Monthly energy billing by Pohjolan Voima, a utility company, used to tie up a great deal of human resources because the tools mainly consisted of Excel spreadsheets; also, much of the work was error-prone manual processing.

Monthly energy billing by Pohjolan Voima, a utility company, used to tie up a great deal of human resources because the tools mainly consisted of Excel spreadsheets; also, much of the work was error-prone manual processing.

Objectives

“Our billing process was vulnerable in many respects,” admits Development Manager Heli Pirhonen responsible for Energy Management at Pohjolan Voima.

There was a clear need to reduce dependency on the human input and resources tied up in billing. Consequently, a decision was made to overhaul the work procedures and tools. The goal was to create a centralised and standardised billing process and management of billing data. Naturally, it was of great importance that the new energy billing application, which processes nearly all of Pohjola Voima’s sales of over EUR 700 million, was transparent and reliable.

“We wanted to ensure that the data in the energy management system were imported free of errors into the accounting system that prepared the bills sent to customers.”

However, it was not possible to integrate the two systems directly. Instead, an application replacing the Excel tools had to be created in between to retrieve the billing data from the source systems, compute the amounts and transfer the information to the accounting system.

Solution

“Cooperation between Pohjolan Voima and Affecto commenced in January 2013 when Affecto’s experts started working on the specifications of the new application and the system’s technical description. The project to implement the billing system was begun in April 2013 based on the specifications. The job was finished in six months with the first bills generated by the new application sent to customers in early November 2013.

The project was started by first designing a standardised data model for the application, followed by the user interface, computation models and integration interfaces. As a result of these efforts, Pohjolan Voima now has in place a customised Java-based application built using Informatica’s integration tools.

“I greatly appreciate the fact that Affecto’s experts never compromised on the quality of the data model during the project, not even when pressed for time,” says Pirhonen.

The application makes use of Pohjolan Voima’s existing IT systems and is integrated with Fore, the energy management system essential to billing, and the accounting system Wintime.

The billing data previously produced with Excel tools is now generated automatically. The application gathers and processes the data available from the source systems into bills that are electronically transmitted to the accounting system for inclusion in the books and subsequent dispatch to customers in electronic format.

The new application has improved efficiency and generated savings for Pohjolan Voima. In particular, improved efficiency is evident at end of the month on completion of energy accounting with the actual billing taking place quickly without any intervening manual processing. As a result, the potential for billing errors has been greatly reduced.

A major achievement of the project was the clarification of the entire billing system, something that has been well received by the auditors as well. “Now our billing system is working transparently and reliably,” Pirhonen is pleased to note.

No extensive training was required to adopt the new, easy-to-use system. After all, the users had been closely involved in the design of the user interface right from the outset.

“Once you understand the gist of billing, using the system is really straightforward. It’s easy to explain the process to new users because it’s clear and well-documented.”

Cooperation with Affecto was smooth generating new insights for both partners.

“I’m impressed by the way in which Affecto’s experts managed the project and their ability to always find a solution even to complex problems. They have the capacity to address both technical and business-related issues. This innovativeness was evident on several occasions when faced with problems that both parties had never encountered before,” concludes Pirhonen.