By Andrew Littlefair on

Commercial heavy- and medium-duty trucks, waste collection vehicles, and public transportation all run on renewable natural gas from Clean Energy—a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel. Clean Energy innovates constantly, using cutting-edge solutions for every facet of its operations. It trusts Microsoft Dynamics 365 to support its growth and its mission. Clean Energy added Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and HoloLens to close the loop on information, from back office to the pump, accelerating productivity and cutting down on company travel.

“We believe that we can take Clean Energy to the next level. We’re using Dynamics 365 solutions to create a strategic advantage with data.”

-Mitchell Pratt: Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Secretary, Clean Energy

Clean Energy is making the world a safer, greener place by reimagining the way we fuel our vehicles. The company offers renewable natural gas as a transportation fuel, significantly reducing pollution and greenhouse gas caused by diesel and gasoline. It owns, operates, and maintains 550 stations across the United States and Canada. The company also develops renewable natural gas production facilities.

The company’s pollution-reducing goal hinges on internal efficiency, anchored by a plan for a collaborative, well-integrated infrastructure. The company began its journey with Microsoft Dynamics 365, and as its business grows and changes, it’s adding more apps and related technologies, like Dynamics 365 Remote AssistMicrosoft HoloLens, and Microsoft Azure IoT Central.

Cutting through the smog—and the siloes

Clean Energy is the pioneer and leader in the drive to remake the transportation industry with a cleaner, carbon-negative fuel. Mitchell Pratt, the company’s Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Secretary, relates company efficiencies to sustainability gains. “We’re one of the largest providers of renewable natural gas, and are proud to further our customer’s sustainability efforts by turning organic waste into clean vehicle fuel,” he says. “And we’ve put Microsoft technology right at the core of our operational optimization program as we grow.”

The breadth of its operations created the need for specialized systems for Clean Energy. Challenged to better manage these, the leadership team implemented an on-premises Microsoft Dynamics solution to improve its finance and operations management. Clean Energy evolved into a more complex company and eventually sought a more comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform. The leadership team decided to upgrade to flexible, cloud-based Dynamics 365. “The decision to move to Dynamics 365 was a no-brainer,” says Bart Frabotta, Vice President of Operations and IT at Clean Energy. “Ten years ago, ERP was a strategy. Today, it’s foundational.”

In just six months, the company rolled out Dynamics 365 FinanceDynamics 365 Supply Chain ManagementDynamics 365 Sales, and Dynamics 365 Field Service. “We benefitted immediately,” says JJ Armstrong, Vice President and Corporate Controller at Clean Energy. “We access data seamlessly now, and faster. And with fewer custom interfaces to worry about, we’re much more productive.”

Innovating ahead of the pace

Continually vying for position in a competitive industry, even as the company works to push that industry forward, Clean Energy focuses on efficiency. “With Dynamics 365 as our backbone, we’re connecting our data to advance every aspect of our operations business so that we can provide more cost-effective services than our competitors,” says Pratt.

For example, the company’s compressed natural gas (CNG) stations are completely automated and unstaffed. Service technicians visit when equipment requires repairing or checking. But service technicians can be a high-turnover group, and working on the high-pressure, high-voltage equipment requires intensive training. Clean Energy responded with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist. “Now, senior technical support engineers coach less-experienced technicians through troubleshooting and complicated repairs in the field using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist,” says Frabotta. “We’ve reduced our engineers’ travel time when a site walk is required as part of a response to a proposal. Now a local technician walks through the site using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist on a mobile device to show the engineer all the components that need to be assessed so that we can respond in the most accurate, timely, and cost-effective way.”

Useful for training in ordinary times, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist gained a new level of importance, along with Dynamics 365 Guides, when COVID-19 precautions kept technicians from going to the Clean Energy training center. “New technicians aren’t allowed to do anything before completing training,” says Frabotta. “Without Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Guides and our training videos, it would have been difficult to get new technicians ready for the field. And we’ve seen impressive cost savings—about 85 percent of our normal training expense—over the past 9 to 12 months with this completely remote approach.” Even when Clean Energy employees can travel again, the company anticipates savings of 40 percent of its previous training budget.

Teams in the field have also begun to use HoloLens devices for a hands-free experience. “Using HoloLens together with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, our technicians stay engaged continuously without having to put tools down to read a diagram,” says Frabotta. “We were fascinated when we tested the mixed reality technology. We could pull engineering drawings into the technician’s HoloLens viewing area, the technician could leave for several minutes, and return to find the drawings still in view.”

