Why this blog series
SAP IS-U is an industry solution from SAP for Utilities industry. An industry solution is built around specific business processes that are unique to the industry and SAP IS-U is no exception to this rule. In this blog series, I want to cover the various nuances of the industry business processes as it pertains to SAP implementations, unique challenges that I have faced and specific solutions that I have come up with, over these years.
Before we proceed further, please read this fine print. All the views provided below are my personal opinion and doesn’t necessarily reflect my employer’s. I work for my employer as a Netweaver Integration consultant with a focus in Utilities Industry but every customer’s requirement is unique and you should definitely seek for professional opinion before making your business decisions. Treat the inputs in this blog series as just opinions, nothing more, nothing less.
In this blog series, I will start with an overview of the utilities business processes and how an SAP implementation team will be organized around this. We will take a look at the key SAP modules and application components that are typically implemented. Then in subsequent blogs, we will also discuss some unique implementation challenges, potential solutions and its impact to the business. I don’t claim to be an expert in all the areas pertaining to SAP IS-U. Matter of fact, my roots are in technology and I am more of a techno-functional consultant. So, where required, I will tap in to my professional network and colleagues who are experts in their individual areas to contribute to this blog series. I hope this blog series will be beneficial to technical consultants who are new to the SAP IS-U and in certain topic areas also beneficial for seasoned IS-U consultants.
To that point, provided below are the list of topics I intend to cover. Note that, this is a living document and based on the feedback from the community, I will add additional topics.
- Introduction to Utilities business process and SAP components (this blog)
- SAP IS-U data model – Business and Technical Master Data
- Complex Integration scenarios and integration design patterns
- Forward Error Handler framework for handling integration errors
- Customer eServices – How to build custom web integration for customer self service application
- Bill printing using Raw Data Interchange with 3rd party print solutions
- Integration with Streamserve – How to access printed PDF documents using Streamserve collector webservices
- CRM replication and how does it impact your master data
- Computer Telephony Integration for SAP CRM
- Customer overview screen using Factsheets
- SAP Workflow – why is it important for SAP IS-U processes?
- High volume batch processing – SAP IS-U parallel processing
- What is EMMA and what you need to know about it?
- Data conversion from legacy systems – Data object dependencies and Data load using EMIGALL
- Mobility for Utilities – business processes that can benefit from enterprise mobile solutions
- Analytics in Utilities – What can be done? What are you options?
- Platform as a service – How can utilities benefit from them?
- Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for Utilities – How to Integrate with SAP
- Skillsets you need to run and maintain your SAP IS-U shop
Utility business process and SAP components
The primary service provided by an utility company is around Electricity, Natural Gas, Water and Waste management. In this blog series, I will primarily focus on Electric and Gas Utilities, however, many of the challenges and solutions discussed here are also common for Water and Waste Management processes. My experience is vastly with utility companies in the United States, so please consider it when reading this blog series as there are a some differences in the way utilities conduct business in United States and other countries.
There are three main operating units in utilities namely, Generation, Transmission and Distribution. The generation arm is all about generating power from various sources like Coal, Natural gas, Solar, Nuclear etc. Once power is generated it needs to be transmitted through a network of grids and substations. This is usually dealt by the transmission business. From the substations, the power is then delivered to millions of homes and commercial establishments through the distribution arm of the business. The distribution business is closest to the customer and deals with many of the business processes that we will be dealing in this blog series.
If you want to know more about how these three units works, here is a great blog form ‘HowStuffWorks.com’ (image courtesy).
A utility company implementing SAP usually deals with the following modules and SAP components
Plant maintenance : There is a lot of infrastructure like Power stations, generators, reactors, transmission lines, meters, transformers etc that require regular maintenance and repairs and all these are managed using the work management functionality provided by ECC IS-U
Project Systems: Most of the utility companies in the US are monopolies, so they are regulated as well. This means, among other things, the rate the utility charges its customers needs to be approved by regulators. This process is called ‘rate making’ or ‘rate case’ and as per regulations, utilities can only charge (in addition to the cost of commodities) the customers for any capital expenses incurred. For e.g., any improvements made to the existing infrastructure is treated as capital expense and can be included in the rate case whereas day to day cost of operations like fixing broken transmission lines or broken meters are considered operational expense and cannot be considered for rate case. Here is where Project systems (provided ECC IS-U) comes in handy by allowing the various expenses incurred by the utility to be appropriately grouped in to Capital and Operational expenses.
Front office: This module is mainly used by the distribution business. It primarily focuses on various customer service functions. Any interaction you do with the utility as a customer like moving in to a new house or moving out of your existing house, reporting outage etc is enabled by the front office processes. The SAP components that are used here are SAP CRM and SAP ECC. Because it deals with customers and in many cases can deal with emergency situations, SAP implementations deal with complex configurations and enhancements in this area. Some of the key interfaces dealt in this area are integration with customer self service web applications, CTI (Computer Telephony Integration), IVR (Interactive Voice Response) etc. Some of the key enhancements and developments dealt in this area are around CRM Interaction center, guided procedures and workflows.
Device Management: This module is also used by the distribution business. It deals with everything around managing and serializing meters, handling meter reads, consumption information and so on so forth. This module is all about device installation and maintenance. It also integrates with the quality control module for meter testing.
Billing: This module deals with all the configurations and processes around billing a customer for the services rendered. Billing is a complex process in utilities. One of the key input to the billing process is meter reads and when there are no meter reads for a particular month, usually there is an estimation process that estimates the customer’s bill based on the consumption history. Of course there are other line items and considerations in the bill, but you get the idea. Once the billing engine has determined the customer’s bill, we have to deal with bill printing which is usually an high volume activity. Usually, the actual bill print is done by 3rd party software and vendors, so SAP provides an integration format called RDI (Raw Data Interchange) which is a name value pair format. Many certified print vendors of SAP accept data in the RDI format.
Financials and Contract Accounting: Now that we have billed the customer, this module deals with payments received from the customer and any activities related to dunning and collections. Payments from the customer can come in through different channels like ACH payments, Credit cards, check etc, so SAP implementations deal with interfaces and print forms in this area.
These are the basic modules that SAP implementations in utilities deal with. Of course there other capabilities like AMI (Advance Metering Infrastructure), Analytics, Energy Data Management etc., but this blog is aimed at providing a high level overview of Utilities business process and the key SAP modules that support them.
In the next blog, I will walk you through the data model for IS-U objects and their dependencies. Please feel free to pen down you comments and thoughts, feedback from the community is critical in making this blog series valuable.