Genesis Energy taps AI for productivity savings, ESOL

Published on the 17/04/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

Genesis Energy taps AI for productivity savings, ESOL

Simple tasks providing big savings…

Genesis Energy says its staff are saving up to five hours a week thanks to generative AI, after the company decided to go ‘as wide as possible’ with the technology.

The Kiwi energy company was one of a handful of companies worldwide – and one of the first five in New Zealand – to trial Copilot for Microsoft 365 as part of the early access program, with the trials kicking off last September with 270 of its office workers.

“If your data and privacy structure is not right, it’s going to take a lot of work to deal with afterwards.”

Early targets for the company have included billing and payments, meeting transcriptions and action summaries, summarising of information and interpreting emails.

Steph Creasy, Genesis future energy general manager, told iStart that 70 percent of its Copilot AI users are saving between one to five hours a week, with more than 50 percent of the nearly 300 users seeing around two to three hours saved per week.

She says the trial has also brought other benefits, through increased collaboration and community which has built up around the pilot. The comapny’s ’employment brand’ has also received a boost with participants feeling Genesis is giving them tools to do their job better and showing a sense of innovation.

Creasy says the company had looked at ChatGPT early last year, and saw its teams wanting to use it, but wasn’t sure how to manage it.

“We couldn’t just ban it – we’d miss the opportunity to leverage the technology,” she says.

Instead the company decided to trial Copilot across the business to ensure a diverse range of roles, levels of seniority and attitudes towards AI were accounted for, while also targeting specific areas of the business where it felt the biggest benefits could be gained.

Josh Mackenzie, Genesis service provider outcomes manager, says the major piece of work was getting the company’s data and privacy structure set up for everyone to use the tools.

“If that’s not right, it’s going to take a lot of work to deal with afterwards,” MacKenzie says.

“You also have to have a really strong ethical framework and change managers in place to drive adoption and create buy-in.”

An early win came in finance.

In the past year Kiwi energy companies have shifted away from the previous early payment discount system as part of a government directive. Genesis says it has changed its system to reduce costs for those with multiple bills or paying via direct debit.

Finance analyst Andrea Crasta was tasked with ensuring discounts were accruing correctly to customers – something that involved more than 100 different data tables.

“Before, that would have required me to set up a meeting with someone from the data team and launch an investigation that would have taken a couple of weeks,” Crasta says.

“With Copilot, even though I’d never used SQL before, I just had to put in a simple query about what the system was doing and whether it was working as well as it could.

“It broke everything down line by line, and I was able to manage everything myself in less than a day. It’s incredible – now I can write my own queries, and I can go back to the data team with a solution, not just a problem.”

She’s also using Teams meeting transcriptions and action summaries to free her up from taking notes and enable her to instead focus more on the conversation at hand.

Isabelle Rousseau, Genesis senior manager for product and proposition, helped lead the deployment of Copilot across Genesis and says for the high number of team members who have English as a second language, Copilot is providing time savings that ‘are off the scale’.

“It can summarise a lot of complex language easily,” Rousseau says.

“Also, it can often take longer to produce content in English than in your first language, but Copilot helps them articulate and communicate across the business so much more clearly. To have the system do that is a game-changer.”

That mirrors results seen at real estate company Barfoot & Thompson which last year told iStart it was on the road to saving 32,000 hours a year through using ChatGPT.

The 100-year-old company was quick to embrace the technology for its diverse 2,800 staff base, with many for whom English is not their first language. The company developed its own AdCompose AI tool which creates original ad copy for property managers and fine-tunes existing copy.

Back at Genesis, Rousseau says Copilot is also being used to create agendas for meetings based on lengthy documents, or to condense technical information.

“It sounds like such a simple thing, but when it’s the end of the day and you’re tired, it just makes it so much easier,” she says.

“The content is of such high quality, it’s saved me hours and hours, as well as the stress of knowing how much more I’ve got to do in a day. I now don’t need to work extended hours to fit everything into the day – I can often just do things between meetings.”

That is a familiar scenario, with corporate accounts specialist Shaina Moss also using Copilot to summarise and track information, including providing action lists from emails.

“I spent a lot of time having to go through long email chains, which I wasn’t originally CCed on. Copilot in Outlook automatically summarises the information and what my actions are – it saves me heaps of time,” she says.

Moss says Copilot is also providing coaching on emails, flagging when the tone of an email is negative, or a little too formal. On the flip side, it is also helping pinpoint exactly what a sender is asking for in some emails which aren’t quite clear, she says.

Microsoft was recently reprimanded by the US for its security and transparency, with a federal review board reporting a ‘cascade of errors’ had enabled state-backed Chinese hackers to break into the email accounts of senior US government officials last year.

That US Cyber Safety Review Board report found that Microsoft’s security culture was inadequate and required an overhaul given the company’s technology underpins essential services supporting national security, the foundations of the economy and public health and safety.

The report says Microsoft still doesn’t know how the hackers gained access to the systems, despite Microsoft’s claims to the contrary. It has been reported that a Microsoft engineer’s account was compromised.

New Zealand agencies have reportedly sought assurances from Microsoft around the current security of the systems.

Earlier this month the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also warned that Russian government-backed hackers are also using access to Microsoft email systems to steal correspondence between government agencies and Microsoft.

Creasy says Genesis has a number of other pilot AI workstreams underway, focused on more specific use cases within the company.

“We’ll continue to pilot these and others,” she says.

“AI is critical for businesses. It’s incumbent on organisations to make sure they are constantly lifting the skills and capability of their people. This helps in the short term but also supports employees to keep up to date and become more skilled overall.”

Genesis says it’s now working to drive insights such as productivity metrics and worker engagement, across the business using Viva Insights, and encouraging further experimentation.

Creasy offers up the following tips for businesses looking at AI:

  • Don’t be afraid to test and learn.
  • Starting with something like CoPilot and other GenAI tools that come out of the box is a very effective way for organisations to start to understand the technology.
  • It will be just one AI tool in the broader toolset but is the most accessible at this point in time and will help you support your employees to get confident and upskill.
  • Your data governance and policies need to be tightened up and up to date.
  • These are not magic bullet tools. They support and help and guide but they don’t replace critical thinking at this point in time.

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