Agile development and the lessons learned by Australian utilities were vital to Genesis Energy’s quest for a new billing system — and helped it implement the project in just nine months.
CIO Russell Ambrose says the power utility has recently gone live with a significant upgrade of its Genesis Gentrack billing system, supplied by Auckland-based Talgentra. Ambrose says the utility implemented the software within nine months, instead of the usual 18-24 months required for similar projects.
“We visited firms in Australia that have done it and learnt from their experiences, their mistakes but the good things too, their whole experience. Usually you don’t learn from their experiences but we listened and got good feedback to make it happen,” he says.
Genesis staff visited Talgentra customers City West Water in Melbourne and Canberra-based ACTew AGL.
“We had business design experts from Genesis, our implementation partner Sitel, working alongside Talgentra. We were configuring, designing and testing while on the go,” Ambrose says.
Billing systems failures are an issue in Australia, with the NSW Audit Office, for example, having to investigate an A$60 million billing contract at Sydney Water after a budget blow-out and implementation delays.
The Genesis upgrade included a change in the database from Unidata to Oracle and moves the company from green screens to GUI. It also allows for more seamless integration with other applications and more ‘customer-centric functionality.
Such functions and offerings can be developed through configuration of the application rather than systems development, significantly increasing their speed to market.
Genesis, Ambrose continues, surveyed the market for other billing systems, but stuck with Gentrack to protect its base license and business process intellectual property investments.
Gentrack 3.8 has also been developed for the New Zealand market.
Ambrose says the main implementation issues were managing a significant business change and having the skills available for the upgrade.
“The project team was made up of business leaders and subject matter experts who had a detailed understanding of the Retail business processes. They were empowered to re-design new business processes that could be configured into the upgrade of Gentrack,” he said.
Business owners leading the change was critical to success, he says, with a Christmas launch impacting less on holidaying customers and a quiet call centre. Since going live on December 15, the system has performed well bar “minor technical issues,” Ambrose says.
Genesis is happy, saying the project was delivered on time, under budget and to scope. Now, it plans to deliver projects rapidly through configuring Gentrack as opposed to customising the application. It also plans to rationalise some retail functions.
Looking back, Ambrose says firms looking at similar projects should ensure project leaders can make the decisions and that staff are trained. Agile project methods also ensure quick and cost-effective delivery.
James Docking, managing director of Talgentra, says the Gentrack upgrade was “one of the best implementations” as Genesis is a “complex multi-utility”.
Gentrack Velocity, he says, was developed following the deregulation of the New Zealand and Victorian utlilites. Other customers include Meridian, Contact, Vector and Trustpower. The competition includes SAP and Oracle, but Docking believes development in Melbourne and Auckland, delivers more services for less cost.
The latest software features an SOA architecture application in compiled C++ with a web browser user interface. Generally it is deployed over Oracle or Windows databases on Unix, Linux or Windows. Future developments, Docking adds, include smart or advanced metering, which allows real-time costing and two-way communication between company and customer.