Part of the British Gas/Centrica brand, British Gas Business sells gas, electricity, and energy-related services to small, medium, and large industrial and commercial users. With one million customers, British Gas Business is the UK’s largest supplier of energy (gas and electricity) to businesses ranging from single-unit shops to multinational enterprises.
A vital function within British Gas Business is pricing, which—among other things—forecasts costs, sets prices, produces daily quotations, and effectively manages risk for British Gas Business.
The legacy pricing systems in use were not sufficiently sophisticated, constraining the future growth potential of British Gas Business.
Bateman reports that these systems need to address the demands of the rapidly changing industry, which has recently become deregulated and highly competitive.
At the end of 2007, the British Gas Business management team recognized the growth potential of a revamped and more fully automated pricing system. They launched the development of a new pricing engine to be designed and implemented in association with a globally recognized software vendor.
Bateman explains that one of the key business processes to be automated consists of sales personnel providing quotations to customers. This process typically involves an existing customer being made an offer in the form of a quotation based on that customer’s metered consumption history held in the billing system.
“This has been a time-consuming process,” he notes. “A sales person follows a number of steps that result in the generation of the quotation, the actual offer paperwork.”
The new pricing application would interface directly with other key systems, such as billing systems and long-term demographics and forecasting, building an integrated suite of applications. The direct link between systems would ensure automated transfer of data in a consistent format.
To minimize integration costs, the project adopted a plug-and-play approach to interfacing with up-stream and down-stream systems. These systems exist across various technical environments within the British Gas landscape, using different vendor databases.
One such interface is to the billing system, necessary to obtain the required customer consumption and billing data needed for renewal purposes. This is an event-driven activity needed to generate the electricity pricing quote for an existing customer.
It was essential that the billing system could provide the pricing application with the most up-to-date customer data (up to 12 months of specific data entities—often as much as an estimated 1.5 GB of data—in a synchronous fashion to provide the capability of automatically creating renewal offers.
One of the key challenges lay in the data sources used by the different applications. The pricing application’s infrastructure requires a large Oracle database on UNIX infrastructure; the application solution requires dual access in real time to both Oracle and SQL Server database engines.
The requirement existed for direct connectivity to SQL Server from the UNIX-based Oracle database to allow real-time access to data.