Reliant turns to users for help in forms project
Application Development Trends'
2002 Innovator Awards
E-business Application Development
In the electric utilities industry, employees are required to complete
forms for nearly every aspect of their daily work. Reliant Energy, based
in Houston, requires its employees to complete various forms throughout
a day, but its form entry has not been the same since the night in 1993
when Tobi Watashe, supervisor of forms and office supplies, turned 20
printed forms into electronic documents. Within a month and a half, the
organization, made up of nearly 100 regulated and unregulated companies
nationwide, had 20 electronic forms up and running. That number quickly
increased to more than 500.
As forms were updated and revised, Reliant Energy pushed them out to
servers for easy employee access, but as the organization grew, the process
became more time-consuming.
To alleviate the growing dilemma, Watashe formed a team to evaluate various
software programs that could meet a requirements list of functions and
features the entire company needed. The team considered Adobe Acrobat,
Microsoft Word, Lotus Notes and Accelio Capture ReachForm before selecting
One aspect of ReachForm that appealed to the organization was its ability
to create and publish Web-based forms for delivery to any browser running
on any device -- from PCs to handheld and wireless devices -- without
downloads or plug-ins. This was not a requirement at first, but with employees
constantly moving around in company vehicles, "it makes sense to
have something that can be accessible on anything," said Watashe.
Between 12,000 and 14,000 Reliant Energy employees can access forms through
their companies' intranets. The firm faced risks in user acceptance, but
prepared users through Web notifications, providing samples of development
and by seeking feedback.
The development team consisted of 60 people, including skilled professionals
from Reliant Energy Companies, with a focus on Shared Services, forms
personnel, information technology specialists (including database administrators,
e-business specialists, systems development and client support center
personnel), forms process owners, clients and partner-members from Accelio
and Corporate Express.
The team met weekly beginning in September 2000 to create Web PowerForms.
The group followed an ongoing task list in both list and calendar form,
and dedicated an entire Lotus Notes database to following the project
so that all team members would have quick reference to project details.
The application was tested at each implementation stage using the forms
designer software, FormFlow 99, on designers' desktops, and the Accelio
product on the development server.
Reliant Energy faced various challenges throughout the development process.
For one, the industry is in the midst of deregulation, which continues
to result in changing resources. A learning curve on the Accelio software
posed another challenge. Forms designers received training on the design
Providing a tool for authentication into the system created yet another
hurdle. Reliant Energy had to devise a way to authenticate via SAP while
using user profile information from an Oracle-based employee data warehouse.
Using some code from a similar application as a foundation, the development
team modified and tweaked that to arrive at the results it wanted.
Development followed a four-tier schedule. Reliant Energy went live with
its Tier 1 pilot-testing phase September 5, 2001, by providing 500 clients
with 20 forms each. This phase, which lasted through November, concentrated
solely on these 500 clients -- half regulated and half unregulated companies
-- as functionality was added.
Tier 2 took place from November to December 2001 and involved moving
all PowerForms servers and standalone clients to the Web application.
The application went live to the entire organization with 173 forms on
February 12, 2002. By early this year, Reliant Energy was putting out
between 30 and 40 forms a week.
In Tier 3, scheduled from January to March 2002, the organization combined
printed and electronic forms in a single catalog for one-stop forms ordering
and filling. Printed forms such as envelopes, decals and door hangers
still play a part in the organization's success. Clients can order these
printed forms through the same catalog they use to order electronic forms.
The only difference is that with the printed forms, a client receives
a message that the form is not available electronically and is given an
option to order a printed copy.
In Tier 4, which is scheduled to continue throughout 2002, the organization
is concentrating on electronic signature and workflow functionality.
The application is ever evolving and improving. While a client using
the program today can print and send a form, in the future that same client
might instead have the option to print and submit a form.
If she had this project to do over again, Watashe would include more
training in scripting languages for the support staff and more IT involvement
throughout all phases of the project. But management and the user community
already consider this project a success. The automated process saves the
organization money and its employees time and frustration. In addition,
by eliminating the entire server and standalone push procedures, one full-time
employee was moved to do other tasks.
Above: (Seated) Albert Cisneros, Sonny Nguyen, Christine
Huynh, Pauline Knox, Tobi Watashe, Carol Olson, Betty Heimer, (Standing)
Jason Ramm, David Rusk, Curtis Lutringer, Robert Lagoudis, Lynn Elliott,
Kevin Johnson, Lisa Croft, Kimberly Lyman, (Not pictured) Cathy Walker,
Project: Web PowerForms
Purpose: To make forms easy to access anywhere by moving from a client/server app to the Web.
Benefits: One-method access to forms; immediate availability upon sign-off; moved from a 16- to a 32-bit client; forms accessible from virtual offices; electronic forms catalog with security views particular to each employee or business unit.
Tools: Accelio Capture ReachForm, SQL 2000,
and Active Server Pages
Platform: Windows 2000
The E-business Application Development category
focuses on applications that enhance business efficiency through
the implementation of innovative applications. Reliant Energy demonstrated
its ability to build an innovative solution that greatly assisted
the wide variety of business users within its organization.
Reliant's approach of involving the business users
early and often helped them to create a Web-based form distribution
system whose hallmark is its ease of use. This eliminated the need
for standalone clients and a variety of different platforms. The
forms were made part of an electronic forms catalog that tailored the views to the security level of the business user.
The application also uses "User Profiles" based on automated authentication via the SAP ERP solution. Another innovative feature of the system is the ability to "lock" data into a form once an electronic signature is affixed to the document. This application of the Java Scripting Language demonstrates Reliant's innovative spirit and its ability to harness technology to meet the needs of the business community.
Team Leader: Nat Bongiovanni, Senior Principal Consultant, Keane Inc.
Lana Gates is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.