Utility legacies get updates

Faced with mounting costs for maintaining aging financial and business software, a number of utilities have begun updating these systems with solutions produced through a joint development agreement with their supplier. Graham County Electric Cooperative in Arizona and Wisconsin's St. Croix Valley Natural Gas are the two latest utilities to sign licenses for new enterprise applications from Innoprise Software. St. Croix, which provides gas services to more than 6,000 customers, has bought Innoprise's financial, work management and customer information system (CIS), all of which the company will implement during the next year or so. Because the utility doesn't have dedicated internal information technology support, the ability to do things such as integrate reports extracted from CIS data into Microsoft Excel and Word, HTML, and PDF files will save an enormous amount of time, said Donald Piepgras, St. Croix's president. "We also have some customers who are interested in online bill presentation and payment," he said. "Just to add that one feature to our legacy system would have been extremely costly." The sheer cost of maintenance and future integration, and the decline in the number of people capable of programming in the older languages, is what forced Graham County cooperative officials to look for a new system, said Russ Barney, finance manager for the utility. The next-generation Innoprise applications, developed using Java 2 Enterprise Edition, resulted from several years of joint development with a core group of the company's existing utility customers, said company spokesperson Tina Metter. The intention now is to expand the company's market beyond its current slate of customers to other utilities and into other application areas, such as kiosks at malls and other sites where customers can pay utility bills online, she said.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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