One of the things we do different around here is the way we integrate with utility billing software. We’ve done quite a few utility billing integrations with our Elements XS asset management software, many of those integrations with various degrees of functionality depending on the individual customer scenario.
How it’s typically done.
It seems that most folks in the industry do an integration by (essentially) copying records from one system to the other - for example, you create a “Service Order” in the utility billing software and that triggers a “Service Request” in the asset management software. Once the “Service Request” is closed in the management software, the “Service Order” in the utility billing software gets closed as well.
The key problem here is ultimately you'll end up with two records for the same problem, each record with slightly different information (the billing side contains information related to billing, the asset management side contains whatever came from the billing software plus additional information not tracked on the billing side). So, when you look up the history in the future, which application should you be looking in? Each application will give you a slightly different take on what happened, with a few common denominators between the two sets of data (the information that was passed between the two applications).
How we do it.
Our philosophy is that there should be a single data source for each piece of data, with all of the data sources communicating with each other. This means that in order to take full advantage of the integration it should look like this:
- Billing software is the sole repository for Location, Customer, Meter, and Service data
- Asset management software is the sole repository for all work history
- ESRI’s ArcGIS geodatabase is the sole repository for spatial assets
How does that work? It’s probably less complicated than you think. The billing software looks the same as it otherwise would - the work history is just stored in another database. The asset management software continues to operate like the asset management software otherwise would - additionally it provides tools for the billing software to reference the asset management data. And lastly, the ArcGIS geodatabase continues to work like it always has, the asset management software referencing the geodatabase for asset attribute data and spatial information.
How to make it work.
In order for this to work, both parties (asset management and utility billing) need to be willing to play ball. Ultimately the utility billing vendor may be sacrificing their “Service Orders” module for the asset management software (in this type of integration). Better for the customer (one data source), potentially worse for the billing vendor’s pocket book (you’re spending money on the asset management software instead of purchasing the billing vendor’s Service Orders module).
Our school of thought is to let each software do what it does best. We’ve worked with several utility billing vendors - some are in the same boat as us, some are not even in the same ocean. Ultimately the depth of the integration you’ll be able to achieve depends on how willing the two companies are to work with each other.
See it in action.
The end result of the methodology described above is that everyone is always on the same page, all data is realtime, and each of the applications (ArcGIS, asset management, and utility billing) are doing what they do best.
If you’d like to see it in action just drop us a line, we’d be happy to let you try it out!