Three Ontario utilities energized with shared customer information system

Sharing a common customer information management system could save Ontario utilities millions of dollars – savings that could potentially be passed on to consumers.

Such a shared system has been created by London’s Hydro following its recent rollout of a new customer information System (CIS) based on software from Waldorf, Germany-based SAP AG.

So far two other mid-sized utility companies in the province are participating in the shared system. The group is collectively known as CODAC.

Participants include Cambridge and North Dumfries Hydro Inc., Greater Sudbury Utilities Inc., and London Hydro Inc.

CODAC members adopt common processes – customized to Ontario’s utility market – for tasks such as rebates, interval billing, smart meter billing and more.

The shared system offers a broad range of benefits, says a London Hydro executive.

As opposed to each of Ontario’s 83 utility companies separately deploying its own system on site, a shared development provides incredible cost and time savings, said Vinay Sharma, vice-president, customer services at London Hydro.

Through such a shared model, he said, utilities would avoid as much as much as $10 million in initial investments. Down the line benefits would include:

  • Annual capital expenditure savings from $275,000 – $375,000
  • Reduced annual maintenance and support costs to the tune of $200,000 – $375,000

But the positive impact extends beyond technology-related cost savings.

It includes other benefits, such as reduced training expenditure, shared skilled sets, and the ability to negotiate more effectively with third parties.

In addition, Sharma said, the common customer information system would reduce risks for utilities, and foster consistent and timely processes that benefit both business and residential customers. 

Utility companies would definitely benefit from this shared utility model, and there would be no downside to consumers, Sharma said.

He said consumers would not have to pay anything more to fund the new system.  

And the consumer’s stake in this shared system extends beyond the “cost” factor.  

The initiative also seeks to get users more actively involved in energy-conservation. He said the SAP-based system supports complex billing for customers who install solar panels or geo-thermal systems on their premises. “Four London Hydro customers have deployed solar panels in our service territory.”

Increased involvement of consumers in “energy efficient” initiatives is a growing industry trend, experts say.

Consumers are becoming active participants in the energy delivery network, according to Zarko Sumic, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

He said Gartner research indicates that by 2015, 35 per cent of new homes and 15 per cent of existing homes will participate in energy efficient programs.  

Energy efficiency is also a key focus of the CODAC project, according to Sharma.

For instance, he said, hosting the SAP CIS application at single location for several utilities helps reduce the system’s carbon footprint.
 
Secondly, virtualization technology – that enables several apps to run on a single server concurrently – helps reduce both the numbers of servers and total power consumption.

For instance, he said, “in a virtual blade server environment, power consumption, per application, is 50 per cent less than in a standalone, dedicated server environment.”

At a consumer level, technology can also be used to foster energy savings through initiatives like smart metering.

Smart metering enables automated and more efficient interaction between the utility company and its customers, noted Cathy Tough, national director, utilities, SAP Canada Inc. in Toronto.

Smart metering, she said, allows companies to send price signals to the meter in the home. Consumers know exactly what they are paying for energy at any point in time, and can adjust consumption patterns to take advantage of lower prices.

It also enables utility companies to read meters remotely, eliminating incorrect readings and reducing travel time and costs, Tough said.

Smart metering, she said, also helps utility companies design pricing programs and bill services based on actual consumption data.

Detailed time-of-use pricing information and automation of energy data transfer help utilities to more effectively manage customer service inquiries. It also enables them to better resolve disputes by accessing up-to-date customer data.

So far the Ontario government’s response to this unique common initiative by utility companies has been favourable, Sharma said. 

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