Participate in Oracle Customer Programs
Hong Kong and China Technology (Wuhan) Co., Ltd—also known as Towngas Technology—provides gas and utility suppliers with customer management software. As a member of the Towngas Group, the company develops, sells, and deploys utility software systems. It also provides related after-sales services, utility business process management consulting, utilities software and hardware system maintenance, and outsourcing services.
It is critical for utility companies to be able to track, store, filter, manage, and analyze increasingly large quantities of customer and gas usage information, which is needed for billing purposes and to predict their future gas demand. Performing these critical operations requires a sophisticated supply chain management system that can swiftly process thousands of complex transactions (such as meter readings) and has the scalability to support large numbers of concurrent users. The system must also be flexible to accommodate price and service changes and amendments to national and industrial policies, and secure enough to protect sensitive data, such as gas usage and customer details, from unlawful access. Finally, the system must offer high availability to support the 24-hour nature of gas supply operations.
“One of our customer’s daily tasks is to find, within large volumes of data, information that is conducive to sustainable business and profit growth and provide this information to relevant business units,” said Zhemin Cheng, head of marketing and customer service, Towngas Technology. “With explosive data growth, our customers find it increasingly difficult to accurately filter data in real time and perform comprehensive analyses while maintaining stable system operations.
“For example, gas companies must closely monitor gas usage patterns to ensure they have the supplies necessary to meet customer needs,” continued Cheng. “What’s needed is a gas customer information system that can track usage by collating gas meter readings from households that require 220 kilowatts to businesses that require 220 megawatts.”
Gas usage data is also used for calculating customers’ usage charges, so it is important that it is accurate. However, usage calculation can be complicated by various factors, including faulty meters, complex metering workflows, price and service adjustments, and national and industrial policy changes. The gas customer information system must therefore be able to filter and analyze usage data to a high degree of accuracy, to ensure customer bills are correct.
“Customer billing and gas usage tracking are continuous processes, so it is important that our customers have a system that can scale to grow with increases in data and users,” said Cheng. “For example, we have a customer with almost 1,000 employees, including customer service and accounts staff, meter installation technicians, safety inspectors, and senior managers. Depending on their roles, all of these people must be able to access customer, usage, and billing data, so it is important that our gas customer information system is sophisticated enough to support large numbers of concurrent users and process all their requests quickly.”
Providing gas service is a 24-hour business and downtime is unacceptable, as any interruptions affects bill preparation and trend analysis. This requires a gas customer information system with automatic failover capabilities to ensure data collection and processing workloads can continue even in the event of a partial failure. Finally, the system must be capable of securing confidential data regarding gas usage, billing, and customers.
Towngas Technology drew on its understanding of the gas supply business and technology challenges faced by gas utilities to design TCIS2.0—a gas customer information system that manages marketing, billing, utility services, and maintenance information. To develop TCIS2.0, the company embedded Oracle Database 11g with Real Application Clusters to ensure the database’s stability, reliability, scalability, and high redundancy. It also chose to embed Oracle GoldenGate and Oracle WebLogic Server into TCIS2.0 to enable real-time integration and better manage applications.
“Towngas Technology chose Oracle Database and Oracle WebLogic as embedded middleware applications and Oracle GoldenGate as a real-time database synchronization tool for the various types of development and operations solutions we offer,” said Stanley Wong, Towngas Technology’s general manager. “The embedded solution guarantees high system performance, enhances stability, and improves the level of our product technology and market competitiveness.”
The company chose a clustered server architecture to run its gas customer information system.
“A clustered database framework means that if one server fails, the processing workload can be transferred to the other servers,” explained Cheng. “The process is automated and takes only a fraction of a second, so there will be no interruptions to services. The use of multiple server nodes also allows workloads to be distributed across several machines, which shortens system response times, ensures high availability and scalability, and reduces hardware costs.”
When Towngas Technology tested the TCIS2.0 gas customer information system using the embedded Oracle products, it found it was able to process 10,000 transactions in 30 minutes, compared to 2,000 transactions in the same time, as in the past. The system is now capable of supporting 6,000 concurrent users during peak times, far exceeding the 2,000 concurrent users previously.
“Embedding Oracle Database with Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle GoldenGate, and Oracle WebLogic Server enabled us to offer our customers a gas customer information system that processes growing amounts of complex data, scales to accommodate large numbers of concurrent users, and has the availability to support around-the-clock business,” said Cheng. “The performance improvements met all our requirements for robust, high-speed processing.”
In addition to these benefits, Cheng said Oracle’s open standards made it easier and more cost-effective to develop its gas customer information system. “We cut system development time from five weeks to two weeks, and reduced development costs by 30%.”
TCIS2.0 has delivered significant benefits for Towngas Technology’s customers. In one instance, a regional gas supplier with close to 1 million customers uses the system to manage its customer, usage, and billing data. The system processes around 800,000 transactions that are worth US$1.5 million, daily and records close to 5 million new record entries per month. Nearly 1,000 employees rely on the system to carry out their duties, including meter installation and reading, invoicing, account settlement, and gas usage analysis.
The gas supplier has cut the time taken for staff to process a gas meter reading and calculation from 180 seconds to 43 seconds, and to settle a gas fee from 157 seconds to 40 seconds. It has also decreased the time taken to perform month-end accounting processes from six to four minutes. In addition, customers’ gas usage reports in any area can be immediately created, ensuring managers stay up to date on any changes in demand and supply.
“This customer is pleased that the gas customer information system is always available and doesn’t need rebooting each month, like with its legacy system, ensuring business continuity,” said Cheng. “Another benefit is that the company can monitor customer service activities at its gas stations and service outlets from the head office, which enables managers to provide transparent supervision and performance assessments and make more informed decisions based on real-time analysis of customer service data.
“With the help of the Oracle system, our customers can analyze vast amounts of data, and determine who their high-value clients are on a monthly or quarterly basis,” said Cheng. “This helps them expand their business and increase profits. We have a very compelling product with high sales prospects.”
Towngas Technology was confident that by embedding Oracle Database 11g with Real Application Clusters, Oracle GoldenGate, and Oracle WebLogic Server into its TCIS2.0 system, it would be able to develop a gas customer information system that would satisfy the needs of its gas supply customers.
“When we evaluated Oracle Database, we were impressed by the database’s open interfaces; bundled development tools; flexible space management; backup and recovery features; and security mechanisms,” said Cheng. “These are all very useful for independent software vendors, as they are instrumental in helping us reduce development costs and speed development time. We selected Oracle Real Application Clusters because the software offered the powerful dual-machine parallel processing capability that a real-time gas customer information system required, and Oracle GoldenGate and Oracle WebLogic Server for their superior integration and application management capabilities.”
Towngas Technology was also aware of Oracle’s good reputation among other large and midsize customers in similar industries, and the timely and effective technical support that it provides. This gave the company confidence that the Oracle technology was proven and that assistance would be readily available if needed.
It took three months for Towngas Technology to embed Oracle Database 11g on Oracle Real Application Clusters into its gas customer information system. Implementation tasks included installing the database software, customizing the database, sorting and transferring customer information, and optimizing the database’s performance.