Clean Energy wants its technicians to arrive at each job site with the tools, procedures, design drawings, and other information needed to complete repairs as fast as possible. So the company uses Azure IoT Central to ingest and analyze data from the Microsoft-approved Azure IoT Edge devices that are connected to the sensors on the equipment at its CNG stations, helping technicians arrive informed and prepared.

Enhancing the workplace to add value to the company

Pratt prioritizes employee satisfaction throughout the company. “Retaining and developing our employees is critical,” he explains. “For example, our technicians weren’t IT-oriented at first, but Dynamics 365 has changed their world, and they’ve embraced it because it’s so easy to use. Now they can pull up information about their teams and the stations they’re managing.” The analysis performed by Azure IoT Central as described above can result in a request to generate a work order to Field Service. That data is then sent to the company’s Azure Data Lake for use in management reporting—and eventually, to create the base for predictive analytics. And because the IoT sensors transmit status data, those technicians no longer get up in the middle of the night to drive long distances to inspect stations that don’t need it—a contribution to greater job satisfaction.

Robert Vreeland, Chief Financial Officer at Clean Energy, notes that connecting disparate data flows from across the company via Dynamics 365 gives his teams better insights for keen financial management. “It’s so much more than a good general ledger system,” he says. “Dynamics 365 combines a wide range of operational applications into one value-added platform. Plus, we want our employees to have the latest technology so that they feel good about their jobs and enjoy their work.”

Armstrong lauds the efficiencies created by a tightly connected environment. “We saw immediate benefits because we access data faster,” he says. “We added enhancements in cash collection management that have been very helpful to our team.”

Anticipating the next era

The leadership team is pleased with the productivity and financial gains it’s made with Dynamics 365, Azure IoT, and other technologies like Power BI, which it uses to convey deep insights at a glance. “When Microsoft delivers a solution, all the pieces work together,” says Michael Tewksbury, IT Director at Clean Energy. “Apart from the value we get from Dynamics 365 itself, the support from Microsoft and the company’s direction give us a lot of confidence.”

With the ability to experience a remote physical space via HoloLens and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, the company is realizing its environmental goals from within while also enhancing effectiveness. “This technology enables us to constantly improve every aspect of our repairs and the performance of our technicians,” says Pratt. “We are optimizing and sharing best practices, saving time and travel.”

The deployment improved the company’s resiliency as well, even during an unprecedented public health event. “We got rid of 50 servers and now are completely cloud-based, helping us stay functional during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Frabotta. “That reduction reflects opex savings of $250 thousand annually, plus a capex saving of $200 for a hardware refresh every four years.”

Like his colleagues, Charles Alshuler, Director of Sales Operations at Clean Energy, regards the future with enthusiasm. “We’re looking forward to using AI and benefitting from Microsoft’s continued investment in that area.”

Frabotta values employees’ ability to access the right financial, operational, and technical information at the right time, no matter where they are. “Our teams in the field can predictably perform processes and repairs, capturing the data via IoT,” he explains. “That data transfers to our data warehouse so we can make decisions based on Power BI insights. The next evolution will be predictive analytics and machine learning to further optimize operations.”

Pratt agrees with his team. “We believe that we can take Clean Energy to the next level,” he says. “We’re using Dynamics 365 solutions to create a strategic advantage with data.”

Find out more about Clean Energy on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

“Without Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Guides and our training videos, it would have been difficult to get new technicians ready for the field. And we’ve seen impressive cost savings—about 85 percent of our normal training expense—over the past 9 to 12 months with this completely remote approach.”

-Bart Frabotta: Vice President of Operations and IT, Clean Energy

“It’s so much more than a good general ledger system. Dynamics 365 combines a wide range of operational applications into one value-added platform.”

-Robert Vreeland: Chief Financial Officer, Clean Energy

“When Microsoft delivers a solution, all the pieces work together. Apart from the value we get from Dynamics 365 itself, the support from Microsoft and the company’s direction give us a lot of confidence.”

-Michael Tewksbury: IT Director, Clean Energy

“We benefitted immediately. We access data seamlessly now, and faster. And with fewer custom interfaces to worry about, we’re much more productive.”

-JJ Armstrong: Vice President and Corporate Controller, Clean Energy