As the regulated electric utility for the province of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Power has approximately 450,000 customers and annual revenues of about $750 million. The utility has operated as a publicly traded company since 1992.

Two critical issues have caused Nova Scotia Power to focus on serving its customers better. First, the company is recently responsible for generating shareholder value. Secondly, deregulation is a driving force in the utility industry. When Canada's utility industry deregulates, Nova Scotia Power wants to ensure that its customers remain loyal instead of switching to a competitor for their electricity services. The company believes this can only be achieved if it establishes itself as the customers' clear choice in energy and support services.

Nova Scotia Power's data warehousing initiative began 18 months ago when the company recognized that its customer information system could support the basic processing requirements of the business, but could not provide the accurate and robust customer user profiles the company needed to make critical business decisions. Business processes such as collections, routing meter readers and billing were inefficient due to a lack of accessible and accurate data. As a result, the company embarked upon a business discovery process to identify new processes and technology that would improve cost containment and ultimately deliver added value to customers through enhanced Nova Scotia Power service and products.

Nova Scotia Power's primary customer information system (CIS) operates on the AS/400 platform. The utility selected IBM and its business partner, Syntax Systems, to integrate its services and build the data warehouse. In turn, IBM recommended ShowCase, the leading provider of integrated, end-to-end data warehouse and business intelligence solutions for the AS/400.

Implementation

The first phase of Nova Scotia Power's implementation of ShowCase's STRATEGY involved a relational data warehouse hub and a series of multidimensional data marts for the customer service and marketing and sales divisions, including the metering services, credit and payment services and billing departments. In the metering services department, Nova Scotia's existing system did not allow the company's meter readers to manage their routes effectively or efficiently. The new system allows the department to monitor the number of hours each meter reader spends reading his or her route and meters. By measuring individual performance, the company has been able to optimize staff resources and route schedules, saving time and reducing costs.

Nova Scotia Power has also implemented other process improvements associated with its service request reports, which are generated when a problem occurs with the most recent meter readings. Nova Scotia Power's meter reading system would generate a 130-plus page report, and an employee would typically spend an hour reviewing the report to identify the problem areas based on "trouble codes." The data warehouse daily report is now about three pages long and requires just two to three minutes to review. Manual errors associated with reviewing the report have been reduced to zero.

The data warehouse is enabling the billing department to better serve its business customers by giving them the ability to generate their own reports and analyses. Business customers are categorized by rates, depending on the amount of power they use and the rates associated with that usage. In the past, if a business customer's usage rate changed and actually moved them into a different rate category, Nova Scotia Power had difficulty tracking and responding to the change. By using STRATEGY, the billing department can now more effectively track and respond to the changing nature of its business customers.

Today, system users can view the information by area, by time, by rate type and by revenue type, using the data to identify potential billing and service issues. Having identified such issues, users can then use STRATEGY to easily access detailed information, such as a customer's billing and payment history, to investigate specific problems. The user accesses relational tools to write reports and queries against the relational warehouse. Nova Scotia Power estimates that it has cut the time required to deliver this type of information by approximately 90 percent. Meanwhile, the IT department can focus its resources on its core competency of managing the system, enabling end users to do their jobs more efficiently.

Because the billing department can now identify potential issues more quickly, the customer relationship-focused data warehouse has allowed Nova Scotia Power to optimize customer savings and better identify its customers' power requirements. When deregulation becomes a reality, Nova Scotia Power believes that this accuracy will have created trust among its customers, causing them to remain loyal to the utility even when other power options are available to them.

Nova Scotia Power's credit and payment services department has also benefitted from improvements brought about by the STRATEGY data warehouse. In the past, when payment from a group bill customer ­ a customer with multiple accounts ­ was overdue, it would take the collections department an extended period of time to notice the late payment and initiate collections. The department had little capability to initiate collection activity on separate accounts, even for the same customer. The new data warehouse allows the credit and payment services department to run a late payment report every day, giving an accurate picture of the payments associated with group bill accounts. The first day the report was run, Nova Scotia Power collected a significant amount of money owed by group bill customers.

Based on the success of its initial implementations, Nova Scotia Power is evaluating ways to use STRATEGY to pull data from a full set of 28 internal and external systems, enabling the utility to answer the question of what products and services its customers want. Building on the existing warehouse will also enable Nova Scotia Power to pull information from its interactive voice response system and store all the information in one view alongside its other customer data.

Practical Advice

Before embarking down the road of data warehousing, be sure that everything you do is business focused. The first step in data warehousing is to identify the business purpose of the warehouse. The initial phases of the project must be driven and led by a business sponsor, not an IT sponsor. Do not underestimate the amount of involvement your business people will need to have throughout the life of the project. Remember that this may start out as a data warehouse project; but once the initial phases are over, it becomes a business intelligence system that is a living, breathing entity. Ensure that you anticipate this and staff your business intelligence system appropriately.

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