Gas scheduling is an important part of natural gas transportation. A good friend, Norm Walker, often referred to scheduling as “the center of the universe” in the pipeline business. I have yet to find any information to prove him wrong.
The scheduler is the logistics coordinator for the entire business flow of gas. A scheduler takes all of the information about what has been bought, sold and what contractual obligations and rights are in place and creates a daily plan to get the gas from all of the receipts to all of the deliveries, at the best rate, with the best likelihood to flow. Next, the scheduler has to put all of this information, via nominations, into the multiple pipelines on which the gas will flow.
Imagine a coach trying to coordinate the plays in multiple simultaneous games. That is what the scheduler is doing working across multiple pipelines. Now, add in the factor that each pipeline has different service offerings, different scheduling rules, and different web technologies. Often you will see that schedulers will focus on and specialize in a region of interconnected pipelines because of the huge learning curve for each individual pipeline.
I have seen schedulers who nominate on eight different pipelines every day. They are amazing! They know the contracts, locations, rules and idiosyncrasies of each of the pipelines they work with. It is a stressful job.
So how can we make it better?
Standards in natural gas have eased some of the learning curve, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
1 – Make pipeline websites that work on all of the major browsers, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox.
Make the websites work on multiple older versions without any custom configuration in order to use the site. This is so important. A scheduler doesn’t have time to deal with the fact that Pipeline A only works on Internet Explorer Version 9 if patch x.y.z is installed. They don’t have time to have to have multiple versions of a browser on one desktop so that they can use version K for your pipeline and version J for someone else’s.
2 – Make the screens plain and simple.
Put the minimum amount of information on a screen, especially a data entry screen. Minimize the number of keystrokes in every way possible. It may be really cool and high tech that you can resize grids, rearrange data, etc. But if the scheduler has to do that every time, then that is time wasted for them. You may think that you are giving the scheduler really interesting extra information that they will find useful. But if they have to provide extra information or have to navigate (wade) through your “added value” data then it becomes burdensome fluff.
3 – Use the standard terms.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had this conversation. I don’t understand why people question it. You are doing your customer no favors if you choose to use interesting derived terms instead of industry standard terms for a screen or a data field. The scheduler should not have to use a nanosecond of brain translation to determine that when you say “business party” you mean “shipper”, or “agent” or something else. In this case, the real, correct term is “service requester.”
4 – Minimize the number of fields that have to be provided.
There are a handful of fields that are always required for a nomination transaction. There are a lot of fields that are selected by the pipeline as either business required or optional. The pipeline should look for every way possible to avoid using extra fields. Every variable that is added creates a possibility for failure of the transaction. Minimize the moving parts and you minimize the failed transactions.
5 – Provide default values in as many fields as possible.
If the scheduler knows that their service requester id is defaulted from their login, that their transaction type is always defaulted to current business and that their start date is always defaulted to the next available timely cycle, then those are three things the scheduler doesn’t have to juggle. This minimizes the keystrokes required and the possibility of transaction failure and makes both parties more successful.
6 – Provide ample warning when screens change or systems change.
There are certain times in the business cycle when a scheduler’s time is pure chaos. With a timeline well ahead of the implementation date, schedulers can test the changes, receive training, and ask questions without having to do those tasks during bid week.
7 – Have awesome help files.
If a new service comes online, it would be great for a scheduler to be able to click on help and see the nomination requirements for that new service. If a new system is launched, provide thorough help files as well as web based tutorials that the scheduler can watch on their own schedule. Some pipelines have done a great job with help files in very imaginative and creative ways.
What are other ways that pipelines, as service providers, can provide good service to schedulers? These are a few ideas to get you thinking. I’m sure you can come up with more that should be considered. I’d love your input to develop a “best practices” list.