The country’s largest public utility will join its peers by upgrading its business applications to improve its customer relationship management.

Hydro-Quebec Monday said it has begun a project with SAP Canada Inc. to deploy the mySAP business suite, replacing IT systems that were first installed in the 1970s. The company’s business division, Hydro-Quebec Distribution, will be the first to benefit from the project, but the company intends to offer mySAP to its commercial and residential customers as well.

“”It’s an efficiency gain — about $20 million each year,”” said Hydro-Quebec spokesman Nicolas Carette. “”The actual system in Hydro-Quebec is older and very expensive to maintain at a good level.””

SAP Canada executive vice-president Bernard Sanchez said the software will improve the utility’s ability to conduct transactions online while providing them a better view of the customer’s data, even as it exists in legacy systems. The difficulty in attracting new customers has organizations like Hydro-Quebec focusing on existing clients, he said.

“”You have to do mass services in a personal sort of way,”” he said. “”Each client is to be treated with his own personality and requirements, be they big or small. You need to have as an organization the ability to support a client on a one-to-one basis.””

Carette said savings from the SAP solution will help reduce the company’s financial deficit. More than 3,000 Hydro-Quebec employees will be using the software, he said.

The project is expected to take some time. Although preparatory work is underway, Carette said the implementation will not begin until 2005. Sanchez said that while some SAP customers have deployed its tools in a matter of months, organizations like Hydro-Quebec that reach several market segments prefer to take a phased approach.

“”They don’t want to rush anything,”” he said. “”In any business transformation you have to pay attention to your market and to your customers.””

While deregulation of the electricity market in Ontario has seen some utilities overhaul their IT systems to compete more effectively, Hydro-Quebec joins a number of Crown corporations who are beginning the process now. Last month, for example, B.C. Hydro said it would be using SAP tools as it launches an independent entity to handle its support functions.

Hydro-Quebec’s choice of mySAP comes not long after the software company announced plans to regroup its applications under a brand called NetWeaver, which promises to prepare enterprises for the emerging Web services market.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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