Risk and regulatory compliance are ever-present concerns for the energy industry. That is why there is so much paperwork to get through to satisfy management and regulators.
But who likes doing paperwork? Few people do. Reducing, eliminating and streamlining paperwork for energy workers is essential to improve productivity and efficiency.
Why Bother Improving Your Paperwork?
In the energy industry, paperwork is a necessary activity. However, completing all these forms takes time away from the primary business of serving customers.
In addition to lost time, there is a high cost of errors in energy industry paperwork. If you file an incorrect report to the Department of Energy, you might face fines and costly rework.
Whether you are interested in avoiding errors or improving productivity, there are good reasons to streamline your paperwork.
Simple Steps to Eliminating Paperwork for Energy Workers
1. Inventory Your Department’s Paperwork Activities
Schedule a brainstorming meeting with your team to create a list of all of the paperwork your department manages. Typical examples will include:
- Management reports: These are the quarterly, monthly and weekly reports you deliver to your managers to support their decision-making processes.
- Regulatory reports: This category includes forms and reports required by state and federal authorities. If you are a public company, this category may also include SEC forms.
- Health and safety reports: Energy is a high-risk industry, so health and safety matters need to be adequately documented.
- Project reports: Whether you are building a pipeline or upgrading infrastructure, you need project reports to track your progress.
If available, you should also collect information on how much time is required for each form. The most time-consuming forms can then be targeted for elimination or improved via digitization.
Once you create a list of reports, forms and similar documents used by your department, you can focus on elimination next.
2. Nominate Paperwork for Removal
As business needs change, some forms may not be needed anymore. Without a paperwork review, your staff may keep filing that report. Use the following questions to evaluate whether a form is truly needed:
- Who would be impacted if the form was eliminated?
- Is the form’s information provided somewhere in an acceptable form?
- For internal use forms – does the recipient use it?
- For external use forms – can you propose eliminating the form?
By going through the above steps, you will find a few forms due for elimination. Your next step will be to meet with the impacted people to discuss your plan to eliminate the form. For your remaining forms, move on to the next step.
3. Identify High Volume Forms and Checklists
Not all paperwork is created equal. We recommend focusing on paperwork and forms that have been filed daily, weekly and monthly because these forms usually make up the majority of your paperwork burden.
Tip: According to the Checklist Manifesto, the best checklists have a small number of questions and focus on preventing mistakes. As a rule of thumb, aim for 5-10 questions or one page in length.
4. Create Digital Forms to Replace Paper Forms
Using the list of high volume forms you identified in the previous step, you will create your first digital form using an online form builder or mobile forms solution.
Deciding which form to digitize first is easy. Focus on forms where handwritten errors have been a problem and those forms where timely data is a problem.
Reports from energy workers on the front lines are a popular choice for digitization. For example, if your department is currently working on a major power project, you might focus on weekly project status reports.
5. Introduce the New Digital Form to Your Energy Workers
After you decide which forms to digitize, and have created a digital version of the form, managers should test the form personally to make sure it works from a technical standpoint. After that test is done, schedule a meeting with your staff to introduce their form.
In the meeting, cover the following points:
- Why You Are Implementing Digital Forms. It is a way to save time for managers and front line staff because there will be fewer errors and delays in processing essential data.
- Front Line Input. Explain that input from your energy workers is critical to improving the form and saving time for everyone.
- Demonstration. Set aside part of the meeting for a technology demonstration. Ask one person to fill in a digital form and show how you receive it as a manager.
6. Refine the Digital Form Based on Feedback
Over the next few weeks, your employees will start to use the new digital form. Expect that you will find some glitches and blind spots at first. You may need to go back and clarify certain fields on the form.
If you do not receive any suggestions or complaints about the form, arrange another team meeting to seek feedback.
Which paperwork will you eliminate this year? Use this process quarterly or annually to find new ways to streamline your operations.