02 Dec 2010

Meridian retail prepares for back office cut-over

Matt Freeman, Managing Editor, www.energynews.co.nz
Thursday 2 December 2010

Meridian Energy will upgrade its retail arm’s back office system to Gentrack Velocity on December 13.

The upgrade follows the company’s decision to bring its 65-seat call centre operation back in-house, and a significant telephony upgrade as well.

Meridian had begun a migration from its existing Gentrack 3.2 system to an Oracle system, but last year, after throwing around $20 million at it, dumped Oracle and began looking at Gentrack’s new Velocity system.

Competitor TrustPower had been heading down the same path and similarly ran into problems with Oracle. It is understood that both companies ran into cost overruns around Oracle’s ability to deal with the complex nature of electricity retail price components in New Zealand. The two retailers had been talking about sharing some development costs.

Efficiency gains

Meridian retail operations manager Linda Perkins says the Gentrack upgrade will provide its contact centre operators with a single-screen customer interface that will provide efficiency gains.

“At a minimum I would be expecting our customers would be noticing a far more seamless conversation with Meridian and therefore less time on the phone,” she says.

Perkins says the current system is ICP-focused where the new system is customer-focused. The Velocity system also offers greater embedded quality control for billing and customer care.

“This is good news in terms of ensuring the bill gets out right the first time,” she says. “The old system worked in such a way that it would churn out an exception report, and one of the billing team’s main functions was to work on billing exceptions, correct the bill and send it to the customer.
“The new system is much smarter at determining what is an exception by making comparisons to a customer’s profile and pricing plan,” she says.

Web interface, smart meters

Perkins says the company is now planning its next stage of customer experience.

“We have, at a high level, been thinking about what is the next cab off the rank in terms of customer engagement,” she says. “We are thinking about how we can enable a more seamless interaction for our customers whether via phone or web.”

Meridian subsidiary Arc Innovations has deployed some 110,000 smart meters throughout Christchurch. Perkins says that Meridian can choose to access that smart meter data now, but is presently only using it for meter reading and inspecting a meter’s configuration. “We have the ability to make a decision around whether we use that,” she says.

‘Project Scooter’

The Velocity rollout has been communicated to staff through an initiative called ‘Project Scooter’ which uses a scooter venturing down a Meridian retail hallway to show where the project is up to. Different milestones are reached along the way and staff are involved in all the communication as to how the project is going throughout the process.

Meridian change manager Rich Little says that in contrast to normal IT upgrades, the staff can actually see it happening around them.
“Usually with this sort of upgrade you build it in a different shed then rock up to work one day and it’s just there,” he says. “But that doesn’t always work”.

“With Project Scooter you can feel the buzz, hear the buzz and everyone feels involved,” Little says.

Bill Highet, Meridian’s retail general manager, agrees.

“Like lots of companies we’ve had our challenges with major IT projects in the past so we decided we’re going to take a different approach and take a single-minded approach this time, and make sure everyone understood and everyone knew it was our number one priority.”

Highet says the project comes well within the budget Meridian had originally set for the Oracle project, despite the write-off that took place.
Meridian has around 70 staff in its contact centre operation. It uses a Genesys telephony platform and TelstraClear for connectivity.

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