Xcel Energy is the nation’s fourth largest combined utility, created by the merger of Minneapolis-based Northern States Power Co. and Denver-based New Century Energies. The electricity and national gas company has operations in 12 Western and Midwestern states and provides products and services to 3.2 million electricity customers and 1.7 million natural gas customers through its regulated operating companies. Following the merger, Xcel needed to consolidate its disparate learning and compliance training efforts. In January 2002, Xcel Energy implemented Plateau Systems’ learning management system (LMS) to consolidate learning for 13,000 employees at more than 40 U.S. plants.
The implementation of the LMS took three months. In this time frame, legacy data from three retired systems was transferred to the new system, and the new LMS was integrated with Xcel’s PeopleSoft human resources software. The new LMS allows Xcel to schedule, manage and deliver e-learning as well as instructor-led training, and it helps Xcel track training that is related to regulatory compliance.
“Plateau basically consolidated the learning management function for 40 different plants within Xcel Energy, the focus being on the nuclear utilities,” said Paul Sparta, CEO of Plateau Systems. “These plants have complex training and regulatory requirements.” Sparta added that the LMS helps Xcel stay on top of training requirements related to everything from nuclear regulations and pipeline safety to managing the operations of the plant.
Xcel Energy’s LMS helps the company manage revisions to standard operating procedures and pipeline-related tasks. This helps Xcel fully comply with regulations set by federal and state agencies. The Pipeline Operator Qualification Law enacted as part of the Pipeline Safety Act of 2000 requires companies to identify pipeline safety tasks, establish best training practices and report compliance on demand. The LMS puts a unique time stamp on each learning event, providing a fail-safe audit trail.
“When you peel the onion back, you find that most of the throughput is the operational training,” said Sparta, “whether it be on-the-job training or technical training related to specific aspects of a plant. You see this a lot in some of these more process-oriented industries. They need to keep up-to-date with the operations.”
Xcel is now running 26 online courses through the LMS, covering regulatory compliance, on-the-job safety, workplace discrimination, the use of new software applications and more. But there’s more to Xcel’s training than these online courses, according to Sparta. The LMS helps Xcel keep track of all of its learning initiatives.
“Plateau is focused on integrating all of the learning and training activities into what the company as a whole is doing,” said Sparta. “Our focus is on all of it—classroom learning, online learning, ad hoc learning—all of it. IT training, HR training and sales training is delivered more and more online, but then there’s this giant hidden amount of on-the-job training, and you find out that you have to deal with that stuff as well.”
Xcel Energy employees do not have to travel in order to learn. They can access their personal development plans, enroll themselves in courses and complete those courses via a Web browser. After six months of using the LMS, Xcel has seen a significant reduction in training costs, including travel expenses and fees for instructors. In those six months, Xcel Energy saw a return on investment that more than made up for the cost of the LMS and its implementation.
“When you think of all the things a company does,” said Sparta, “learning touches all of those things. And to deliver learning efficiently, you need to automate how that learning gets deployed and managed.”