Gasunie Trade & Supply is a trading company for the procurement and sale of natural gas in the Netherlands and abroad. The company is a leading European natural gas supplier, and one of the largest service providers related to the supply of natural gas such as capacity, flexibility and backup facilities. Gasunie Trade & Supply earns a net revenue of over 13 billion Euro and supplies a gas volume of over 80 billion m³.

Gasunie Trade & Supply required a new billing system to meet the challenges of the liberalised market. Onno de Jong, Business Analyst at Gasunie Trade & Supply, further explains: “We needed a replacement for our mainframe system and had already been looking for a couple of years for a suitable replacement. Maintenance of the mainframe became too expensive and the mainframe system was limiting the possibilities of our billing in both flexibility and time to market.” Gasunie Trade & Supply ended their quest with the purchase of a licence for LODESTAR’s BillingExpert® software. BillingExpert supports Gasunie Trade & Supply’s complex requirements, which entail supplying gas based on pricing formulas that employ oil indexation and complex hierarchical capacity billing structures. BillingExpert handles these intricacies with ease. With LODESTAR, Gasunie Trade & Supply can produce invoices quickly and accurately, and is able to bill natural gas sales in the domestic Dutch market as well as billing exports to the Western European gas market.

FAST TIME TO MARKET

On the selection of BillingExpert, Mr. de Jong notes: “We were looking for a software system that would not limit us (or at least as little as possible) in the time to market of new tariff systems. BillingExpert gave us this ability. Flexibility in setting up new tariff rules and parameters, ability to use a user interface with minimum technical parameters from the software itself, ease of use, speed in calculating interval data, and a sound software approach were all key criteria used in the selection approach. “The sound software approach was for instance demonstrated by:

1. The clear separation between the user interface and the rules needed for billing.
2. The ability to incorporate user-defined tables, relations and extend existing tables with fields in the system without changing the user interface.
3. The way interval data was handled both in speed and ease of use in the rules language.
4. Reporting is just a plug-in from another state-of-the-art vendor.”

The first phase of implementation took six months from initiation to go-live and included integration with the contracts and allocations systems and the SAP financials system. During this phase, monthly pricing, monthly billing, manual billing, and correction billing processes for inland contracts were implemented. Phase two included implementing yearly pricing, yearly billing and correction processes for inland contracts. During the project, the scope was increased to include Export Contract Billing in a separate production instance and TTF, or spot gas, contracts into the inland database. New functionality supporting export contracts and year-end billing was added to the system. BillingExpert was delivered on time and within budget. The application has been used at Gasunie Trade & Supply since February of 2004 and is currently billing over 300 contracts. Maintenance has been smooth, with Gasunie Trade & Supply’s own business analysts supporting and updating the system as required.

The benefits of the LODESTAR solution are clear to the entire Gasunie Trade & Supply organisation. Original budgets that were developed for implementation based upon other systems (before the company learned of the LODESTAR system) were significantly reduced. Aside from the cost savings, BillingExpert proved to be the only solution that met the strategic initiatives of this marketplace. This is due to the product’s powerful billing engine, its ability to handle complex billing calculations, and its adaptability to business rule changes. Other success factors for this project included the expertise that LODESTAR brings to the marketplace and its participation on the implementation team.

Gasunie also benefited from the most enviable characteristic of LODESTAR software: its ability to be custom configured for each customer. In Gasunie’s case, the software was customised in three areas – the Invoice Table Structure, the User Batch Runner (UBR) Tool, and the Account Hierarchy. The custom Invoice Table Structure is unique because it is designed to allow users to select layout options and supports multiple languages and currencies. The UBR tool was created to allow users to run batch processes on demand. And finally, the Account Hierarchy was added to enable a flexible structure, with the ability to pool network points and apply business rules at different levels within a contract. With these results, it is clear why LODESTAR has become such an important and central platform in the IT architecture at Gasunie Trade & Supply.