Business is warming up for Toronto-based Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. and it has nothing to do with natural gas running through the company’s pipelines.
Enbridge says its new Web-based contracting and reporting system for gas management – dubbed EnTRAC – has transformed users from data encoders to business analysts. The new system, the company says, has also helped it move from a tedious, manual workflow to quick, accurate and automated processes.
Enbridge expects more than a million dollars in savings will be realized in the IT department alone when the remaining applications are finally moved off the old mainframe in September.People are discovering the power of information and using it in different ways than we expected.George De Wolf>Text The impetus to move to a new system was provided by the rapidly changing business environment, according to an Enbridge executive. Government deregulation of the gas distribution market in 2000 caused Enbridge to realize the business value of IT, said George De Wolf, Enbridge’s IT director. “People are discovering the power of information and using it in different ways than we expected.”
Deregulation, he said, has opened up the natural gas arena to multiple marketers who are able to negotiate rates and contractual terms depending on their performance and customer base. But Enbridge’s old system – consisting of mainframes and legacy applications – could not handle such a complex business structure, said the firm’s IT director.
As deregulation has redefined the whole structure of the gas distribution business, Enbridge initially had to “guess at what businesses would need.”
Modifications to the old system made by Enbridge’s IT department did not help the company to respond effectively to the new business environment and the constantly changing requirements of a deregulated market, De Wolf said.
He said the company needed to build a new system that was able to respond to business needs and empowered people to work more efficiently. And that was the genesis of EnTRAC.
Developed for Enbridge by Cambridge, Mass-based Sapient Corp., EnTRAC operates in an environment consisting of Oracle Application Server running on Oracle Database in a clustered Unix environment.
The system went live last November and currently has 400 marketer-users.
Enbridge provides gas to about 1.7 million customers in Ontario. Under the old system, marketers would either fax or e-mail new contracts to Enbridge to be entered into the system. And only when data was entered could information about a specific customer be obtained. If a problem was identified the information was sent back to the marketer.
EnTRAC simplified this tedious process by providing marketers easy access to the contracting system, said Hank Summy, president of Toronto-based Sapient Canada. All they will ever need are a computer, Internet access, and a user ID and password, he said.
The ability to combine present and past information about customers and gas usage is another key benefit of the system. Thanks to this feature, marketers and Enbridge are on the same page during rate and contractual term negotiations, said Summy.
“[Marketers] could have a conversation with Enbridge today, implement [the terms] tomorrow and start making those sales. Now it’s just a matter of contractual negotiations and not a systems process barrier.”
Another significant aspect of EnTRAC is the user’s ability to run trend analysis based on past performance, Summy said. Every transaction processed through EnTRAC can be tracked, allowing both Enbridge and marketers to run reports and analysis such as financial, performance and usage.
As manual processes have been significantly reduced productivity at Enbridge has gone up, said De Wolf.
He said the type of tasks people do has changed “from less productive paper-pushing to more productive analytical work.”
Marketers, he said, can focus on revenue-generating strategies, while Enbridge can devote its attention to meeting the needs of customers as well as the marketers.