New billing tool expands back-office capabilities

Dan Crimmins, Lodestar

Customer choice has brought with it sophisticated new rate structures that vary from state to state, different billing and collections models based on jurisdiction, an enhanced need for customer relationship management and energy settlement between trading partners. Along with adapting to these new business requirements, energy businesses have an ongoing need to maintain efficient and profitable business models.

As a result, competitive retail companies, regulated distribution companies, Independent System Operators (ISOs), and transmission and generation companies are facing back-office challenges that they have never encountered before. As they upgrade their billing systems and other financial management operations, energy executives today are looking for integrated solutions that will meet the changeable needs of their multi-jurisdictional, multi-service and multi-business models quickly and efficiently.

With the recent introduction of its new Financial Management Extension (FME) to BillingExpert, LODESTAR Corp. added a key component to its Customer Choice Suite. FME was developed in conjunction with Shell Energy to help manage their financial processes within the Georgia market, as well as to support its entry into new markets, such as Ohio. With the addition of FME, Shell became the first retail energy company to fully deploy a complete, component-based solution that manages both front- and back-office operations in today’s energy market.

The result of the LODESTAR-Shell Energy collaboration is a fully functional, completely integrated accounting package that can be used by all segments of the energy industry, from Independent System Operators to retail energy providers. In addition to Shell Energy, the Texas ISO, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), is using FME to handle settlement among qualified scheduling entities (QSEs) in its distribution grid.

For all market participants, FME facilitates general ledger processing and financial management, including remittance, receivable management, credit and collections. It supports multiple methods and sources of payments; ages and tracks individual charges on accounts, from current through uncollectible; stores charts of accounts and assigns general ledger accounting information to all financial transactions that are processed. It acts like a sub-ledger for CIS/billing applications and interfaces with any enterprise-wide financial package, such as SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle, for summarized financial reporting.

In the crucial area of credit and collections, FME allows for the creation and configuration of client-specific collection workflow processes to handle payment arrangements, dunning letters, collection agency processing and write-offs. It also supports deposit processing, including establishment, interest calculations, installment billing and refunds.

Energy executives today want software solutions that are flexible and have a scalable architecture that can be easily integrated with their existing systems.

To meet their needs, FME was crafted to handle transactions that take place not only within the LODESTAR Customer Choice Suite (CCS) but also within applications from any other software provider. Its Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Component Object Model (COM)-based interface ensure that FME will easily interact with a wide range of corporate computing platforms, including Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).

Its database houses billing, receivables and collections data-all under one solution or application provider.

Through its use of metadata and a common Rules Language, FME allows pricing and billing analysts-not just programmers-to make changes quickly and easily while adapting to evolving market and business needs. This saves money and time to market.

FME offers a range of features that support commercial and industrial billing, as well as retail mass-market companies. With its integrated reporting and controls, successful execution of the application is ensured and the necessary operational information is available when needed. FME also offers preconfigured reports that enable businesses to easily produce any new, customized reports that are required.

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