As one of the largest energy players in Singapore, Sembcorp Industries (Sembcorp) has a balanced energy portfolio with substantial renewable energy capacity across the world. Sembcorp seeks to meet the rising global demand for sustainable solutions while ensuring a safe and flexible workspace during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has set up its modern workplace by accelerating deployment and adoption of Microsoft 365, particularly Microsoft Teams, for connectivity and collaboration.
Driven by a purpose to do good and transform its portfolio from brown to green, Sembcorp is one of the largest, homegrown energy and urban development players in Singapore. The company owns and operates solar, wind, and energy storage in key markets across the world. Today’s global context sees a rising demand for sustainable solutions to address the megatrends of decarbonization, urbanization, and electrification. Sembcorp seeks to strengthen its position by digitalizing many of its processes. “For any company to operate at speed and scale, digital capability is the must-have,” says Charles Koh, Chief Digital Officer at Sembcorp.
Digitalization with employees in mind
Sembcorp maintains an energy portfolio of over 13 gigawatts, with more than 3.5 gigawatts of renewable energy from solar, wind, and energy storage around the world. The company also has a proven track record of transforming raw land into sustainable urban developments, with a project portfolio spanning over 12,000 hectares across Asia. In its journey as a sustainable company, Sembcorp considers the modern workplace important for its employees’ productivity and well-being.
“As a company, we like to focus on enhancing the employee journey, innovating our business models, and ensuring superior productivity of our operating assets. These are the three key things we look at in terms of our digitalization,” adds Alancia Neo, Vice President, Group Strategic Communications at Sembcorp.
In terms of digitalization, we like to focus on enhancing the employee journey, innovating our business models, and ensuring superior productivity of our operating assets.
To enhance employee productivity, the company recently accelerated the adoption of Microsoft solutions. “The big picture for us was a modern workplace that’s sustainable – just like our goal of building a sustainable future for generations to come. Microsoft gives us the digital glue to build that workplace,” says Charles. “We also needed to deal with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to adapt to government guidelines on safe distancing and safety management measures in the workplace. The key is to ensure that our people can stay connected during office hours, whether at home, in the office, or in transit.”
Charles knew that for a new system to be embraced by employees, it needed to be likeable. “For us, a digital system must create a positive emotional experience for our employees, who are at the heart of everything we do. Microsoft Teams does exactly that. It’s practical, too, because it’s integrated and bundled with Microsoft 365. It’s easy to use.”
A digital system must create a positive emotional experience for our employees, who are at the heart of everything we do. Microsoft Teams does exactly that.
Getting everyone on board
To help employees transition from other collaboration tools to Microsoft Teams, the digital team started with commitment from top management to use Microsoft Teams for their meetings. Employees started seeing the advantages of the platform, such as how accessible it is and how seamlessly it integrated with Microsoft solutions. Next, the team introduced useful functions to support employees in their work. The IT team embedded a Work-bot in Microsoft Teams to manage various types of approvals such as applications for leave. “This strategy made approvals easier because, as users, it means a single touchpoint. We don’t have to go through another system with an additional login,” says Alancia.
The company supplemented its efforts to get everyone on board with Microsoft 365 through communications and e-learning. Every month, it sent out an infographic to talk about a certain feature. “If we wanted to encourage staff to hold meetings on Teams, we would use an infographic to give step-by-step instructions,” says Alancia.
Keeping employees safe
Another application Charles’s team developed was the C-19 Notify app, an engagement tool to help Sembcorp manage COVID-19 transmission risk in a timely manner. “Our employees report their potential exposure to the virus on the app integrated in Teams. In addition, employees will submit return-to-office request via the app and this allows the pandemic response team to manage our response to the fast-changing workplace guidelines set by the authorities. The app is fast and accessible to everyone across the organisation,” says Alancia.
In embracing more automation, Sembcorp’s newest effort is to move towards a self-serve culture with a chatbot. To further encourage employees to adopt such digitalisation efforts at workplace, Sembcorp provides mobile and data allowances to subsidise data plan cost.
Sembcorp’s concern for employee safety is also the main reason they’ve adopted automation in the field. “We’re using drones to automate the operations and maintenance of our solar panels. This reduces reliance on labour and also helps to reduce safety risk for our people,” says Alancia.
A highly efficient, modern business
“We have around 4,000 users daily and approximately 750,000 chat messages a month,” details Alancia. “Since we made the shift to Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams, we’ve had more than 5,000 meetings a month of total 19,000 hours. This means substantial cost saving as this function is already part of our Microsoft subscription.”
Sembcorp also leveraged Microsoft Azure services in its floating solar farms to automate processes. “It used to take our solar team 30 days to key in performance data from the solar farms. With automation, that’s now down to five minutes with 95 percent accuracy. This helps us with general maintenance, which in turn, helps prevent revenue leakage. We’re also using the data for commercial billing,” says Charles. These smart monitoring systems were also deployed in its wind farms. With smart metering, Sembcorp can calculate wind velocity and estimate how much energy can be generated from its wind turbines.
In the future, Sembcorp hopes to extend its partnership with Microsoft by building an energy operating system. Charles says, “We are a renewable energy company as well as a digital company with broad capabilities. We want to partner with Microsoft to create an operating system on a large scale, geographically and conceptually. Together with Microsoft, we can work on building a renewable energy operating system that will take us closer to a green, sustainable future that is worth striving for.”