Oakville Hydro pursues EBPP technology

Piloting an electronic bill presentment solution for Oakville Hydro in Ontario provided a good opportunity for Toronto-based Davinci Technologies Inc. to integrate its ActiveStatement software into the utility’s billing system.

The power company wanted to go the route of EBPP (electronic bill presentment and payment) to give its customers the capability to view their bills on-line in a secure environment. The pilot project will be evaluated during the summer months and Oakville Hydro stated it hopes to roll out a system-wide production of Davinci’s EBPP by autumn 2000.

“Up until this point, our customers have had to pay their bills at their bank or through a cheque in the mail or by stopping by our offices,” said George Shaparew, director of marketing for Oakville Hydro. “(But) in five years we won’t be printing bills anymore and this is the first step (in on-line billing)…phase two, being able to pay your bill on-line, will come later in the year.”

With an estimated 50,000 customers to appease, Shaparew said the pilot will run until late summer, giving the utility provider enough time to evaluate its validity.

“What we’ll be looking for with the pilot is the integrity of the Web site, the firewall, the growth of customers who use it and how it interfaces and grows with our billing system…deregulation has put an enormous level of change on [utilities and their respective IT departments],” he said. “Davinci designed our Web site for us and they offered the best value for this proposal.”

Thus far, Oakville Hydro has outsourced its IT service needs to Davinci. Shaparew said the provider of Internet products and wireless applications has guided the utility company through its Web site services, technical advice and information on a variety of protocols.

Considering the array of services EBPP can offer an enterprises’ customer base, Shaparew added that only advertisements pertinent to Oakville residents, Oakville Hydro and the environment in general will be included. “It’s not our job to sell retail goods,” he said. “We’ll be including issues that are relevant to our client base, not propaganda.”

Davinci’s co-founder and vice-president Alan Lysne said his firm has been working with Oakville Hydro for more than a year. In that time, the business relationship had progressed to the degree that the utility trusted his organization to aid in its desire to maintain a strong customer base as power deregulation took hold throughout the province.

“Our experience, with a focus on customer service, appealed to them and with deregulation coming into effect, it was among their highest priority to provide the highest level of customer service,” Lysne said.

“Initially, we did work on their Internet site for them…there was intranet work, applications to help make their business processes more seamless, help with their employees directory…similar to the on-line work we’ve done with the University Health Network system (in Toronto).”

Davinci has also helped develop wireless browser solutions for the likes of Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility. Wireless browser technology could be an option Oakville Hydro may pursue, Lysne said.

“Our software doesn’t discriminate between Web-based or wireless browsers, as it enables two way transactions,” he explained. “There are different possibilities – we’ll have to look at what areas of the Web site their customers like. Payment capabilities for the site, allowing customers to insert their meter information on-line [are possible, and] a biller-direct model would allow Oakville Hydro the chance to offer this capability to their customers.”

Oakville Hydro’s director of information technology, Jerry Hluchaniuk, said the utility has solicited the services of e-route Inc. – a financial institution-led consortium which provides electronic bill presentment services – for the interim while the organization’s long term goals of offering a total EBPP are being developed.

“The pilot for now is strictly bill presentment,” Hluchaniuk explained. “Our software is working in tandem with another company – e-route – to offer our customers the capability of paying at any bank after viewing the bill on our site.”

However, any Oakville Hydro customers that are clients of the Bank of Montreal will have to wait for the utility to roll out its own EBPP. The Bank of Montreal partnered with Canada Post’s electronic post office, which offers a similar initiative.

“We won’t be able to help them. (Bank of Montreal) customers visiting the [Oakville Hydro] site…have nothing to do with e-route…(but) phase two and three will see e-commerce options on our site,” Hluchaniuk said.

He added that some of the biggest difficulties Oakville Hydro’s customers currently have is phoning in their respective power meter readings each billing period.

“A lot of times our meter readers don’t have access to (the customer’s) meters or when people phone the readings in, they’re not sure what to report,” he said. “Our site will offer graphics explaining what [digits] to report and the customer will be able to enter that information on our Web site rather than calling it in.”