Enbridge ports apps to Web environment

The more competive market brought on through deregulation of Ontario’s energy sector has one of its largest suppliers moving applications off the mainframe and into a Web-based environment.

Enbridge Gas Distribution, a

subsidiary of Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., plans to have the last of its accounting and financial systems off its legacy Sybase environment by the end of next month and will be spending next year doing the same thing with much of its client-server applications. The work is part of a project to roll out an Energy Transaction Reporting, Accounting and Contracting (EnTRAC) system that will be used by its customers and retail energy marketers.

George De Wolf, Enbridge Gas Distribution’s director of IT, said the company’s legacy GasCon contracting system had no real capability to track how much gas each customer used compared to how much they contracted and had delivered. When everybody was buying gas from their local utility that wasn’t really an issue, he said, but since deregulation in 2000 marketers and customers are buying from a variety of sources, and marketers were demanding more functionality.

“We basically did some extrapolation of those old legacy systems which got us through a number of years, but it soon became obvious they weren’t working,” he said, adding Enbridge relied on internal expertise to help develop the requirements for EnTRAC.   “(The energy marketers) don’t have time, they’re business people. They don’t have time to decide systems. Our people had a good sense of what these guys needed.”

EnTRAC consists of a Unix environment running Oracle Corp.’s database and application server products set up in a cluster to deal with the seasonality of its business during the summer and to provide the reliability the company needed to perform trend analysis.

“The marketers did not need as much hand-holding as we would have had to do with previous generations of IT. To a large degree, all of those users in some level or other use the Web at home,” De Wolf said. “You’re moving through a browser, so whether you do PC banking or EnTRAC, a lot of that generality (in the user interface) is the same.”

Enbridge hired Sapient Canada to develop EnTRAC, which has been developing more traditional systems for energy trading and risk management since 1994. Hank Summy, Sapient Canada’s president, said the company first entered the Canadian market with a client win at another large southern Ontario utility, which he wouldn’t name. That company referred Enbridge to Sapient.

Summy said deregulation has brought an enormous amount of innovation into the energy sector, as well as some culture shifts that surfaced as EnTRAC was built.

“There was a fair amount of skepticism,” he said. “They had worked towards deregulation and compliance since the late 1980s, but it was mostly manual workarounds to some pretty old systems.”

All the output from the execution of test scripts, for example, was sent to India so that defects could be eliminated overnight, providing, and a new build for teams to work on in the morning. Summy added, however, that statistics from research organizations like the Standish Group say 64 per cent of all features in an application aren’t used, which means good project management doesn’t come from offshore work alone.

“They key to compressing time frames and cost is much less about using lower cost geographies and much more about getting smart about what methodology you use,” he said.

Enbridge has been leaving it up to retail energy marketers to incorporate EnTRAC into their business processes, and De Wolf said they are already going beyond the initial capabilities of the system to explore modeling, for example.

“We’ve got these batch jobs that are firing off a lot more frequently than we thought and the size of the files are a lot bigger than we expected,” he said.

Enbridge Gas Distribution has already linked EnTRAC to 30 applications. De Wolf said the company plans to create and deploy a new customer information system by Jan. 1, 2008.

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