residential electricity customers to date, more than adequately
delivering the core capability on which all the hard work had
been focused. “We exceeded our forecasts by a significant mul-
tiple and in doing so developed a system in which we have
exceptional confidence,” says Cunningham. “Our system deliv-
ers business value right from the executive level to the indi-
vidual call center team member.”
The final piece of the billing system migration came in
September 2009, when Bord Gáis added its “complex” gas
customers. These mostly commercial customers are large-scale
users who are billed in 15-minute intervals, and as such the
billing requirements related to their accounts are much more
data intensive. The company has since started offering complex
electricity service as well.
But it’s not just the ability to support dual utility billing that
the Oracle system has brought to Bord Gáis. The company has
realized a wide range of capabilities and benefits that wouldn’t
have been possible no matter how much updating it might have
done to its old legacy system.
One of the most critical of these capabilities has enabled
Bord Gáis to comply with a regulatory requirement that utilities providers separate their energy supply businesses from the
networks they use to transmit critical customer data such as
new service orders, switches in providers, and meter readings.
The idea is to prevent the competitive imbalance of having a
provider that’s in control of the network competing against one
that’s not. The information is now sent as XML messages, per
regulations, and Bord Gáis is sending and receiving 50,000 such
messages a day via the new billing system.
The company was also able to build in real-time messag-
ing with the suppliers who manage home service visits. Those
messages are delivered directly to mobile devices carried by the
engineers who conduct the visits, which can be for such things
as energy usage consultations and boiler servicing. Engineers
then update the system after finishing a visit, and if the cus-
tomer follows up via phone to provide feedback, the customer
service rep has all the information on the service call.
In terms of more-measurable benefits, the eight-week call center
training cycle has been shortened to just three weeks, resulting
in lower training costs and less turnover of call center staff. And
many of those simple transactions that took three minutes or
longer to complete are now done in less than a minute.
Customer satisfaction is on the rise, too, as gas and electricity users can now use a Web-based interface to do everything
from starting service to accessing their bills and arranging a
service call. And the company is readying what Bunworth says
is Ireland’s first iPhone utilities app, which will make all of this
information available to customers on the go.
Call center staff also are empowered with more information
at their fingertips. The system is easily configurable, allowing
staff to populate their screens with the kinds of information
most customers are calling about—from what their balance is to
when their next bill is due and when their meter was last read.
With the old legacy system, there was only one standard configuration, and employees had to scroll through multiple DOS-like
When to Restart an IT Project
No one wants to restart a major IT deployment. Doing so brings all
sorts of potential consequences, from
product or service rollout delays to
unexpected costs and a decline in staff
morale. But there are times when it’s
the best choice for moving forward.
Executives at Bord Gáis found themselves at this juncture, partway through
their large-scale deployment of the
Oracle Utilities customer care and billing solution. Problems with the quality
of the company’s database surfaced
months into the effort, forcing executives to face a key decision: scrap the
deployment and start over with a clean
database, or move forward as planned
and pay the consequences later. They
chose the former.
“That Friday is commonly referred
to as ‘Black Friday’ at Bord Gáis,”
says CIO Ashling Cunningham, who
as deputy CIO at the time was called
in to assume IT oversight of the proj-
ect. “One of the toughest but most
rewarding decisions our executives
ever made was to call a halt to the
initial project. That took courage, but,
wow, did it ever pay off.”
Project leaders met every morning
at 8 a.m. for months to ensure constant
communication about the state of the
effort. Employees would show up in
large numbers—as many as 50—on
just a few hours’ notice to work on an
important detail over a weekend.