Utility provider accelerates processing and smart meter initiative

IT staff selects latest version of IBM CICS software to power up systemwide integration

Published on 30-Apr-2012

Validated on 03 Dec 2013

"Running the latest version of CICS through the System z operating system and keeping it all on the mainframe was the secret to dramatically improving system performance, while actually reducing transaction processing costs." - Information Technology Specialist, Utility Provider

Utility Provider

Energy & Utilities


IT staff selects latest version of IBM CICS software to power up systemwide integration

Business need:
Modernize energy service offerings with a smart meter initiative, and better administer complicated pricing hierarchies for millions of commercial, industrial and residential customers.

Deploy IBM® CICS® Transaction Server Version 4.2 to connect a mission-critical customer service system (CSS) on the mainframe to a third-party smart meter system, enabling the utility provider to automate service requests, distribute workloads evenly and broaden control over billing, business logic and pricing calculations.

Enables the company to exploit an open transaction environment, reduce costs and realize a 30 percent gain in throughput response time. The solution will help the company offer mobile customer access and provide customers with detailed electricity usage data to increase customer satisfaction. The scalable platform will allow the company to quickly deploy new features as new smart meters are added and business expands.

Case Study

As one of the largest utility providers in the United States, the company is responsible for delivering electricity service to over 14 million people through approximately five million meters in 430 cities across its 50,000-square-mile service territory. With services that include generation, transmission and distribution of electrical energy, as well as customer

service, the company is recognized as one of the largest purchasers of power generated by renewable resources in the continental US. Providing electricity to densely populated areas requires an enterprise infrastructure solution as revolutionary as the invention of the light bulb itself. The solution must enable the company to read five million meters, process three to four million customer transactions, and then batch process and mail 250,000 customer bills. It also must help the company comply with a variety of regulations from the Public Utilities Commission to avoid financial penalties.

With all of this in mind, the utility provider recently undertook a new connection system initiative to leverage smart meter technology and address the need for increased efficiency. The company plans to add customer-oriented features such as dynamic pricing and mobile web access, which would give users visibility into their bill and actual
electricity usage online. By addressing the dual challenge of automating meter reads and enabling online customer interaction, the company saw an opportunity to boost staff productivity and long-range business planning. The timing was definitely right, given the fact that its customer base tends to grow over 5 percent annually, meaning that another one million meters will likely be added in just the next year or two. However, this evolutionary shift provided an infrastructure challenge. The company had already begun to outgrow its mission-critical customer service system (CSS). The existing processor capacity limited the number of transactions that could be run. A cost-effective solution was needed to refresh its transaction processing system to balance workloads and enable expansion. The company also needed a way to connect its CSS to the new smart meter system to achieve new levels of process efficiency and support its complex pricing hierarchy for a wide range of residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Gaining immediate cost and performance advantages with System z
The company had been used to relying on IBM CICS software for decades. However, upgrading to the latest version of CICS and running it on an IBM System z® mainframe quickly provided an astounding transformation for transaction processing challenges. “In evaluating our options, we quickly realized that solutions like ERP on UNIX are great
for our back-office tasks, but could not give us the support we needed to handle 70 million transactions per month,” says an IT specialist. “Running the latest version of CICS through the System z operating system and keeping it all on the mainframe was the secret to dramatically improving system performance while actually reducing transaction processing costs.”

Upgrading CICS unites customer service system with smart meter data
The company engaged IBM to implement a solution leveraging the latest version of the IBM CICS Transaction Server V4.2 software on an IBM System z196 Enterprise Class server running the IBM z/OS® V1.8 and IBM z/OS V1.7 operating systems. By adopting IBM DB2® for z/OS as its proprietary customer service system, the company gains a
flexible and central data repository for customer information, complex rate structures and smart meter data that can be stored in DB2 tables. This standardization is important, as data now easily passes back and forth between the CSS and newly purchased software products that run on other non-mainframe platforms.

The company’s new smart meter connection system is now integrated with CICS through IBM WebSphere® MQ and the WebSphere application server. “We’re using WebSphere and CICS web services to integrate all the newer technologies for smart meters and mobile access and upgrade to modern industry standards,” says the IT specialist.

