firmus energy, an established energy supplier and a major network operator in the UK gas industry, came to Etain with a requirement to accommodate an expected increase in their ‘switching’ volumes.

As the main supplier in their region, they managed the requests from one supplier to another via email contact forms and paper filing.

In anticipation of greater competition from new enterprises, firmus recognised their need to implement a robust, secure system that could handle the additional volume of requests. 

Etain's approach to the project gave us the confidence that it would be delivered successfully meeting all the requirements. They also ensured that as any functional requirements changed during the project or during the testing stages, that these were accommodated and implemented without impacting the overall delivery schedule.

Andrew Murray - firmus energy

Due to the nature of their requirements, we undertook a business analysis exercise that involved a series of intensive user workshops. These were intended to engage firmus in our design and build process, as well as equipping our developers with valuable insight to the organisational issues and internal legacy processes.

The information discovered during these sessions was invaluable in defining our custom solution project plan. From system design, build, testing, training and user acceptance testing, through to final deployment our understanding of their internal business practices as well as industry regulations was key to the delivery of a successful solution architecture.

The output of this stage of the project was a series of documented business process flows and a detailed functional specification of requirements. Together this documentation was reviewed, refined and ultimately agreed prior to the build of the custom solution.

The interactive format of the workshops held during the design phase gave the team confidence that Etain wanted to ensure the solution was fit for purpose and delivered the necessary benefits. The workshops were a good way of ensuring that all the technical and functional requirements were met but also that additional functionality was considered when it would add benefits.                         

What we delivered

  • Front End Design
  • Custom Software
  • Cloud Hosting

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Our Solution

Throughout the analysis of requirements and familiarisation with the processes involved, we worked with firmus to create a system that would allow suppliers to raise and track requests. In addition, our custom solution enabled them to schedule and carry out tasks at each individual meter.

Built using Microsoft ASP.NET Web Forms architecture, and supported by Ajax Controls and Bootstrap 3 (for content layout and clear channel navigation), the system features an intuitive user interface to a powerful system which integrates seamlessly to their legacy databases. 

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Risks & Challenges

The key challenge of this project was to ensure the delivered solution allowed complex processes to be executed in a user-friendly way. With the user-experience being a major priority, simple dashboards were designed that gave users a snapshot of their existing switches and meter works.

A further key challenge was securing access to the data within the system. In order to mitigate any unauthorised database access the system was designed with user authentication, managed by the ASP.NET Identity Provider. System Administrators were given the ability to assign user roles according to group type, such as ‘supplier’ or ‘engineer’. Submissions and request updates could then be logged using simple forms with built in validation and attachment facility, with notification alerts sent to user groups when action was required by them.

Outcome & Benefits

While Etain provide hands-on support for the deployed solution, the web application and database reside on a single Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine - the benefit of cloud deployment is that Microsoft maintain the infrastructure and security of the hardware, ensuring fast response and remedy in the event of an outage.

Combining the output from the business analysis and the workshops allowed us to clearly identify a suitable solution that addressed the online and offline risks, detail the functional specifications and construct a high-level timeline that kept us in regular contact with the client at critical stages of the project.

Included in the final deployment was the ‘meter works’ functionality. Originally intended for a Phase 2 release, this gave users the benefit of a fully functional, integrated system ahead of schedule. This also meant training and documentation could be implemented and delivered in its totality without the need for future training sessions and associated cost to client.

Our User Acceptance Testing encompassed many weeks of end to end testing by the system users. This ensured that the real-time processes matched the functional specifications and that the intended capabilities were fully realised and finely tuned to the needs of the firmus teams.

The system provided a new solution which was critical to the business. Without this system a significant manual process with high manpower resource requirements would have been needed. The solution provides an automated system which reduces this requirement significantly.

Hosted on Microsoft Azure, the custom developed solution went live in April 2015 and has been successfully utilised by the main parties in the retail gas market since deployment. The success of the system is mainly due to its ability to manage process from conception to ‘case-closed’ and between a variety of user groups. 

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