BC Hydro upgrades its legacy system

Sometimes it’s tough for an organization to decide on the right time to buy and install new technologies. But for BC Hydro, which saw its last major system change when Pierre Elliott Trudeau became Prime Minister, it was safe to say the time had come.

A lengthy, often-disrupted search for a vendor to supply the utility with a revamped billing and information system began back in 2000. It ended 30 months later when BC Hydro finally selected SAP Canada.

The company’s mySAP utilities customer care and service (CCS) software was adopted to help facilitate operations and deliver customer relationship management (CRM) to approximately two million customers.

The platform will underlie a new arm of BC Hydro dedicated to customer service, which will ultimately employ 2,000 people.

A spokesperson for SAP said it had developed the product specifically for the gas, water and power industry. “There’s a lot of (software) tailoring going on to make sure we meet the requirements of BC Hydro at their end,” said Wayne Regehr, vice-president of the western region for SAP Canada in Calgary.

Some of the software components include invoicing, contract accounting, device management, energy data management and CRM – although it is not CRM in its traditional form, but rather CRM specifically targeting the specific needs of the utilities industry, Regehr explained. The new software will run on several IBM servers.

The project also includes Ottawa-based Accenture, which is leading the implementation from a service view.

For the utility, there were two reasons for pushing forward with the project. On the one hand, attempting to work with a 30-year-old IBM legacy system was proving to be too expensive, and on the other, making even minor changes to the system required extensive programming, said Eric Janes, vice-president of customer services at BC Hydro in Vancouver.

With a bill presentation system that is already online, Janes said the added capabilities in the software would further streamline bill presentation to its customers.

Another issue it hopes to resolve is how the system is currently unable to recognize customers as people.

“Our current legacy system is basically a premises-based system that doesn’t identify a customer as a customer,” Janes said. Instead, it takes into account only hydro metres, and the premises on which they sit.

And since BC Hydro is currently engaged in the first phase of the implementation – going live in the bill phase won’t be completed until the end of the year – Janes said the customer impact, at least in the short-term, would be minimal. But progress is being made around recognizing certain tangibles of its customer base. For example, if a customer has two locations, one vacation home and a permanent residence within the province, it will now be able to view that as one customer with two accounts, versus two separate, unrelated accounts, Janes explained.

Until the customer care and information system is up and running, the CRM side won’t begin, he said.

SAP’s Regehr noted that the utilities market is one of the key markets for the company in Canada. One of the challenges a vendor faces in selling a CRM product to customers is that the consumer has become savvier.

“If these guys understand me better, I’m going to choose them,” he said.