Utility company divides data resources

Ontario Hydro’s recent split into independent companies called for many divisions, not the least of which occurred at the systems and data level.

Deregulation of the utility industry forced the 93-year old government-run monopoly to undertake one of the largest restructuring projects in Canadian history – a transformation which needed to be completed within a six-month period.

Ontario Hydro was replaced by Ontario Power Generation Company Inc. (OPGI), responsible for operating the power plants, and Ontario Hydro Services Co. (OHSC), which distributes province-wide electricity service. There were also some smaller companies spun off to accommodate electrical inspections, market operations and financials.

The “de-merger” meant dividing everything – including all assets, liabilities, contracts and 21,000 employees – between the successor companies, explained Rick Evans, human relations information analyst at Toronto-based OPGI.

“The systems were too integrated and too complicated for anybody to move away in the relatively short notice that we had,” he said.

“So at this point, we have cloned the systems. Services and Generation have identical copies, at least to start with, of what the old Ontario Hydro had.”

The corporate human resources group implemented a data warehouse from SAS Institute (Canada) Inc. to act as a central repository for HR data on pay, benefits and employee history from legacy and transactional systems.

“Although going through a split like this caused a lot of headaches, it was easier with the new systems than it would have been otherwise,” Evans said.

The first step was identifying all the systems the company had in place, “because there was no question about changing business processes, the time period was too short to do that,” he said. “So we knew what we wanted, we had put in place what we wanted, now it was a matter of putting in duplicates for the successor companies.”

Splitting the staff between the companies caused two main problems, Evans said. “One problem is that we are not homogenous. I have skills that my colleagues don’t and my colleagues have skills that I don’t. So when you divide it up by body count, you don’t get the same skill mix,” he explained.

“The second problem is that systems take roughly the same number of people to run them and maintain them, no matter how many transactions are going through. So we really needed twice as many people as we are starting off with.”

Right now, his company is “scrambling” to train staff, add resources and finish the project, Evans said.

“The de-merger took place on paper on April 1. In fact, the work that has to be done will go on probably through the rest of this year, and longer.”

David Smith, data warehouse solutions manager at Toronto-based SAS, said the data warehouse helped Ontario Hydro to analyse employee demographics and support its business decisions when dividing the data.

“Without the information provided by the data warehouse, they would not have had an understanding of who was where, what level of capabilities these people had, [or had the ability to] then map them properly into these new organizations to facilitate this transition,” Smith said.

SAS also provided a product called Warehouse Administrator to manage the process from end to end, as well as a Web-enabled portal which is accessible via the Internet.

“[Ontario Hydro] had to find a way to manage the data moving in, transform it, and turn it into value-added information, then create reports and OLAP cubes on the far end, so people could actually tap into that,” he said.

Andy Welch, a principal at Toronto-based Daedalian Systems Group Inc., one of the systems integrators on the project, said there were many regulations to adhere to when dealing with the data belonging to the separate companies.

“When you move a person from one company to the other, that’s it – the other company can’t keep records. So it basically boils down to a process where on each server we had to selectively erase a lot of information. And be very careful about how we did it.”

Welch said he tried to make sure key business processes would not change very much once the project was completed. “It’s a lot to cope with – they have to do their regular jobs, and they have to get through this enormous change. So wherever we could, frankly, we left things the way they were.”

One of the most difficult aspects of the project is the acceptance testing, he explained. “If we clone the servers and clean up the data, it’s not such a big job for us. But for [Ontario Hydro] to satisfy themselves that it’s working – and that we’re finished – is a hard job.”