Moving Off the Mainframe
No matter how you cut it, the Customer Information System (CIS) represents a utility's largest computer asset. It eats up the most disk space. It contains the most programs and lines of code. It handles the largest volume of business, whether measured in transactions or dollars.
Billing lies at the core of the CIS. It's the most complex area. But once bills go out to customers, the CIS must manage accounts receivable and the collection process, not to mention financial control and reporting. Add in new order processing, customer identification, credit checks, service orders, work com mitments, turn-on and shutoff, contract history, and customer complaints, and you realize that the CIS performs thousands of jobs each day. You understand why even the most hard-nosed utility exec begins to get a little nervous about the risks when talk turns to upgrades or wholesale replacement of the CIS.
In fact, the cost of a full CIS replacement for a utility serving fewer than a million customers generally runs from $10 million on up. While some have done it for less, the "on up" side of the range can top $100 million for larger utilities. And as if development costs weren't already high enough, the full life-cycle cost of a new CIS will certainly run every utility company at least many millions of dollars.
Yes, the risks are big. But so are the rewards. With competition accelerating, CIS upgrades can prove beneficial and practical, even to the point of moving the CIS off the mainframe environment. Research indicates that this move can save as much as 40 percent of life-cycle costs. To date, only a handful of utilities have actually initiated projects to move the CIS off the mainframe. Nevertheless, when the dreaded date arrives (em January 1, 2000 (em some existing systems may stop working completely as existing date-driven computer logic fails to cross the century boundary. Many utility companies will be scrambling with mandated or business-driven CIS changes as time draws down to the start of the next millennium. But if replacing a CIS is so expensive and fraught with risk, why so much interest now?
Replacing the Old System
Even assuming no apparent problems with your current CIS (em it's not about to die (em many dangers still lie ahead. Through the years, the old system may have been modified or reconfigured thousands of times by hundreds of different people, many of whom are no longer with the company. Documentation is probably poor or lacking entirely. Even a small change in one area may cause another to crash.
And most old CIS systems are account- rather than customer-focused. A billing account may contain financial information only about one of many different locations where the customer operates. Conversely, a relational database scheme, easy to achieve with modern CIS, enables utilities to acquire and analyze customer consumption and energy needs. A modern CIS can track and assist customers by providing companies with a full online view of prior contacts (em easily accommodating customers who maintain multiple account relationships or multiple metering locations.