Tasked with processing more than 32 million payments and 20 million transactions annually, Vancouver-based business process outsourcing (BPO) firm Accenture Business Services for Utilities recently developed a management software application to help in streamlining workflow.
Accenture Business Services for Utilities (ASBU) is a subsidiary of Accenture, and part of the firm’s consulting, technology services and outsourcing business. Specifically, ABSU handles meter-to cash processing for utility companies, including meter readings, inputing data into the utilities’ customer billing systems and customer service.
ASBU serves both the regulated and deregulated utilities markets. Its clients include Terasen Utility Services, BC Hydro and Enbridge Gas New Brunswick. These firms offload to ASBU the management of business functions such as accounts payable or human resources. The challenge at hand was around the increasing complexity, as each of these utility companies has their own large and complex customer billing system.
For example, among the most complicated, labor-intensive tasks within these billing systems are the “exceptions” for example a wrong meter reading, a bad credit card or service that was not properly canceled, ABSU said. The majority of exception processing was done manually, meaning the process could be time and labour consuming.
The goal, according to John Lowson, vice-president, revenue cycle operations for ABSU, was to manage workflow and automation for exception processing. ABSU sought to implement Web-based applications, Lowson said, that would work across any and every customer billing platform of both current and prospective clients. “An exception is generated by the billing system…the tool has a benefit to clients because it improves service level turnaround times and make it easier to change the service levels.”
In developing such an application, ABSU turned to IT integrator Avanade Canada. The end result was the creation of an application dubbed Workflow Management Application (WMA).
The integrated product, based on Microsoft Corp.’s .NET and Biztalk, automates the process by interfacing with various legacy systems to pull exceptions from those systems.
The Web application allows ASBU to “standardize on a single customer information system or billing system,” said Wayne Kack, project lead, Avanade. The Avanade tool is based on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), which enables ABSU to easily expand upon the application in the future, Kack said.
Currently, ABSU is in the process of integrating the ABSU back office with its disparate customer systems, Lowson said. The tool essentially automates volumes of work which previously had been done manually. Within the environment, Lowson noted the reporting is more accurate and offers much more data. Since the WMA is designed to automate transactional and clerical work, the tool can be suited to other industry verticals, Lowson said.
“We’re eliminating what used to be manual steps associated with the administration and management of work.”