Integrating billing, the CIS and the call centre

Meralco is the largest electricity distribution utility operating in the Philippines. Its franchise covers 9,338km², with 18.4 million people in 3.9 million households. The integration of the billing, CIS and call centre operations was part of a total enterprise integration brought about by the Meralco transformation project (the MTP). One of its primary objectives was to make business processes efficient and effective for both internal and external customers, achieved through business process re-engineering and the use of information technology (IT), with organisation and culture changes as enablers. 

Pre-Transformation period (1980s-1994)

During this period, the electric utility business was a regulated industry – as indeed it remains today. Meralco enjoyed a pure monopoly for electricity distribution services over its franchise, but even then had good customer service as a key principle.

A survey conducted in the 1980s, however, showed that the quality of service had deteriorated. Because of the shaky political situation at the time, electricity supply from the national power grid was erratic. Meralco also had its own inadequacies in terms of distribution, since it was not able to buy imported equipment, mainly due to local currency devaluation.

Transformation period (1994-2000)

Meralco embarked on the MTP to boost the company to world-class status. The transformation period used the re-engineering framework to introduce radical integrated changes across the organisation, with dramatic effects on three major aspects of the business – process, IS/IT and organisation and culture. The MTP produced processes and information systems that interfaced seamlessly with one another, enabled by a robust IT and telecom infrastructure that spanned the entire organisation.

Post Transformation (2001 Onwards)

The post transformation period covered the time when the MTP formally ended – and also the time of the approval of the Power Reform Act, signalling the arrival of deregulation in the Philippines.

During this period the company paid even more attention to securing customer loyalty, managing customer relationships, managing costs and organisational restructuring. These strategies call for new solutions, which include customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, decision support, business intelligence solutions, Internet-enabled applications and advanced Enterprise Resource Packages (ERP). These new solutions were built on the foundations laid during the transformation period, when all the back-end processes and systems were established.

Integration of Billing, Customer Information System and Call Center

In Meralco the billing, customer information and call centre functions are embedded in one information system called the customer management system (CMS). The CMS is not simply an integrated system; it is homo-geneously integrated. Application software is developed on the same operating platform, operating system (OS/390), database management system and development language. There is a faster and smoother flow of data and data capture within and among the modules. These characteristics further enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Other CIS modules in the CMS are service applications, meter reading, payments, field order processing and meter management. The CMS also incorporates management requirements such as process performance, service levels, and information for making decisions in the management information system (MIS) module.

Interaction of Billing with CIS

The billing module is completely embedded in the CMS. No special tools or interfaces are necessary to link billing with the rest of the CMS modules.

The billing module gets current cycle billing information from the data of the meter reading module. Handheld rover devices download meter data such as routes, metering locations and consumption history, which meter readers carry in the field. The rovers are also able to detect over-or under-readings in real time, by checking the reading with the customer’s historical consumption. Once the correct readings are entered, they are uploaded to the meter reading module. This transmits the readings to the billing module, where the changes are validated and computed using the rates maintained in the billing table. If the system detects no discrepancies, the bills are printed and delivered; otherwise the bills are resolved in the branch offices. Bills can also be accessed via the Internet.

Integration of the Call Center with the CIS

Meralco adopted the concept of a call centre a long time ago, starting with trouble desk clerks who received customer complaints and relayed them to radio operators, who in turn informed the crews or the load dispatch units. The system evolved until it came to be known as the call centre, when its capability had become more advanced with direct access to customer information from the CMS and the CTI features.

Apart from its CTI support, the call centre functions are embedded inside Meralco’s CMS, especially for functions such as service data, field order data, billing and payment data. The CTI functions allow computer assisted analysis and routing of calls, automatic number identification, caller ID build-up and call distribution, among others. The CTI is therefore an integrated part of the call centre, though not in the entire customer information system.

To get distribution information, such as power outages and fluctuating voltage, the call centre is also integrated with the company’s distribution management system. The link to DMS allows faster response and resolution time, promoting a good relationship with customers.

Summary of integration benefits

The integration of information systems in Meralco had many benefits.

  • Smooth interface and exchange of information across transactional systems, allowing information to flow freely from one system to another. Data and information can be aggregated easily and presented in a format that is useful for management information or decision support.
  • There is single entry/capture of data at the point of collection, ensuring data integrity across the organisation.
  • The integration of billing and the CIS allows meter reading data to be processed immediately. This reduced the customer cycle by at least two days, generating savings on interest cost by recovering payments sooner.
  • One-stop customer transaction at any branch or other transaction channel such as the telephone, Internet and third party agents. Customers are able to get all the information they need with regard to their account and perform transactions at any branch office.
  • Improved quality of service and effective customer assistance management through fast, 24x7 response.
  • Online access for customer data call centre operators, allowing them to address customer needs instantly.
  • The strengthening of back-end operations, which is a prerequisite for implementing more advanced applications in business intelligence, Internet and industry-specific applications that will be used in a deregulated environment.

Meralco’s integration efforts have laid the foundation for the company to take advantage of new challenges offered by the e-environment and deregulation.