BACKGROUND: Alliant Energy is an investor-owned utility company that provides gas and electric service to approximately 1 million customers across a four-state area in the Midwest. Alliant Energy was formed as a result of a three-way utility merger which was completed in 1998.
PLATFORMS: Avenue from Saratoga Systems runs on a Novell network server. It interfaces through a nightly batch process with three legacy-based mainframe customer information systems (CISs) and with a Novell based intranet server.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Saratoga Systems Avenue was selected by Alliant to provide a warehouse of institutional memory for Alliant's largest customers and communities, and to provide the functionality necessary for sales funnel tracking.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Alliant has approximately 250 users on the Saratoga Avenue system. Half of these users are set up as remote users, which allows them to take advantage of Avenue's remote synchronization functionality. Due to the requirement that account managers travel, this functionality was one of the leading reasons Alliant chose Saratoga Systems in 1996. Ease of database customization was another strong selling point that drove Alliant to Saratoga's product. Due to the constantly changing nature of utility contact management and non-utility sales tracking, Alliant's systems administrators facilitate database customizations on a quarterly basis. This level of responsiveness has given Saratoga Avenue a 97 percent approval rating among Alliant's account managers. Alliant is in the process of integrating a billing configuration software tool with their Avenue database. This integration will eliminate much of the double entry that is currently being done in the preparation of proposals and contracts. The new software linked with Saratoga Avenue is Avenue Configurator powered by Exactium, which will also expedite the preparation of billing documentation. In order to supply account managers with up-to-date utility billing information for their customers, the database has been customized to accept utility billing information from three customer information systems. This information is refreshed through nightly batch processes to the central database server and is then picked up by remote users via synchronization.
STRENGTHS: Ease of customization and remote synchronization capability are key strengths of Avenue.
WEAKNESSES: Avenue's design is hierarchical rather than relational. However, with the newest release of Avenue, this weakness will be eliminated as the database will be relational.
SELECTION CRITERIA: Remote synchronization, ease of cus-tomization, integration with other software and systems, and time to implement were the criteria we used to choose Avenue.
DELIVERABLES: Avenue offers sales funnel reports with varying degrees of detail by organization, manager and account manager and note reports detailing contacts with strategic customers over a specified time period. Avenue is also capable of providing mailing lists for targeted marketing campaigns and utility segmentation reports based on total utility revenues.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Pre- and post-implementation support has been outstanding. Recent turnover of account manage-ment staff has caused a dip in responsiveness, but technical support remains good.
DOCUMENTATION: Documentation is available, but Saratoga's administrator training is recommended.
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