Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) has just gone live with a PC-based customer account system following a decision to migrate from a proprietary minicomputer solution.
The system is based on 1,000 Digital Venturis desktop PCs and four Digital Prioris servers which have been installed across all 39 NIE sites. It follows the signing of a six-figure contract with Digital and forms part of a three-year migration to client-server from a proprietary Prime minicomputer system.
By moving its customer billing system on to a client-server environment, NIE has been able to simplify procedures, particularly when setting up new customer accounts. For example, rather than having to inspect premises when new tenants move into a property, NIE can now log self-administered meter readings from departing and arriving tenants.
The utility's 39 sites are linked by a WAN running its own microwave links and optical fibre suspended from its electricity pylons. The Prioris servers have been installed on an ethernet network, parts of which have been converted to switched ethernet in order to accommodate high localised loading.
The Digital system allows staff to access rapidly data needed for customer queries and has also improved information flow between departments, NIE said. Before it went live, NIE had a pre-privatisation collection of datacomms hardware including dumb terminals and the Prime minicomputer. Staff frequently had to move between desks to access different types of information.
Digital won the contract against 11 other contenders after a tendering process which put five finalists through a programme of industry standard Winstone benchtests, as well as NIE-designed performance rankings based on the company's real-life applications.
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