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Ampol solves its needle in a haystack issue, boosts productivity and compliance

Ampol manages Australia’s largest petrol and convenience network and the organisation is now returning to its roots with the iconic Australian Ampol brand that harks back to 1936.

Besides overseeing the chain of fuel and retail outlets (which will all be rebranded to Ampol by 2022), Ampol refines, imports and markets fuels and lubricants, serving more than 80,000 enterprise customers in markets such as defence, mining and aviation and 3 million retail customers each week.

It operates 17 terminals, five major pipelines, 57 depots, approximately 730 company-controlled retail sites, 1,930 branded retail sites and a refinery in Queensland. More than 8,200 people work across the network.

Ampol operates in a complex, hazardous industry and so requires strong process management to ensure safety, regulatory compliance and efficiency. The range of tasks that those people perform is diverse – from maintaining heavy equipment in the refinery, opening a fuel valve on the service station forecourt, to heating a pie in one of the convenience outlets. All of those tasks need to be done safely, efficiently and in accordance with an array of different standards and regulations.

Outside of AMPOL convenience store
Ampol manages Australia’s largest petrol and convenience network (Source: Ampol)

The challenge in the past was that although Ampol had all the materials – 5,000-plus documents in fact – to guide personnel through every task, it could be hard to find the right one fast. When people did locate a manual or guide it wasn’t always clear to the worker that the version they were looking at was the right one, and completely up to date.

It was the classic needle in a haystack problem.

The company has now completely transformed the experience for all its users by creating a central cloud-based SharePoint repository of all the information that every employee might need. It’s searchable and applies context according to who is searching for information and their current role.

It’s delivered significant productivity improvements, and ensures compliance with ISO standards – almost as though someone had waved a giant magnet over the haystack to pull out exactly what was needed when it was needed.

User centred design approach

Helen Lau, head of Digital at Ampol, says that rather than simply lifting and shifting the once on-premise document management online, which delivered only limited benefits, Ampol went back to the drawing board and worked with a user experience designer and developer to map out how people actually used the system.

She explains; “SharePoint is almost like a Lego block – everyone can set up a SharePoint site in a matter of seconds. But how do we address our user journey?” Taking a top-to-bottom review allowed Ampol to totally transform its document management system and ensure it was designed to respond rapidly to user needs and expectations, while ensuring the all-important compliance for the company.

Ampol used SharePoint’s search capability to help users find the document that they need. By applying metadata to each document, and speed the search, Ampol has been able to reduce the time taken to find a document from about one minute and a half to almost instantaneous access. Multiply that by the many hundreds of searches each day – typically 800 or more – and there can be significant productivity gains.

AMPOL staff climbing up a safety railed ladder
A personnel accessing a safety procedure document for operating a valve can now be identified through Sharepoint if it is for an oil terminal or refinery (Source: Ampol)

Importantly for Ampol there is also peace of mind that the user is accessing the right information, pertinent to their position and that it’s up to date and accurate, which is critical for compliance.

The smarts that Ampol has built into the system also apply context around who is searching. For example, if someone searched on a safety procedure for operating a valve, the system would know from the identity of the person accessing the system whether that was a valve in an oil terminal or a refinery which each require different instructions and follow different codes.

Ampol leveraged Microsoft’s Common Data Service to ensure all the workflow history was bought together in a single location with document metadata to enable contextual search and workflow automation.

For compliance purposes Ampol needs to ensure that personnel follow the right procedure or work instruction associated with their job. The publishing workflow and the search configuration ensure only the latest and relevant document will be served.

Previously users would have to fill out a workflow form that contains 20-30 metadata fields to initiative a workflow and that process takes around 3-4 minutes per document workflow. With a smarter workflow engine and the system auto populating the majority of the fields, users now only need to review and click the submit button. Each workflow now takes less than 30 seconds to be triggered. The automation of field values also removed issues around workflow failures.

“We have had zero fail incidents on workflow since we launched and now it’s been probably six months, whereas previously we have about 15 per cent of our workflow bounce or error out,” says Lau.

Helen Lau, Head of Digital, Ampol

Ampol developed the new document management system in-house, which Lau says has built up the skills and experience of the team.

With the system successfully deployed Lau says that; “The big lessons learned from us is actually taking this from an end user perspective rather than us telling them what the system should be.”

“This was driven by our UX/UI designer and developer actually spending the time observing and analysing what the user wants to see or what and how they access the information. It’s just a website, if you think about it, but how you lay out that website makes it simple for them to use.

“If you go to our document system now, it almost looks like a Google search – just a massive search bar in the middle and then some headings on the top saying ‘my items’ as in ‘my workflows’ or ‘my document’. “

The transformation of the document management system has streamlined access for users, and injected confidence across Ampol that tasks are being performed correctly, compliant with any codes or regulations, and efficiently.