PowerStream to automate billing via e-business update

An electricity distribution company in Ontario is using SilverBlaze Capricorn, a suite of e-business modules, to push power and water consumption information out to residential and business customers.

PowerStream is the fourth largest electricity distribution company in Ontario, with more than 220,000 residential and business customers in the municipalities of Aurora, Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan. It was formed on June 1, 2004 from the voluntary merger of former utilities Markham Hydro Distribution, Hydro Vaughan Distribution and Richmond Hill Hydro.

After the merger, a “placeholder” Web site was put in place, said Eric Fagen, corporate communications manager with PowerStream, headquartered in Vaughan, Ont. “We had fundamental, non-interactive information so customers could know who we are and get basic information about the company,” he said. “But it wasn’t a site that customers would go to get information for themselves.”

When customers get their summer bills, they’re more likely to call the company and complain, he said. This had created a situation where customer service representatives were overburdened at certain times of the year, when peaks in power consumption led to higher energy bills. PowerStream wanted customers to be able to get this information online, which would both improve customer service and alleviate the call burden on its reps.

In addition, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced in April 2004 that the government was moving forward with its plan to install 800,000 smart metres in 2007 and in every home and small business by 2010. Smart metres provide consumers with greater control over their energy costs. As part of the proposed legislation, all organizations providing smart metering technology must make this information available to their customer base by 2010.

PowerStream rolled out SilverBlaze’s Capricorn suite of e-business modules, based on IBM WebSphere and other middleware products. These modules include online inquiries, online ordering, report generation and distribution, and site content management.

Using WebSphere Application Server, SilverBlaze used Capricorn to create a Web site for PowerStream that integrates with DB2 and eServer iSeries, which allows customers to register for account access, view billing information and track consumption history.

“It’s a self-service Web site that allows customers to be able to acquire information from the vendor,” said David Harty, director of sales and marketing with SilverBlaze Solutions Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont. “It’s not a sales force automation tool.” There’s also a site content manager that allows non-technical staff to manage content and update Web pages, he added.

PowerStream has 220,000 customers, and about 2,000 have registered for account access since the Web site was launched in August 2005. “We’re going to go through a series of promotions to try to build up those numbers, but it’s a start,” said Fagen. “We’d like to get somewhere around 20 per cent of our customers online.”

Since PowerStream went live with Capricorn, it’s driven more customers to its Web site, he said, and it’s currently working with SilverBlaze to make the site more interactive. Over the next year or two, it will be adding other features such as online payment.

“We want to have weather information from Environment Canada laid over (the consumption data), so they can see on hot days how much their consumption increased,” said Fagen. “Usually the summer bill comes in September and they’re wondering why their bills are so high.”

At IBM PartnerWorld last week, SilverBlaze won an award from IBM for best regional consultant and system integrator for an On Demand business solution. The judges chose SilverBlaze Capricorn based on how it improved the availability of customer information, reduced the workload of customer-service representatives and enhanced PowerStream’s corporate image.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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