The Evolution of the Utility Enterprise

The Evolution of the Utility Enterprise

By John Gregg, SCT Utility Systems

Business processes of old were supported by substantial manual labor pools using electric typewriters, adding machines with miles of paper tape and an abundance of cumbersome file cabinets. Organizations were made up of independent silos focused on specific business operations appropriately labeled as strategic business units. Information sharing with other departments was accomplished through sending reams and reams of paper around to numerous people and offices.

The introduction of the computer has had an unparalleled impact on these business processes of old. Productivity skyrocketed, performance was greatly enhanced, mathematical functions once thought virtually impossible were available at the press of a button and for the first time information was available when needed on an individual basis without paper. In the utility industry advanced engineering departments were among the first to adopt and use this new technology. They began using these tools to run load flows and other programs to support transmission and distribution efforts.

Following the lead of engineering, billing departments quickly recognized the incredible efficiencies resulting from automation and followed suit, building applications to automate the billing process. Shortly thereafter, customer information gathering efforts were also automated through varying methods of reporting or actual on-line data gathering. Thus the utility industry entered the age of dramatically improved customer service capabilities.

This trend toward automation continued in the late 1960s and early 1970s as utilities began to exploit the power of the computer in practically every arena of business. Engineering needs took one path while business needs took another. Computers and data storage devices continued to provide even greater capabilities at significantly reduced cost to the utility. This evolution continued at an explosive rate through the next two decades. Most utilities had automated mission-critical processes by the early 1980s, bringing about momentous transformations in the utility industry and its business processes.

As a result of these changes, the positions of vice president of information systems and chief information officer began to emerge in the utility industry. Along with these positions came a tremendous amount of pressure. Many in these positions spent a significant amount of time justifying expenditures and attempting to respond to the multitude of requests from their fellow department heads. As more sophisticated databases and other technological tools came to the forefront and business processes began to change, the challenge of dealing with data integrity, redundant data, system interfaces and real-time access became a constant focal point of data processing departments.

As business processes became even more automated and sophisticated, executive management began to view the combined systems, their processes and data relationships as real business models. Significant resources were allocated to building business models that related data between different functional areas. For instance, if a purchase order was generated, what parts of the business model would it affect? How would data be passed from purchasing to receiving and accounts payable? It became increasingly evident that computer applications had to be modeled in parallel to the way the business processes were modeled. In addition, redundant data had to be eliminated or minimized to assure accuracy of system outputs. Systems that were independently developed in the 1960s now had to be viewed as part of the utility enterprise.

As the technology continued to progress, the systems and accompanying data built to automate processes and improve productivity began to be viewed as a corporate asset. Like any asset, it had to be managed and smoothly operated in order to maximize its benefits. The realization emerged that rather than viewing each as a separate departmental system the sum of all of the systems must be viewed as a whole. Just as the network of internal organs of the human body work together, so must the intricacies of the utility enterprise system. While some parts are considered mission critical and others add seemingly minor value, all must work together in harmony in order to achieve the common goal–better customer service.

Today, utility executives must take a similar view of the utility enterprise and ensure that it is fully supported by all of their enterprise systems. These enterprise systems must be extremely dynamic and flexible in order to respond to the ever-changing industry with which utilities are faced.

A good example of this is the implementation of a dynamic customer management system. Historically, utilities built billing systems, meter reading systems, service order systems, meter inventory systems, revenue and cash systems, etc. These various systems had to interface but were not dynamically integrated. Today, utilities are building or buying customer management systems that dynamically manage the entire customer process from an enterprise perspective. This includes activities from the initial customer contact to billing, service order management and marketing.

Major utilities, such as Westcoast Energy Inc., Vancouver, B.C.; British Gas Service, Staines, England, Mountain Fuel, Salt Lake City, Utah, New York Power Authority, White Plains, N.Y., and North West Water Ltd., Warrington, England, are implementing or have already implemented a customer information system (CIS) as their solution. Each of these utilities is using the system to support its customer bases in the competitive global market facing today`s utilities.

In addition to normal billing activities, utilities are using the system to market new products and services to their customers. For example, the BANNER CIS from SCT Utility Systems in Columbia, S.C., can be integrated to other mission-critical applications of the utility enterprise wide.

These utilities can capitalize on the advantages of a seamless system for customer information, financials and work management. The design of BANNER CIS facilitates this interface with other enterprise components, thus reducing redundancy and improving business process flow. In today`s competitive utility environment, a well-defined business enterprise system can further support the capability to automate and increase the efficiencies of a fully dynamic enterprise system.

Most enterprise systems in existence today still function to a great extent in silos. As reengineering takes place, the logical components of the enterprise that need to work together should be analyzed. Viewing purchasing, inventory and accounts payable as tightly coupled and integrated component parts of the enterprise system can assist in the development and success of the overall system. It is key that CIS be viewed as mission-critical, touching other enterprise parts such as finance, materials, marketing and cash processing.

Whether developing in house or purchasing from a vendor, today`s progressive utility must ensure that the utility enterprise concept is an inherent part of the system. Significant investments are made as the utility enhances its system enterprise.

If the proper approach is taken, the investment will have long-term value. Proven, replicable and functionally rich systems are available today to assist in dealing with the challenges of a deregulated industry. The key is to never lose sight of the utility enterprise as a whole.

Author Bio

John Gregg is SCT Utility Systems Inc.`s vice president of marketing. He is responsible for SCT`s software product direction and management. John came to SCT with more than 23 years of service at South Carolina Electric & Gas where he served in three key positions.

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  • The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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