Elia drives innovation using SAP Business Technology Platform and S/4HANA

Innovation: everyone talks about it and claims to be the best at it. But oftentimes, that’s where it ends. How to turn big ambitions into real business value? At Elia, Belgium’s high-voltage infrastructure operator, IT and business collaborate closely in a successful innovation approach.

Elia SAPS4 HANA innovation

Driven by unstoppable enthusiasm and a lot of outside-the-box-thinking, Joris Cuypers (group SAP manager at Elia) and his team embody Elia’s innovative DNA. They make innovation come to life in the company on two levels: in its digital core and in experimental endeavours that lay the groundwork for smart solutions that enhance the company’s operations. Of course, Flexso gladly lends a hand in their efforts.

A strong digital core to build on

A solid digital core is an absolute necessity for innovation. Even more: it’s the foundation for running a smooth, successful and future-focussed company. Elia’s core is built on SAP: asset management, project & portfolio management, core business activities and processes, finance, procurement, HCM … all these processes are managed by SAP solutions.

As a digital frontrunner, Elia is always among the first to implement any new technologies or apply updates to its systems. That’s why they adopted Fiori as the new user experience for SAP as soon as it was launched in 2013, with the goal of driving SAP user adoption by Elia business lines. Today, they have more than 50 productive Fiori applications, and Fiori is already widespread throughout Elia’s business.

A clear roadmap

But that’s not all: with the advent of HANA, Joris and his team immediately started a programme to prepare the core for a conversion to SAP S/4HANA. After developing a clear roadmap, they organised a roadshow to inform all business lines of the key benefits of SAP S/4HANA and prepare them for the project. And in 2019 on March 18, Elia went live with S/4HANA 1709. It was a major milestone that builds further on Elia’s strategy: using up-to-date technology to drive business innovation and user adoption.

Thinking outside the box to get to the next level

But an up-to-date digital core is just the start. Having a solid basis to rely on opens up room for experimentation. With less time spent on smoothing out core processes, Elia explores new technologies like machine learning and AI and explore the opportunities they bring to add business value. To enable this free IT experimentation, ‘innovation cells’ were brought to life. In these cells, business and IT experts work together in agile prototyping teams to develop new products and services that push the boundaries of user friendliness and efficiency. The base for these experiments? SAP Business Technology Platform.

These endeavours are more than just fun: they have already resulted in several innovative tools. One great example is the Smart Material Wizard.

The Smart Material Wizard

This machine learning app allows employees to find materials in SAP and order new parts simply by taking a picture. It can be used on a smartphone anywhere, anytime, and helps people locate spare parts that they don’t immediately recognise. Additionally, it overcomes problems with low-quality master data in SAP, which often makes it hard to find materials in SAP. Employees can even like or dislike the search results they get, making the system smarter as it’s being used.

Image blog ERP Elia drives innovation Smart Material WizardThe Smart Material Wizard

The Smart Malfunction Report

Another great solution created by an innovation cell is the Smart Malfunction Report. With this app, Elia engineers can ‘talk’ to SAP in a way that’s similar to talking to their cars or to Siri. They simply log malfunction reports in SAP Asset Management by telling them what’s wrong. For example, ‘the boiler isn’t working due to loss of pressure’ is automatically translated by the system, which fills the correct fields with the right data and saves it in SAP. It doesn’t get easier than that.

Elia’s story proves that smart collaboration between IT and business can drive company-wide innovation. Joris and his team adopt new features early on, they aren’t afraid to experiment and fail, and they strive to turn their findings into valuable business tools for the entire company. It’s a high-impact approach that other companies can learn from.

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