Water retailers merge IT for the Supercity

Project is far from being a 'big bang', says Watercare executive

Bulk water and wastewater supplier Watercare is directing the consolidation of ICT for Auckland’s six retail water service providers, ahead of their amalgamation on 1 November.

Computerworld understands phase one of the project aims to have the financial, billing and asset management systems used for water services in six different local network operators (LNOs), as the entities are called, consolidated on to two software platforms by Day One of the new Supercity.

See also: Watercare platforms to deliver Supercity service

"Veneer" of integration likely for Auckland

Supercity ICT: How the vendors are placed

Sources in local government have described the strategy as “high risk”, especially since other IT projects including the development of new geographic information systems, document management systems and a payroll amalgamation are under way at the same time.

However, Watercare’s general manager of finance, Gary Swift, says the project is far from being “big bang”.

“We are taking a cautious approach by adopting a system that three of the six LNOs currently use,” he says. “Retaining a range of software packages was not an option, because it would not enable us to deliver a quality customer service.”

The six current water services organisations are Rodney District Council, North Shore, Waitakere’s Ecowater, Metrowater, Manukau Water and Franklin District Council.

Australian provider Technology One’s Finance One software will be used for functions such as finance and accounts payable while Hansen, now owned by Infor, will be used for asset management and retail billing.

“Hansen and Finance One will be the backbone of the new retail arm of Watercare, enabling the company to bill customers, to carry out and capture preventative maintenance, to respond to faults and much more,” Swift says.

The consolidation ahead of Day One is in sharp contrast to the strategy developed for the integration of the Auckland councils, where a “veneer” of integration is being laid over existing systems, with most of the real integration work postponed until after 1 November.

However, that consolidation is not the end of the IT integration effort. Wholesaler Watercare is also replacing its Mosaic system, used for managing financial and asset data, with SAP, which is “ultimately” also likely to be used for retail water services, Swift says, though not necessarily for billing.

“Mosaic is being replaced because it is no longer being sold and it runs the risk of becoming unsupported at a technical level,” he says. “By comparison, SAP is a popular product that will have a very long life span.”

Watercare has set the “go live” date for the SAP project for March 2011, as it is not considered essential that it be operational on 1 November.

“This ensures that the customer-facing project – Hansen and Finance One – takes priority in all our planning,” Swift says.

A decision on the eventual billing platform has not been made, he says. It could be SAP, Hansen or another system.

The projects were signed off by the Auckland Transition Agency, which is directing the amalgamation of the Auckland Councils, water services and council controlled organisations.

Watercare’s move to SAP could confirm impressions that SAP is in the box seat to provide software to the new Auckland Council. SAP is already being used by territorial local authorities in Auckland including Waitemata City, Auckland City Council and the Auckland Regional Council.

Swift was not prepared to reveal the cost of the integration projects as these are deemed “commercially sensitive”.

Technology One’s operating officer Roger Phare was aware of Watercare’s SAP decision when contacted by Computerworld recently. He says Technology One will give the LNOs what they need on Day One and then get “real live runs on the board. We wish to show it was a snap decision,” he says.

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