Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
Utility Customer Service in the Great White North

By Jon T. Brock, President, Desert Sky Group, LLC
May 22, 2012
Several weeks ago I attended the annual CS Week event in Grapevine, Texas. With an attendance of over 1,400, the event confirmed an increasing interest in utility and energy service provider customer service. Over the years, CS Week has grown to include many sub-groups, one of which is known as Canada Day. Including attendees from almost every province in Canada, this day long sub-group held much value for those in the room.
Chaired by Tanis Kozak, Direct Energys VP and General Manager for Canada’s Residential market, the event included sessions from Sask Power, Direct Energy, Enmax, and service provider ATCO I-Tek. Also included were two open roundtable discussions around smart grid and regulatory issues across Canada. The day began with a pre-pay presentation by Direct Energy, which is currently running a pre-pay program in its Texas jurisdiction and contemplating the same in its Canadian jurisdictions. The voluntary program has been a success to date with subscribers growing since the kick-off in August of 2010. Customers of the program give it high marks and have reduced peak usage by 14 percent in the hot summer months of 2011.
SaskPower presented a successful CIS implementation project that they have recently undertaken and are getting to the stabilization phase. Serving 482,000 customers in Saskatchewan, the effort replaced an aging legacy CIS. It was the first major project delivered out of SaskPower’s enterprise-wide infrastructure renewal program that encompasses all customer facing activities, from “meter to cash” to field assets. Lessons were learned in each of the project’s four phases: Go-Live preparation, CIS deployment and actual Go-Live, storm period, and post storm period, with the major takeaway being a strong project team with excellent communication skills.
Enmax presented the history of Alberta’s electric and gas markets as they have deregulated over the last decade or so. Enmax originally wrote several applications to operate the regulated distribution network and customer side of the utility via its Regulated Market Services department. The department is responsible for approximately $1.3B CAD in consumption, settlement, and billing transactions. Enmax is now embarking on an effort to evaluate those systems for further modification or replacement.
ATCO I-Tek presented on the payment card industry (PCI) security certification process for credit card payments. While not law, many companies that take credit cards are being certified or joining service providers who are certified at different levels. With credit card fraud and theft on the rise, it is important to provide the best levels of security that a PCI certification can provide. 41 percent of U.S. utilities reported accepting credit cards in 1999 while 81 percent reported accepting credit cards in 2006. ATCO I-Tek is providing PCI Solutions, managed services, and business resiliency via its IT services cloud offering.
The two open roundtable discussions focused on smart grid and regulatory issues in Canada, which differed based upon which province the utility or energy service provider is operating in. Smart grid has progressed in some provinces and not in others. Those who were from Ontario and British Columbia were active in the smart grid area while others were waiting for a formal policy or for cost/benefits to materialize. Despite no formal policy in Saskatchewan, SaskPower is undertaking an AMI/smart meter project with projected benefits making the effort worthwhile. In the regulatory world, utilities that fall under a provincial commission acknowledged that much of their activities are determined by what the regulator allows or policies set by the regulator. Alberta is actively investigating a performance based rate structure where targets are set for the utilities. If the utility performs below the target, then it must absorb the extra costs associated with that performance, usually around service and safety. If it performs above the target, then it can keep the profits from that performance and distribute to its shareholders.
The activity in the Canadian customer service area appears to be back and growing. Back from the post Y2K lulls that most utilities and energy service providers in North America experienced after preparing their internal systems to deal with the dreaded century change. It is growing due to the interest and activity level that Canadian utilities and energy service providers are putting into their customer-facing systems and other back-office areas that touch customers either directly or indirectly. Whether the topics are customer-facing, infrastructure, smart, regulatory, or controls, the utilities and energy service providers in Canada are moving to serve their customers better.
Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC. He can be reached at

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