Philadelphia flushes Oracle out of water bill project

Australian software to the rescue in re-jigged implementation

The city of Philadelphia has restarted a troubled water-billing system project after signing a contract for new software that will replace most of the Oracle applications it initially planned to use.

Citing figures released by the city solicitor, Philadelphia CIO Terry Phillis said earlier this month that the city has also signed an amended contract with Oracle in which the company agreed to pay or forgive costs totalling US$6.9 million (NZ$9.9 million) as part of the revived Project Ocean initiative.

In addition, Phillis said that a team of managers from three city agencies has been created to oversee the billing system project. He will directly oversee the integration of the new billing software in an effort to better control costs.

Work on Project Ocean was suspended in October 2005 after the city had spent US$18 million — twice what it initially expected to — without getting a working system. In September, officials said they had reached an agreement in principle with Oracle that would let the city install unidentified third-party utility billing software at no extra cost.

Phillis says the city plans to use Basis2, an off-the-shelf billing and revenue management package developed by Prophecy International, an Oracle business partner based in Adelaide, Australia.

Most of the custom-built software that Oracle developed for the billing system “will be thrown out” and Oracle will have “no part” in the revived project, Phillis says. However, Basis2 will run on top of an Oracle database and work with a set of Oracle’s E-Business Suite back-office applications

In signing its amended contract, Oracle admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to the US$6.9 million in payments and givebacks, Phillis says. Among other things, the deal includes $1.5 million to cover the cost of Prophecy’s software, a payback of $1 million for prior consulting services and a promise not to charge the city for another $1.6 million worth of work done by the company.

Project Ocean is designed to replace a 30-year-old Cobol-based mainframe application that still relies on punch cards.

Phillis is hiring 20 contractors to work on the Basis2 deployment, including a programme director. He believes there will be no need to customise the software for the city.

Philadelphia will be the first Basis2 user in the US, but city officials inspected the software at a comparable water agency in the UK before committing to buy it.

Phillis said that on the kinds of features the city wants for bill presentation enhancements and an expanded customer history, Basis2 scored higher than rival products from SAP and SPL WorldGroup, a San Francisco-based company that Oracle acquired last year.

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