In the video above, the National Grid team discusses how they created a "Visualization Hub" to supercharge the power of iRise. The Visualization Hub is a conceptual and physical space for project teams to jointly explore options and visualize requirements leveraging 'cutting edge' tools and technologies. The 'Hub' accelerates and de-risks business transformation programs by capturing requirements, modeling change and simulating the 'to be' environment in a highly cost-effective and three-dimensional manner. It’s use of smart board technology is truly unique and innovative.
How do you re-engineer old systems to meet today's demands and exploit new technology, without disrupting the infrastructure that provides energy to more than 19 million customers in the US and UK?
That was the situation that National Grid faced last year as it contemplated an overhaul of its Gas National Control Center (GNCC). The existing telephony system still served its purpose as designed, handling incoming calls from field engineers, compressor sites and emergency reporting and mitigation efforts across the company’s UK gas transmission network.
But the system was designed long before touch-screens or interactivity were commonplace, making it outdated and less able to support service level requirements than similar modern systems. There was still a physical, old-style, land line phone on the desks of call center operators, and many of the capabilities that service provider Verizon can now supply were going unused.
Goal: A better user interface
The challenge: replace the old system with a new touch-sensitive system that would exploit everything learned in recent years about how people interact with information. The new handsets needed to use touch-screen graphic controls that would help the control room shift team to quickly determine who was calling—and from where—as well as better manage the assignment of calls across the team.
Above all, everyone concerned wanted a more flexible, resilient system that would improve the quality of service that the $22 billion company—one of the world’s largest investor-owned energy firms—could deliver to its extensive customer base.
The project had already started when National Grid business analysts Paul Holland and Sangeeta Squires saw a demo of iRise and suggested a trial of the visualisation platform. They explain that “there was a clear opportunity to bring iRise into business-critical projects within National Grid. We were very quickly able to explain the benefits to our IS and Gas Operations business stakeholders plus our delivery partners Verizon.”
Requirements changes throttled project development
The team’s tools were proving awkward to use, resulting in development cycles that seemed to take forever. “Someone would draw or sketch out an idea, and then they’d go off for a few days—or weeks—and then come back with something that we could look at,” says Richard Salmon, solution design authority for National Grid. More comments or changes usually meant repeating that same process, which was repeated with different sets of stakeholders.
The group faced time pressures with defining the UI requirements for the new system, resorting to Powerpoint slides to show other team members how the software would eventually look. Usually, even small changes were to the user interface meant manually revising many different slides.
“It was a nightmare,” says Richard. “It was also difficult to explain how it was going to work to all of the different stakeholders, so that we could get feedback on usability.”
New iRise on-the-fly collaboration capabilities speed UI project
National Grid personnel worked with Verizon technical experts, control room operators and an iRise expert modeler to create working visual prototypes that were built and changed during the modeling sessions. This capability let operator representatives try the touch-screen prototype and make suggestions that could be incorporated and re-tried in the meeting, “on the fly.”
“We weren’t used to being able to work out the requirements so quickly, but with everyone there, we were able to agree on a model much more rapidly than before,” says Richard.
No-surprises signoff meetings
These early time savings were compounded in later stages, such as final, “no surprises” sign-off meetings. “Before, it was often difficult to prove in one meeting that what was asked for would be delivered and meet the users’ expectations,” says Richard.
“In contrast, when we used iRise on this project, the delivery meeting was anticlimactic, because we could show that it did exactly what was expected—and already agreed upon. It literally took about a minute. In 15 years of delivering software solutions, I’d never been in a demonstration meeting like that one.”
Halving design time, speeding up partner delivery
The IS project team managing the GNCC project estimates that the visualisation tool halved the time in designing a new telephone screen look and feel to around four weeks. Moreover, the team reports that it “also greatly sped up the process of preparing Verizon for the build phase of the project.”
Richard added that “The key technical features of each solution component were matched to the UI design, with the lead business users and Verizon in the same room. We could validate the entire process and technology solution for each major feature in a single meeting.”
Ultra-realistic simulation makes a difference
The iRise simulations also achieved a level of realism that no amount of Powerpoint slides could have achieved, making new levels of collaboration possible.
“It really made a difference that we were able to demo something that not only worked the same as the final software, but was a precise representation of what users would see,” says Richard. For example, being able to see the subtle differences in color that an on-screen control underwent as it changed state was important in helping to work out the right UI behavior.
The high fidelity simulation offered by iRise was also critical in uncovering potential limitations in the software, such as how much could be displayed on a single view, and how best to craft screens to lessen screen fatigue. “That went a long way toward helping us work out the requirements,” he says.
50 percent productivity gains, easier change orders Development on the GNCC continues, but already there is broad agreement that the project savings from visualization were substantial. “We estimate that we saved six to eight weeks from a three to four month cycle,” says Richard.
“New changes are also easier”, says Richard. “We have some reusable components now. That makes new changes easier as we move forward.”
Global benefits from embracing change
For Andy Pearman, global Head of IS Solution Delivery within National Grid, iRise visualisation filled a long-standing need to transform the company’s software development processes, which often involved international teams and user interfaces for a wide variety of audiences. “We were looking for a tool that would align with our global IS transformation program, to provide a step-change in the way we approach User Interface project design,” says Pearman. “iRise stood out as the leading solution in this space.”
Visualization now standard for all UI projects
The results have so impressed the organization’s IS Solution Delivery team that they now champion the incorporation of iRise visualizations as standard procedures for new development.
“The early pilots of iRise demonstrated significant time savings and quality improvements in the requirements, design and delivery phases of project life,” says Pearman. “This lead to the decision to incorporate iRise into National Grid’s strategic toolset, for use across all projects where a user interface existed.”