Present in more than 70 countries, Air Liquide is the world leader in industrial and medical gases and related services. The Group offers innovative solutions based on constantly enhanced technologies. These solutions, which are in line with Air Liquide’s commitment to sustainable development, help to protect life and enable its customers to manufacture many indispensable everyday products.

Founded in 1902, Air Liquide has nearly 36,000 employees. Since the publication of its first consolidated financial statements in 1971, Air Liquide has posted strong and steady earnings growth. Sales in 2005 totalled 10,435 million euros, of which sales outside France accounted for almost 80%. Air Liquide is listed on the Euronext Paris stock exchange and is a component of the CAC 40 and EuroStoxx 50 indices (ISIN code FR 0000120073).

Addressing the challenge

Air Liquide Large Industries France & Benelux’s markets comprise a diverse and large group of industries, from oil refining to food processing in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The billing requirements and contract structures of Air Liquide’s large European industrial customer base created a need to find a flexible and adaptable billing software solution to manage the demands of its many pan- European industrial and commercial customers.

The billing system the company needed to replace could not meet these requirements. It had become obsolete, complicated to maintain, and difficult to update. As a result, while some of the bills were generated from that system, others had to be generated in fringe applications such as Microsoft Excel. Air Liquide’s wide and disparate customer base and numerous gases further complicated the billing requirements.

Because its large industry customers are located in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Air Liquide also needed to bill customers in several languages – English, French, and Dutch. Air Liquide therefore sought a centralised billing system that not only has the flexibility to support all their current and future business requirements, but that can also be accessed from multiple locations internationally.

The company hired a third party to source different software providers that met their needs. After evaluating three other vendors, Air Liquide Large Industries chose LODESTAR because of its performance, its billing and data management functionalities, and its configuration layer that enables the creation of invoicing rules for new contracts. The company licensed BillingExpert together with LODESTAR® Energy Information Platform™ (EIP™) to manage the billing requirements of many different gases for its large industrial customers across Europe.

Implementation

LODESTAR’s European Professional Services team was responsible for implementing the solution. The team carried out the requirement specification, design, configuration, testing, training, and roll-out across two jurisdictions – France and Benelux. The go-live was handled in two phases. First, the customers in France and Luxembourg were moved into the production system. Then, three months later, the customers in Belgium and the Netherlands were moved into production.

This enabled Air Liquide to manage change in the most efficient manner and to avoid a big-bang approach. BillingExpert provides Air Liquide with an end-to-end solution for all of its billing needs. The solution is connected to a SCADA (meter) system to retrieve consumptions (measuring intervals between a second to a month). It automatically validates consumptions while supporting a manual check workflow for each production centre. The system then calculates the bills and creates the invoice.

The application is used to bill customers with multiple gases using multiple units of measure. It enables users to bill customers in groups or individually, in different countries and in multiple languages. The software itself was implemented in English and French so that users can view the application in both languages. The actual invoices are generated in English, French or Dutch and include detailed information such as history of consumption in graphical format.

The software is extremely flexible so that Air Liquide can later add additional clauses, gases, units of measure, or languages with minimal changes. BillingExpert manages extremely complex invoices, allowing for variances across products. Functionality is included to cancel/rebill and to adjust invoices as needed. All financials are published to the existing Air Liquide Oracle® Financial System, since BillingExpert is completely integrated with the Oracle E-Business Suite ERP system.

Resulting benefits

BillingExpert has enabled Air Liquide to improve its billing times. All of Air Liquide’s customers are billed well within the billing window every month, and all invoices are generated and kept in one centralised system, and online, for easy retrieval and data traceability (consumption, prices, etc.). With all of the data in one single repository, reporting and tracing/security is enhanced. All history and versions are retained and billing completely secured.

Each user only has access to his/her functions and contracts. Because BillingExpert is fully integrated from consumption retrieval through to generation of an invoice, consumption errors are avoided. The application interfaces with the existing SCADA system for consumption, which reduces manual entry and removes errors. This integration also enables Air Liquide to avoid costly investments in additional applications or in future reinvestments. The product proves to be very flexible and can easily be configured to accommodate new gases, new products, new units of measure, and new contracts.