case study When West Australian utility company Western Power had to find a way to stop one of its retail electricity companies from having to use its own systems to bill itself and its competitors, Oracle was on the case.
In 2006, the West Australian government reformed the energy sector, dividing the monopoly of the Western Power Company into government-owned network company Western Power and three commercial retail electricity companies: Horizon Energy, Synergy and Verve.
The difficulty after the split, according to Western Power branch manager Gino Giudice, was that the billing system that was left in place resulted in Synergy being responsible for all the billing for all the companies. Synergy was essentially responsible for charging itself for its network usage.
"We were in the unacceptable position that our actual billings to retailers occurred out of the system with one of the retailers," he said. "They billed themselves, literally."
In 2008, after looking at a number of different billing systems from companies like SAP and other smaller niche companies, Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing system was selected for the multi-million dollar contract. Giudice said the combined customer service management and billing system was what got Oracle over the line over pure billing systems.
"This was the best combined package in our opinion," he said. "It was really a retailer-based system that we adapted for us and that's because we have a real intention of having a real engagement of having customer care."
Western Power has to provide accurate billing information to each of the three retail companies for how much electricity each of their customers used as well as maintain a record of the entire history of end customer interaction with Western Power, for example if the customer files a complaint.
Using Oracle Customer Care and Billing, Western Power can now take meter readings and automatically generate and distribute accurate bills to each retailer. Western Power also now has the ability to extend billing capabilities to the retailers rather than relying on outdated, customised billing systems for each individual retailer.
The customer care and management capabilities of the Oracle system also allows Western Power to build a database of customer history and up-to-date customer information allowing Western Power customer representatives to more quickly address inquiries as they come into the call centre.
Giudice said the implementation of the billing portion of the system over the past 18 months had been pretty smooth but that the company had struggled to process the backlog of customer bills when the system was first brought online.
"We had a few performance issues in terms of grunting so much data, which needed a few improvements made to cope with the amount of data," he said. To ensure a smooth transition from the old billing system to the Oracle-based system, Western Power needed to complete a two-month backlog of billing charges prior to the new system going online.
"Right now it's just doing last night's data each day but before we were trying to do [a] three to four days run in one day," he said.
For support for the system, Western Power brought in technology giant IBM.
"We've got IBM here now," Giudice said. "IBM is the integrator who is supporting the system that's currently operating and helping us with the implementation to turn on the customer care".
The next phase will be to bring in the customer care side of the system and Giudice expects it to be another two years before this is fully completed.
"We're still on a journey to fully utilise Oracle Billing and Customer Care."