Part of this technology integration was provided by a Business Partner, a worldwide provider of energy management solutions. The Business Partner software was selected to capture smart meter data and feed it to a meter system on a non-mainframe platform. This meter system then pushes meter-read updates to the CICS mainframe. Fast access to this data through IBM DB2 helps improve key business processes, such as billing, business logic and pricing calculations, since the company has parameters that include hundreds of different rates for different types of customers.

Within the infrastructure, the company has three CICS regions that are dedicated to workload processes. In the past, balancing processing capacity among those regions was difficult. CICS Performance Analyzer was implemented to monitor system performance at the individual task level, which made it possible to distribute workloads evenly across all three regions and collect reliable performance numbers. The new IBM CICSPlex® System Manager (CPSM) also enabled dedicated workload management to be enhanced with dynamic transaction routing that leverages the power of System z.

“As workloads increase in the System z environment, we’re able to easily add z196 servers, which is a more cost-effective approach than paying for UNIX-based servers with higher licensing fees,” says the IT specialist. “Running the latest version of CICS on System z also enables us to take advantage of the new 64-bit storage feature, which gives us a lot more room to grow.”

Accelerating CPU savings while increasing data throughput
The process of upgrading to CICS 4.2 provided an opportunity to accelerate transaction processing by addressing the processing capacity limitations of its legacy CSS. The new solution also made it possible to move into threadsafe programming, which enables CICS DB2 applications to exploit an open transaction environment (OTE) and realize dramatic performance gains.

In fact, implementing threadsafe programming in CICS provided not only the expected processing benefit, but also one the company had not counted on. “Upgrading to the new version of CICS allowed us to realize a 10 to 15 percent CPU cost savings immediately,” says the IT specialist. “What surprised us was that our throughput response time was suddenly reduced by 30 percent as well, which means that most transactions now run significantly faster. Our users in the call centers expect sub-second response times with this application, and now we’re able to provide that.”

Connecting to the smart meter system boosts call center productivity
Connecting CICS to the smart meter system has also helped boost productivity within the call center. “We can now read meters or shut meters on and off electronically, which saves crews from having to go into the field. We save money and person-hours,” says the IT specialist. “Running our billing through CICS also means we can reduce the amount of physical bills we send, since the system can recognize multiple accounts that belong to the same entity or person.”

Building customer satisfaction with new initiatives and billing insight
As utility providers across the country increasingly deploy sophisticated technology, commercial and residential customers start to see benefits as well. “CICS gives us a chance to pursue new initiatives for our customers. They will be able to use mobile access to see their electricity usage, view graphs charting peak consumption times and check changes to their bill,” says the IT specialist. “Ultimately customers will be able to participate in a Home Area Network that connects to their meter and our system.

Happier customers also mean fewer calls or issues for our call center to process, which is yet another way the new solution is driving efficiency within the organization.”

Moving forward, the company is poised to add new features such as CICS Interdependency Analyzer and other tools to streamline transaction processing and optimize customer billing and support. “Each time we test new CICS features, we’re able to project even greater throughput to meet our application development needs,” says the IT specialist. “After 35 years of working with IBM and its Advanced Technical Skills organization, we’ve come to appreciate how IBM technology is comfortably familiar, yet always able to surprise us with features and strategies to solve our evolving businesses challenges.”

For more information
Please contact your local IBM sales representative or visit: ibm.com/software/systemz

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

System z, System z: zEnterprise 196 (z196)

DB2 for z/OS, CICS Transaction Server, WebSphere MQ, CICSPlex SM, CICS Performance Analyzer for z/OS

IBM Global Services

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2012 IBM Corporation Software Group Route 100 Somers, NY 10589 Produced in the United States of America April 2012 IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, CICS, CICSPlex, DB2, System z, WebSphere, zEnterprise and z/OS are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The performance data and client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided. The client is responsible for ensuring compliance with laws and regulations applicable to it. IBM does not provide legal advice or represent or warrant that its services or products will ensure that the client is in compliance with any law or regulation.