Edmonton power company rewrites billing system

Speaking as part of a panel discussion on customer care, Epcor workflow team lead Michael Lundquist said the project involved a complete rewrite of the software that ran the utility’s billing system. Based in Edmonton, Epcor provides power to 38 electricity retailers and owns more than 300,000 commercial and residential accounts. It is using Fujitsu’s Interstage Business Process Manager in an environment that includes Microsoft Windows and Unix servers, with applications running on Oracle’s 10g database.

Business process management (BPM) refers to the ability to see and control many parts of a process that has multiple steps or involves many different departments or systems. In this case, Fujitsu’s Interstage alleviates the need for Epcor to submit early-morning batches while ensuring that customers are billed within a five-day period.

“We were in a state where the operators were working 20 hours a day just to keep things up and running,” said Lundquist, who estimated the utility would see the project pay for itself within one year and a return to nine-to-five workdays for its operators. “There will be a lot less time spent chasing phantom errors.”

Epcor designed the implementation according to its key performance indicators, Lundquist said. For example, the utility often gets requests for meter readings or other inquiries when invoices are sent out. The goal is to get errors down to one a month. “When we have a process in an error state, we want to know how long before we get it out of that error state,” he said. “It’s going to make for happier employees. Hopefully, they’ll be more motivated to work hard for us.”

Improved customer service is also a concern at Royal Cup Coffee Co., which services coffee machines and distributes imported coffee. Gene Lewis, Royal Cup’s CIO, said the Birmingham, Ala.-based firm installed SAP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software in 1999 and now uses SAP Service Management to route customer calls to the employee most appropriate to respond. The goal is to get that response time to 15 seconds.

“We have a policy to provide service 24/7, and a policy that no one will get an answering machine,” he said. “If the system breaks down, the third level of escalation is the president – he gets the call.”

911 Reports
Royal Cup generates what Lewis called a “911” report of calls that miss their response time target, which also goes to the president. There were 35 calls in the most recent 911 report, he said, which isn’t considered very bad.

The next step for Royal Cup is the opening of online stores that will provide more information about orders and pricing to the 350 customers that generate 80 per cent of the firm’s business, he said. This project, which he said would cost about US$100,000, is already underway.

Lundquist said Epcor is only in the early stages of automating BPM, but the payoff will likely come from generating more information for its operators.

“They’re not guessing anymore where the flow is going,” in terms of processes, he said.

Jason Mausberg, president of Toronto-based IDS Scheer Canada, said the application of BPM to customer care can be difficult to quantify in dollars and cents.

“It may sound controversial to say this, but we use BPM internally and in our case it hasn’t always translated directly into a short-term bottom-line impact,” he told attendees.

IDS Scheer is showcasing a joint solution that includes its ARIS Process Performance Manager and ARIS Business Architect with Fujitsu’s BPM product.

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