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Cambridge water meets the challenges of the future

Cambridge Water Company

In 2003 Cambridge Water set itself a company objective to review all its existing systems, analyse the risks, determine the requirements, make recommendations for their development and replacement if necessary, and select bidders. As a result of this review, Cambridge Water decided it wanted to select and implement a new customer management system to replace the existing system.

The existing system was designed for water companies and tailored for Cambridge Water. It had proved successful and reliable, but it was 14 years old and there were significant risks and disadvantages to its continued operation. It was based on IBM AS400 hardware and at the time of initial implementation had provided a comprehensive and integrated suite of business modules, including payroll, works management, stock control, finance, purchasing, and billing.

Although support continues to be available, there is a risk that if key personnel were to leave, it would be much less effective. In addition support at present is largely on a time and materials basis, and thus even small changes prove expensive. The company could find itself in a position of being unable to bill its customers if the present support were to come to an end.

In addition, Cambridge Water is committed to the UNIX platform for its key financial package, and it is costly to operate the AS400 platform as well. The AS400 platform requires a different and additional skill set from the UNIX or Windows platforms, as well as additional hardware and software maintenance.


Following a systems review it was decided to implement a new customer management system which would focus on customers rather than properties. In addition to providing more security to ensure the continued ability to bill our customers, we believed that a modern replacement system would offer many advantages to Cambridge Water. They included:

  • Increased Customer Focus
    The system was to be customer-based and allow demographic and other information to be stored. The benefits included better customer satisfaction and targeted selling.
  • Improved Efficiency for Front Line Staff
    Customer service representatives could respond more quickly to customers. All requests could be met without leaving the phone and looking for documents.
  • Better reporting and MIS
    Managers would get better reports, leading to better and more efficient control of the business
  • Improved Collections
    Automated reports would trigger actions. There would be greater sharing of information, and the company could recover more debt and generate greater income.
  • Greater Functionality and Expandability to Increase Non-regulated Income
    Examples might be additional services and products.• Enhanced Flexibility to deal with Industry or Regulator Mandated Changes
  • Easier for Staff to Use and Easier to Train new Staff to use
  • Better Quality Bills for Customers.
    Greater flexibility and bill design and information would provide better bills for customers.
  • Better Support from Manufacturer
    A larger company and larger customer base would increase security and support.
  • Greater Capacity to meet Changing Business Requirements
    Changes in business plans would be more easily accommodated.
  • More Predictable Cost of Ownership
    Support costs would include most industry or regulator mandated changes.

We formed a project team containing key members of the commercial, engineering and IT departments. Its role was to determine the essential requirements for a new system, determine the desirable requirements for a new system and determine the additional functionality we would like to see in the new system.

Once that had been achieved, the next task was to survey the marketplace and review the requirements in the light of what was on offer. After that had been done the team drew up a short list of companies, and the evaluation process was established. We then set about the process for producing a request for tender and deciding how we would evaluate the incoming commercial proposals.

It was agreed that the new system had to have the following features:

  • Be able to accept changes in the commercial cycle such as tariff changes or move to daily billing. This had to be by user parameter change, rather than requiring program changes by the supplier. The system must be customer- based rather than property-based, allowing for greater flexibility and for demographic and other information about the customer to be maintained.
  • Be compliant with all UK regulatory requirements. The system must permit the sale of additional products and services. It must also be Euro ready, or have a strategy to be so.
  • Maintain at least all the functionality of the existing Sovereign system. It must enable an effective business continuity strategy whilst being implemented.

In addition the following desirable features were established:

  • Be available on the SUN Solaris/Sparc platform.
  • Be based on Oracle.
  • Have an e-billing capability allowing customer access from the Internet.
  • Allow online credit card and bank detail verification.


Finally a considerable list of additional functionality was also created and apportioned to each department that would be a user of the new system. This additional functionality would allow Cambridge Water more flexibility in its approach to running the business, and would be a key device in the company’s strategy to continually seek efficiencies within its core and non-core businesses.

So Cambridge Water investigated the market for customer management systems, which included a survey of systems in use in the UK water industry. We quickly established that systems outside the UK water market came at high risk and high cost – too high for a small company such as Cambridge Water. As a result attention was focused on water based systems in the UK market.

The survey established that within the UK there were two companies with products in use at water companies comparable to Cambridge Water. There was also a third company seeking to establish a similar market presence.

These three companies were selected to form the short list and were invited to make a general presentation to Cambridge Water. If they met the system requirements, they would be invited to work with Cambridge Water on a series of workshops to allow evaluation of the product, determine a migration strategy, and enable a commercial proposal to be produced. The general presentations were made to a representative sample of users and managers. All products were successfully demonstrated and the three companies were asked to move to the evaluation workshops phase.

The short-listed products were evaluated against the requirements specification. In each case a migration process was determined, and finally a commercial proposal was produced. Once again all three short-listed vendors successfully completed the evaluation process and were therefore asked to produce commercial proposals.

The proposals were to contain:

  • Details of the product offering
  • Details of the implementation process
  • Support options
  • Contract
  • Costs of outright purchase
  • Costs for annual support
  • Costs for implementation
  • Alternative inclusive lease-type package over five years.

Detailed guidance was provided and the output from the workshops was used to enable vendors to make realistic proposals.

The final decision was made to appoint IMASS Ltd/Prophecy International. Prophecy is an Australian-based company with a worldwide presence. They normally sell though system integrators or agents, and their product is called basis2. In the UK IMASS, a company which has a long history of supporting billing systems in the area, was their newly established agent. Prophecy is a new entrant into the UK water billing market, and at that stage had no UK customers.

A joint project team was established, consisting of key players from Cambridge Water who had considerable experience of the existing system and a detailed understanding of what would be required from the new basis2 product. They were removed from their existing roles within the organisation and placed solely on this project. An internal group, consisting of three members of the senior management team and the IT manager, supported them.

IMASS also provided key staff to the dedicated project team, including the project leader. He was empowered to draw from within Cambridge Water and Prophecy whatever resource was deemed necessary to complete individual sub-tasks within the overall project. We have a meeting every week to review progress against plan and make decisions about the project going forward. Cambridge Water has listed the successful implementation of this product as one of its KPIs for 2005, and there is therefore considerable focus on the project team’s activities throughout the business.

The basis2 product was chosen because it offered the closest fit to our list of essential, desirable and additional features. We also saw considerable scope for the future development of our business through driving efficiencies in what we currently do, as well as facilitating growth into non-core business arenas. Despite the apparent risk of an untried solution, we had faith that the commitment of Prophecy to break into the UK market, combined with the strength of the joint project team appointed to implement the product, would mean that both parties would be able to reap rewards.

We remain as confident now as we were then that this will be the case. Cambridge Water looks forward to the business challenges that the new century will raise, confident that it has equipped itself with a world-class tool to help it meet those challenges.