About Western Power

Owned by the Western Australian State Government, Western Power’s purpose is to connect people with electricity in a way that is safe, reliable and affordable.

While Western Power does not generate or retail electricity, they build, maintain and operate the electricity network in the south west corner of Western Australia. The Western Power Network forms the vast majority of the South West Interconnected Network (SWIN), which together with all of the electricity generators, comprises the South West Interconnected System (SWIS).

The SWIN covers a very large area of 255,000 square kilometres. Unlike all other major urban areas of Australia which are covered by a series of interconnected networks, the SWIN is an isolated, self-contained network. This means that the electricity needs of consumers within the SWIS must at all times be delivered by the SWIS itself without any outside support or back up.

The Idea

Servicing over one million customers, Western Power relies on regular mail to notify customers about upcoming maintenance and upgrade works. Besides calling Western Power, customers have no way of receiving updates about their electricity supply.

 “Rather than our customers having to contact us, we wanted to take a more proactive approach and have the information readily available at their fingertips,” explains Gino Giudice, Head of Customer Service. “A number of our planned outages end up cancelled due to operational requirements, so around 6,000 customers per month are affected by the changes in schedule without warning.”

During storms and other unplanned outages, Western Power’s call centre also gets flooded with calls from concerned customers.

“We wanted to create a smooth experience for our customers and give them the ability to subscribe to alerts and notifications regarding their property. An app seemed like the perfect solution and would solve many of the frustrations that our customers were experiencing” added Mr Giudice.

Understanding that this pain point existed for the business and wanting to see if something could be quickly done about it, the Western Power ICT team worked with Ignia to create a prototype app to present to internal stakeholders and showcase its potential.

Showcasing a product with the agility to rapidly modify proposed functionality helped gain immediate buy in from the business. Used to feeling stifled in the early stages of planning and design of traditional projects, the team was excited by the potential of the new approach.

 “Using Agile has increased our chances of ‘getting it right’ from the start- the business was involved early on and everyone was aware of and could plan, contribute to, and control the way the development took place,” pointed out Leigh Sprlyan, Chief Information Officer.

The Approach

The Western Power team had to deliver the prototype app quickly and decided against following the traditional project delivery processes, which were cumbersome and lacked the agility to deliver rapid business value.

Mr Sprlyan explained the reasons for trialling Agile to develop the prototype app.

“We wanted to deliver the project in a different way, and decided to try our hand at being disruptive- the Western Power App was chosen as the ‘guinea pig’ for this approach. We wanted to test whether Agile would work in our environment and add any efficiencies. So this app was essentially a two-fold project; a Proof of Concept to determine how we can best approach tactical projects as well as delivering value to our customers”

Microsoft’s Azure was selected for its highly scalable and ready to use services.  With a need for rapid development and the fact that it was public facing, along with the potential to scale up to service high volumes of customers at once, this model was a perfect fit for the project.

The app was developed in HTML5 using Ignia’s Agile Methodology for Mobility and utilised PhoneGap for Windows Phone, Android and iOS support.

The use of Agile and Azure allowed the pilot to be delivered in just six weeks- traditionally the time it could take to gather the business requirements alone.

The unprecedented results delivered using this methodology has paved the way for future innovation, with the business adopting this approach across various other projects.

Winning Business Buy-In

Agile methodologies emphasise collaboration and transparency between the development team and stakeholders, along with a unique approach of managing the project scope and the regularity and frequency of deliverables, based on value and priority.The productivity gains vs traditional Waterfall methods have been significant; this alternative approach typically begins with requirements gathering, determining the project scope, deciding on architecture and design specifics and creating documentation to define all aspects of the system. Even without any actual coding, this period can take weeks to months, depending on the anticipated scope of the project.

Mr Sprlyan described the first stage of developing the Western Power app, “The team hit the ground running: the first ‘sprint’ gathered the primary requirements, determined the scope of the project and set priorities for the initial features. All of this was accomplished in just one week!”

In the previous, Waterfall environment, after completing the first stage, a development team would work on creating prototypes over the course of six months to one year. The Western Power and Ignia team were able to deliver a working prototype in six weeks. The feedback from the broader business helped the design evolve as the project was in progress, with features and adjustments to the project easily managed along the way.

“This was our first project using the Agile approach and we have learnt that things can be a lot more fluid and flexible than we have been used to,” said Mr Sprlyan. “Having the end product so closely resemble our initial idea in just under six weeks has certainly proved the value of this new approach.”

The End Result

Fully developed and available in all three app stores, the Western Power app will simplify the customer experience and alleviate pressure on Western Power’s customer service team during planned and unplanned outages. Customers also have the ability to register more than one property and receive updates for elderly relatives and other family members, helping them prepare for outages and deal with emergencies.

The app gives users the ability to either receive push notifications or subscribe to SMS updates, and receive information on services in real time.

Mr Sprlyan sums up his experience of working with Ignia to build the prototype and introduce a new methodology to the team.

“Ignia’s expertise in Agile methodology complimented our team and contributed to the success of this innovative project. Any other approach wouldn’t let us achieve this goal and we appreciate the highly collaborative manner in which Ignia engaged with the stakeholders. What we have now is a sleek, multi-functional app for our customers along with a new way to deliver quick business value through technology.”