Lost BG contract triggers IT revamp at OnStream

Utility meter management company OnStream has reacted to losing its largest client by revamping its IT so it can compete for bigger and better business.

Utility meter management company OnStream has reacted to losing its largest client by revamping its IT so it can compete for bigger and better business.

The government's project to install 45 million new smart meters by 2020 at a cost of £12bn is nearing launch, and OnStream intends to grab a big slice of the action.

Declan McLaughlin is head of transformation at OnStream, a subsidiary of National Grid, the electricity distributor. He told Computer Weekly that the firm manages more than 2.5 million gas meters and 1.5 million electricity meters, and has installed about 27,000 smart meters.

McLaughlin said OnStream had been looking after meters, mainly for energy supplier British Gas, but on the eve of the national smart meter roll-out, British Gas took its meter business back in-house.

That was crisis enough. However, the national smart meter project is also attracting new entrants, which see it as an opportunity to get into the telecoms business.

OnStream's management decided to use the crisis to revamp its IT and business processes so that it could deliver new customers a first-class service, especially for installing and managing smart meters.

However, the government has still to release key operating standards and technical interfaces, especially for the communications network that will carry energy usage data to and from the smart meters and user display units. Nor has it decided whether roll-out should be street by street or regionally. In addition, the Conservatives have promised to halve the roll-out period if they win the coming election.

Despite the lack of clarity on these crucial points, OnStream decided it had to be bold, said McLaughlin.

The first step to becoming more competitive was to bring in IT consultancy CapGemini to plan the revamp of its IT in four main areas: asset (meter) management, billing, supply (customer relations management) and operations (installations and repairs).

McLaughlin said OnStream was still deciding which CRM and billing packages to buy, but had settled on Wheatley's, a specialist energy asset management system, and ClickSoftware to schedule installations and repairs.

"We're presently using SAP for billing, but it doesn't really give us what we need in future," McLaughlin said.

A key issue will be to integrate information flows between the systems, especially to allow OnStream's customers, the energy suppliers, to cross-sell gas, electricity, telecoms and other products.

OnStream expects to have to know precisely what energy assets are available in each household under its control so its customers can cross-sell to vary their offers, such as time of day pricing.

As well as providing comprehensive management data on engineers' activity, the ClickSoftware suite will support a customer portal that will allow householders to interrogate the database to see where and when engineers will be in their area, and to book installations directly.

The system will then update them on the engineer's progress via text, e-mail or automated phone call, so consumers no longer have to wait hours for them to arrive.

"We want to be known for two things," said McLaughlin, "customer service and value for money." Both will depend on getting the IT right.

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