Niagara Falls Hydro is mulling an add-on to the financial software package it has used to meet Ontario Energy Board provisions for project tracking reporting and financial reporting.

The Ontario utility’s CFO, Suzanne Wilson, said she would be travelling to the Microsoft Dynamics GP Developer Conference in Fargo, N.D. next week to take a closer look at Forecaster 7.0, a tool that helps automate the manual tasks involved in budgeting using spreadsheets. Niagara Falls Hydro already uses Dynamics GP for its general financial management and reporting, but Forecaster is expected to have more of the look-and-feel of Microsoft’s Office suite of desktop applications in terms of its navigation capabilities.

“It could be good, just for budgeting, tracking and making decisions on capital spending,” Wilson said.

Niagara Falls Hydro has been live on Dynamics GP for about three years. Like many other utilities, the company had been running a homegrown system written in Cobol that was focused on producing a bill and managing the collection and payments process. Everything changed, however, when the Ontario energy market deregulated, Wilson said.

“We went from (being) commissions to corporations. There was a need for the focus to shift from just billing a customer to managing financials and payroll and credit ratings, seeking outside debt.”

The Cobol-based system didn’t provide the level of detail Niagara Falls Hydro needed, nor did it allow the firm to accurately report financial information to the government in a timely way. By the time it started investigating alternatives, Microsoft had purchased Great Plains, whose products provided the foundation for the Dynamics GP line. Wilson said the deployment has reduced operational costs by $125,000 while improving search capabilities.

“The labour time that was spent on the old system was ridiculous – if you wanted to find out who paid something, you had to search in cash drawers, look up cheque numbers and find the actual cheque copy,” she said.

The old system also lacked an accounts payable sub-ledger module, she added, requiring an export-import which was difficult to do in Cobol. Purchase orders were also manually done.

Niagara Falls Hydro didn’t have its own IT department and so turned to accounting consultancy BDO Dunwoody to do the deployment, which took place over a three-month period. This covered financial, payroll, HR, payables, sales and project accounting. Payroll took the longest, Wilson said.

Other Canadian utilities have also standardized on Dynamics GP. Richmond, B.C.-based Terasen, for example, was weighing whether to deploy Dynamics GP or Dynamics NAV. “We didn’t know what we wanted to be when we grew up,” said Carol Vorster, director of infrastructure services at what became Corix Water Products. Dynamics NAV won out because the software offered more functionality specific to the utilities industry.

Corix has grown the number of its Dynamics NAV concurrent users from 20 to a planned 250 by the end of this year. The company has aggressively increased in size through multiple acquisitions, with total headcount up from 150 to more than 1,000 staff. “We expect to triple in size over the next three years and have no plans to move away from NAV,” Vorster said. “We know NAV could scale for us.”

Corix is in the process of upgrading from C/SIDE, the proprietary database for the original Navision software on which Dynamics NAV is based, in favor of Microsoft’s SQL Server. Moving to the Microsoft relational database will make it easier to scale Dynamics NAV in future.

Microsoft is definitely getting better about listening to Dynamics users, Vorster said. “As a customer, we very much have an open door to Microsoft in terms of our systems requirements,” she added. Vorster is also the president-elect of the year-old Dynamics NAV User Group which currently numbers around 120 members.

— with files from IDG Newswire


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