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How British Gas drives efficiencies with predictive analytics

Kathleen Hall

British Gas has been working with SAS to optimise resources by allocating engineers more intelligently in a move that it expects will result in 3,500 extra job allocations a day.

British Gas has more than 4 million customers, served by a workforce of 7,000 engineers. But Steve McGivern, national forecasting, roster and planning manager at British Gas, said the 50 borders its engineers work across do not currently reflect the most efficient allocation of resources. However, he said the company was unable to redraw the borders without overhauling its enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. The system has been in place since 1996. 

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“We have an Oracle-built system that allows us to identify geography and booking appointments'" he says. "All the reporting structure comes off that geography,” 

But by using SAS analytics, the company hopes to make significant efficiency savings. 

“The early indications are that they could reduce travel by up to 30% by having engineers in the right location at the start of the day to allow scheduling systems work out,” says McGivern.

He said the calculations suggest that each van could potentially pick up an extra job

“Even if just half our vans are able to do that, that would mean 3,500 extra jobs per day at no additional cost,” he says. Such a move will lead to a better use of resources and reduce the dependency on overtime and external contractors during busy times.

The beauty of getting SAS involved is that it applies a real science. We have excellent working relations with trade unions, but they are more likely to trust an impartial suggestion and a centralised approach [to job allocation] over their managers

Steve McGivern, national forecasting, roster and planning manager at British Gas

“The trade unions have always said engineers are passing each other unnecessarily, so we knew we had to look at this,” he says.

McGivern says: “The beauty of getting SAS involved is that it applies a real science. We have excellent working relations with trade unions, but they are more likely to trust an impartial suggestion and a centralised approach [to job allocation] over their managers.”

McGivern expects the new schedules to come into force in March or October.

It follows work the company did with British Gas last winter to predict weather patterns and the increased likelihood of engineers being called out for it to better plan rostering.

The partnership followed a record number of call-outs during the winter of 2010.

On average, 2.2 million customers report breakdowns per year, with the company also conducting more than 4 million annual safety checks. 

"But breakdowns cause the real trouble as we don’t know when they will happen," McGivern says.

“Originally we thought we’d cracked it by changing workers' hours to 40 hours in winter and 34 hours in summer. We spent the year renegotiating with trade unions. So they changed the hours to 45 in winter and fewer in summer,” he said.

“It was going well in October and November, some weeks 100%, but then the coldest winter on record began.

“The demand was unbelievably high. Previously the company had had 25,000 breakdowns per day, with this then peaking at 39,500 breakdowns.

“So we did not have enough capacity to fulfill promise. Existing forecasting capability built on SAS platform was about eight years old and had never seen such volumes so we couldn’t compare and contrast.

“After the winter, we had a post mortem and the outcome was that we needed to invest in forecasting capabilities.

The company moved from relying on a 72-hour weather-feed based on nine weather stations and 10 years of historical data; to a feed that gave updates 10 days in advance based on 30 weather stations and 30 years of historical data. The new system now has an accuracy of 98%.

“Because it’s better weather information, we’re not clogging systems up, rearranging visits and upsetting customers, less broken appointments, also we have increased efficiency, because we can say we’re not busy at the weekend – so we can bring engineers back in mid-week. You reduce overtime costs, and have more focused overtime.

He says the system has contributed to the company gaining 200,000 more users.


Steve McGivern spoke to Computer Weekly at the SAS Premier Business Leadership Series event


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