Ask Williams employees what makes their company special, and they’ll immediately say: the people.
“It’s more like a family, and that really makes Williams unique compared to a lot of other places,” says Cherie Humphries, Vice President, Chief Procurement and Digital Transformation Officer.
People have been the cornerstone to Williams’ success for more than 100 years. The energy infrastructure company’s nearly 5,000 employees across the United States are actively addressing the energy transition, bringing innovation and ingenuity to support a clean energy future.
That work is critical for the entire oil and gas sector, as environment, social, and governance (ESG) issues gain more support from customers and investors.
Williams gathers, processes, treats and transports about 30% of the natural gas used every day in the U.S. to heat homes, cook food and generate electricity. As a midstream company, Williams provides a crucial link between energy exploration and production operations (upstream) to distribution customers (downstream) that move gas to homes and businesses.
“We see firsthand the role that natural gas and our operations play today in a viable and sustainable low-carbon future,” explains CIO Brian Letzkus. “We want to support that transition through a combination of immediate and long-term solutions, including investments in renewables, technology and the best and brightest talent.”
Visit the Williams web site, and you’ll find news about how they’re executing on their clean energy strategy, including through joint ventures with renewable energy companies.
Through a recent project with Oracle and Huron Consulting Group, the company modernized its finance and operational processes—retiring 13 different systems that included on-premises Oracle Hyperion and E-Business Suite, and replacing them with Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications, including Oracle Cloud ERP. One long-term benefit is more streamlined management of joint venture projects. In any joint venture, costs and risks need to be allocated to the partners, and payments need to be collected. It’s a complex process from planning to closing out projects, but Williams has simplified it through cloud-driven automation and consolidation. This is a powerful advantage, because now Williams can shift resources from managing project financials to getting more value from them.
Williams collaborated closely with Oracle’s development team on what they needed from the Cloud ERP product to enable its joint venture management. “I will tell you, it meant a lot to the team and a lot to our executives that we were able to have a voice in how that was developed. Because it is a key piece of our business,” says Letzkus. “It will be key for us for years to come.”
But joint venture management isn’t the only benefit Williams saw from their transformation project—far from it. When Humphries realized that their outdated finance technology was impeding the company’s ability to change, she went straight to Letzkus and stated her case for transformation.
“Cherie came to me and said she had a problem with our supply chain processes, and that we were doing things in a very old way,” Letzkus says. “We had a philosophy of doing best-of-breed [applications], trying to put everything together and bolt it together. And what we ended up with was a mess. No one was happy, even though we had best-of-breed of all these different systems around the financial system.”
Williams made a critical decision to use Oracle Enterprise Data Management (EDM) to align and govern their enterprise (master) data across applications, both Oracle and non-Oracle. Williams hadn’t realized how important it would be until the project began. “We really hadn’t talked about data governance as an organization until we got rolling on this project and realized how critical it was going to be,” Humphries says.
Using Oracle EDM enabled Williams to accelerate their digital transformation from disparate legacy applications to the cloud—and to have an ongoing platform for managing and modeling routine structural changes (e.g., adding new cost centers or projects) and for future transformations such as business model changes and corporate reorganizations. Humphries adds, “Huron really helped us get our data in the right place, and now that we have data we can count on, we can automate a lot of things that we haven’t been able to automate in the past. It’s a foundation laid out so we can continue to innovate around the work that we’re doing and drive costs down. It just allows us to have more opportunities.”
Williams chose Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications, which are built to work together and provide a single source of truth across the most important business functions (e.g., financials, procurement, supply chain, planning, account reconciliations, etc.) through connected data and consistent processes. Before, people couldn’t get a comprehensive view of finance and operations data. Not only was it impossible to consolidate data effectively from the multiple systems, but finance and operational data was not aligned.
“The question my business leaders always asked me is, ‘Brian, are we able to say how much it costs me to do X in the field, you know, this operational activity?’” Letzkus recalls. “I couldn't do that without a lot of manipulation, warehousing of data, etcetera. Fixing our data through this process allows us to have those kinds of conversations now and think about the business impact.”
The company also now has streamlined visibility into customer data. Previously, customer data wasn’t linked in any way and was inconsistent, so pulling simple reports about a subset of customers was a time-intensive manual task. Now the team can pull the data quickly with a few keystrokes.
Another quick win was allocations: it used to take one staff member five business days to allocate costs manually. Now, with Oracle Cloud Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), allocations take one hour. The employee gets back a week’s worth of work to focus on more important things.
Williams’ operating margin—a key indicator for oil and gas companies—has risen from behind its peers to the top tier of the industry. “Our cost structures have gone down dramatically through this initiative,” Letzkus says. “Now, my IT is cloud-based. I know what my annual budget is going to be. I don't have a lot of fluctuation in costs. I'm not going to pay for big, huge upgrades every few years. I'm going to get new enhancements every quarter. So, it's those things that have just been a huge game changer.”
And it’s not just IT costs that have gone down. “There are all kinds of things that Oracle Procurement can do to help us really understand our inventory,” Humphries says. “For example, we didn’t use item numbers before. Now, having item numbers is going to give us a lot more visibility on spend and allow us to have a lot more negotiating power.”
“To me the biggest gain is that I now have one platform from which I can do everything, from projects to supply chain to finance to budget,” Letzkus concludes. He also has high praise for Huron and Oracle: “It exceeded all my expectations, how engaged their senior leaders were. If I picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey we’re having an issue here,’ their immediacy of trying to get something addressed, hearing our point of view… it was full engagement. They made us successful throughout the life of the project.”