Airtricity is one of the new players in Ireland’s deregulating electricity market, selling “green” power to commercial customers. The company has ambitious expansion plans, and required an IT solution capable of supporting its rapidly growing customer base.
The energy industry in the Republic of Ireland is going through two major structural changes in the space of less than three years. The first is deregulation and the second has been the changeover to the euro.
One of the bright new stars in this fast-changing landscape is airtricity: a company which did not even exist in 1999 and now has over 13 000 customers. Airtricity’s unique selling point is its focus on renewable energy. It is one of the biggest operators of wind farms in the country, and has ambitious plans to build several more major developments, including one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms (520 MW) off Ireland’s east coast.
Airtricity is signing up new customers in the commercial sector at the rate of around 1000 per month. To meet the demands of this very rapidly growing customer base, airtricity asked SchlumbergerSema to develop a second-generation billing system which would enable the transition to the euro on January 1, 2002.
Airtricity is gaining new customers at the rate of around 1000 per month, and now has a customer base of over 13 000
With over 15 years experience in supporting energy service providers following the deregulation of the energy markets across Europe, and with more than a 70 per cent market share in Scandinavia, SchlumbergerSema had the capabilities to deliver a solution that would meet its needs, according to airtricity.
The SchlumbergerSema module-based customer care and billing solution purchased by airtricity is flexible with the ability to rapidly adapt to the changes and increased competition that accompanies deregulation. With a focus on systems for customer information, billing and supplier change management, the modular solution can be quickly adapted in order to meet airtricity’s needs.
“SchlumbergerSema offered the best solution on the marketplace and demonstrated that they truly understood our business needs,” commented David Gleeson of airtricity. “With the SchlumbergerSema solution we will be able to better serve our customers. For example, operators at our customer care centre will be able to view billing information in real-time, on line, as they handle customer enquiries.”
End to end solution
The SchlumbergerSema customer care and billing system effectively manages airtricity’s end-to-end process from the initial enrolment of a new customer into the airtricity database, through to verification from the Meter Registration System Operator (MRSO) and meter readings. It is also used to produce invoices, answer customer queries and confirm receipt of customer payments and the payment method.
It is a flexible solution that allows airtricity to define all the business processes it requires to set up its new billing system, including product, profile and company maintenance. It is a Windows-based system employing an Oracle database.
The SchlumbergerSema solution implemented at airtricity has two key modules: IS Customer and IS Touch. IS Customer is a customer information and billing tool which includes a customer relationship management module called IS Sales. IS Touch is an interactive internet-based tool which enables airtricity’s customers to manage and view their utility account via the web. IS Sales is a key part of the SchlumbergerSema solution, allowing airtricity’s customer management and sales force to access vital information on customers, as well as track, store, remind and link sales activities to customers.
Airtricity has ambitious expansion plans in the European renewable energy market and is keen to take advantage of the recently-finalized EU Renewable Energy Directive
The SchlumbergerSema solution has five main functional areas: customer care; meter readings; sales orders and customer services; sales ledger and payment monitoring; and products.
Customer care: Effective management of customer relationships and customer focused business processes are critical to the success of any competitive business. As customers can now change suppliers and tariffs, airtricity realised that it needed a solution to provide comprehensive support for all the complexities of billing and customer care. Developed for the open energy market, the SchlumbergerSema customer care and billing solution with its proven billing engine meets the criteria. Furthermore, the Windows-based system is easy to access and use.
It is a highly specialized tool providing functionality for segmentation of customers, handling offers and contracts, logging of activities and campaigns. Airtricity can capture customer data that would be included in the utility’s offers and contracts to customers. This data can then be exported to separate files that are read by a text processing system dealing with texts and outlines for offers and contracts.
To further improve customer service, the solution is web enabled providing new services to consumers, such as on-line access to their accounts where they can check balances and input meter readings directly as well as compare their consumption profiles with previous periods, by viewing graphical representations.
Meter readings: The SchlumbergerSema solution handles meter readings that are received from different sources, for example, via the internet when the customer enters the meter reading themselves; from the regulatory board, Meter Registration System Operator (MRSO) and when the customer gives the customer care operator the meter reading over the phone. This enables the operator to cross reference the customer’s own meter readings against the system generated estimated readings. In this way, the operator can enter the customer’s own readings with the confidence that the readings are accurate. The operator can also view payment details and if requested regenerate copy bills.
Sales orders and customer services: The system supports airtricity’s day-to-day business processes, for example, customer registration, customer details amendments, cancellation of services, change of address, substantially reducing the time it takes to carry out administration tasks. In the case of a change of address, when the operator moves one customer to a new address, the system will automatically provide a closing read on the former property.
The SchlumbergerSema solution also allows the introduction of an organizational hierarchy in order to gather joint invoices for one customer with many accounts. It is also possible to select whether associated reminder routines are to be directed towards the collective customer or the individual account. The solution provides access to all information on customers and accounts.
Sales ledger and payment monitoring: The SchlumbergerSema solution contains a complete sales ledger that can monitor the payment of invoices and payment reminders. Payments in and out can also be made via money transfer services such as central clearing direct debit, postal giro or Optical Character Reader based solutions. Furthermore, it offers a flexible solution to manage payment agreements with customers and the associated printout of payment and warning documents.
Products: The powerful and flexible functionality of the solution allows airtricity to create and set prices for as many products as necessary. This means that they have the ability to change individual pricing without affecting the standard pricing structure of major customer groups.
Leading the green drive
Airtricity is one of Ireland’s leading renewable energy companies with over 13 000 customer and annual sales of approximately €40 million. Launched at the beginning of 2000, the company is a joint venture between National Toll Roads plc and Future Wind Partnership Limited, and has already made 2002 a key year for its business.
In January 2002, the company made two major announcements: a successful share placement and a deal with Scottish and Southern Energy plc to import renewable energy from the UK mainland. It also recently changed its name from eirtricity to airtricity to reflect its ambition to become a major player in the development of the European renewable energy market.
Airtricity’s private share placement was almost two times oversubscribed and valued the company at €72 million. It raised €15.2 million to help the company finance its expansion in Ireland and other parts of Europe.
Part of the company’s European expansion plans include a recent €100 million deal with Scottish and Southern Energy to import power through the recently commissioned Moyle Interconnector, an HVDC link connecting Ireland and Great Britain built by Siemens. Scottish and Southern Energy is the UK’s largest renewable energy generator, with an extensive hydropower portfolio in the north of Scotland. Airtricity successfully secured capacity on the Moyle Interconnector in an auction held by Northern Ireland Electricity, and was the first company to make use of the newly commissioned link.
Airtricity supplies commercial and small industrial companies in Ireland with electricity generated from its wholly-owned wind farms in Ireland, and imports green power from Northern Ireland as well as the UK mainland. The company currently has in excess of 100 MW of wind capacity and a further 300 MW in the planning process. It is also planning the construction of 520 MW of wind capacity off the coast of Arklow in County Wicklow.