed. "It was a lot of manual effort touching the pieces of paper more than once," Botte says. "So we began looking for a solution that would help us to bring it in-house, through a regional office, while giving each location the capability to view and see their information and make the appropriate decision based on that."
Imagining an Imaging System
Wheelabrator initially imagined an imaging and workflow system to cut down on the paper handling. If invoices and other documents could be scanned into a computer system, automatically routed and matched through a workflow system, and then e-mailed or faxed to proper destinations, it could eliminate much of the manual paper handling and postage for mailing.
Botte's first requirement for an imaging system was close integration with the iSeries-based JD Edwards system, and the capability to fax or e-mail. Three vendors--Stellent (now owned by Oracle), Image Integration Systems (IIS), and Quadrant Software--made the initial cut. Botte eventually focused on two: Quadrant's IntelliChief and IIS' DocuSphere systems.
While the DocuSphere solution offered a number of features that were not in Quadrant's offering, Wheelabrator eventually went with Quadrant for reasons of cost, complexity, and familiarity (their prices were about the same, he says). The IIS solution "had the capability to scan the document and populate the field in JD Edwards. While that was good, it required a lot more software [Windows Vista and Office 2007] that we didn't have on our system," says Botte, who has known the Quadrant founders for years. "The biggest thing was the professionalism of both groups, but Quadrant didn't sell me the future. They sold me what was on the table today."
Wheelabrator implemented the Windows-based IntelliChief imaging and workflow system, along with Quadrant's Formtastic form design tool and FastFax software, which has the capability to fax and e-mail documents from within IntelliChief or OS/400 applications like JD Edwards.
Today, as documents arrive at Wheelabrator's shared services office in Hampton, they're scanned into IntelliChief, which matches documents, notifies managers of approval requests, and e-mails or faxes documents to various parties. All told, the system involves nine workers in the shared services department and about 40 managers at the 22 sites, and has the capability to eliminate postage on 80,000 purchase orders that were previously mailed every year.
Wheelabrator looked to imaging software to help automate its accounts receivable and AP systems, but found another use for IntelliChief: leveraging the product's optical character recognition (OCR) and indexing capabilities to digitize the management of legal contracts.
"We were buying the product for payables and receivables, but our biggest benefit today is our contract management system," Botte says. "Once the system was here, we said 'Let's image all the contracts in OCR, and work with Quadrant to do a full contract search."
The new system eliminates a good deal of manual work, Botte says. "In the kinds of business we're in, there are always regulatory changes," he says. "So whenever we had a regulatory change, we'd have every site looking into their system to find out which contracts may be affected by this regulatory change, and what changes had to be done."
Today, Wheelabrator uses IntelliChief to be more responsive to the management of more than 1,000 documents associated with about 700 contracts. "So now we have all of our contracts sitting in a database, and as we get any regulatory changes, the legal department will go in and do a scan--by state or region--that shows them every single contract that has a regulatory change to a given permit. We use the system to keep a book of record."
In the near future, Wheelabrator employees will be able to quickly look up important legal information using IntelliChief. By inserting URLs in their in-house legal software that links back to the specific part of a contract that says exactly what Wheelabrator's obligations are, it will be much easier for employees to keep on top of the changing regulatory environment.
This article has been corrected. Wheelabrator Technologies was erroneously referred to as Wheelabrator Laboratories in the first sentence. IT Jungle regrets the error.
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