The prospect of privatisation in 1991 focused the minds of senior executives at Scottish Power on their information systems. At that time, the organisation had a multiplicity of reporting methods in areas such as finance, manufacturing, sales and marketing. This made it extremely hard for the board to keep track - managers could all too easily stress their successes and disguise their problem areas.
The chief executive wanted an information system that would also help identify the cause of problems. As Brian Morris, business systems manager, puts it: 'We needed an information system that would make performance levels more visible so that managers could find out how they were were doing, check their plans, make better decisions and assess the impact of change.' An EIS seemed like the ideal way to standardise information.
Now Scottish Power has one of the UK's largest EIS with more than 200 users across nine divisions. It has 23 applications and has provided such an increase in management control that some 50 senior executives have been able to move out of the main building to a new corporate office in Glasgow.
Morris modelled the EIS on Scottish Power's business strategy by using the company's critical success factors - the factors needed to achieve success as they are applied at various levels. 'We felt this model was critical. If you don't get these things right then systems like an EIS are a waste of time.' However, he did not want to restrict the EIS to a coterie of senior executives, viewing it rather as an enterprise-wide management information system. 'I don't see an EIS as a tool exclusively for top executives with an audience of half a dozen.' For example, the Scottish Power EIS provides the sort of detailed information that a power-station manager needs, and then extracts whatever is relevant for the power division manager.
One of the big attractions of EIS was its ease of use, with graphical screens and the ability to cascade down to deeper levels of interest. However, not everyone in the organisation is a computer convert so the main EIS reports are still available on paper in booklet form.
In an ideal world, all the information in the EIS would be drawn automatically from existing company databases. In practice, this level of automation was not possible in the time available except in the case of financial systems. Other information is keyed in manually or extracted from spreadsheets.
'We have adopted a phased approach to implementation,' says Morris.
'If you go for Big Bang you'll never succeed. You need to understand the big picture then break it down into manageable units.' The previous generation of information systems at Scottish Power was complicated, static, and of limited use in management planning. The EIS is in a constant state of flux as it continually adapts to the changing needs of the business. Its information is not lost however - the system is being used to feed a master database that will be compiled over the next decade to provide long-term forecasts and detailed analysis for decision support and strategic planning.
'The great success of our EIS is that it has become a key part of the management process rather than a jazzy piece of technology that is not used,' says Morris. 'It is the basis for all key performance reviews and provides a consistent system of measuring progress.'.