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SAP sees light in utilities

SAP's latest enhancements to its enterprise software will allow utility companies to manage construction, maintenance, and customer service operations.

Continuing its effort to corral new customers in an increasingly competitive market, SAP is ready to roll out the latest enhancements to its enterprise software package targeted at the utilities industry.

Due for public delivery in the first half of 1998, Work Clearance Management and Enhanced Work Management modules allow utility companies to manage construction, maintenance, and customer service operations, according to the company.

Work Clearance Management increases automation of the paperwork process for facility maintenance and repairs personnel. It does so by integrating work-order planning in an R/3 system--the core product of SAP--to provide information for the generation, transmission, and distribution business of utility companies. It also manages the process of isolating and "de-energizing" equipment so employees remain safe both while working onsite and while testing utility equipment.

The Enhanced Work Management component provides tools to handle routine maintenance, including internal and external service tasks for short- and long-term tasks, as well as low-volume to high-volume tasks. The new enhancement also integrates with the Customer Care and Service component released last April.

The two new modules in SAP's package provide a tool that can help companies cut their costs while maintaining their customers. These features are especially important as the industry breaks from its government-regulated past, SAP said.

Andrew J. Zetlan, director of the business development and utility division of SAP America, said, "The utilities industry has always been a great consumer of technology, but as they march towards deregulation they are looking to become more cost effective and customer related."

Zetlan also said utilities companies are starting to merge into larger entities, where the need to cut costs and combine work creates a demand for technologies that can manage information and services.

Industry analysts say that an enterprise system entering this market must meet the variety of needs a utility company faces.

Aberdeen Group senior analyst Barton Taylor said SAP has come close with its product. "They have segmented their product to meet the discreet pieces of this industry. Its strength is they have correctly mirrored the market pressures now facing the companies in the utilities industry."

The two new modules mark SAP's second string of R/3 offerings into the lucrative, yet enormously complex utility market niche this year. The first came in May with the release of Customer Care and Services.

The company has built the component modules from scratch after scrapping software for the utilities industry that had worked with R/2, the predecessor to the company's R/3. The earlier initiative, known to SAP customers as RIVA, included customer information and billing software.

The utilities market in America includes some 80 utility companies, each with annual revenues of more than $1 billion, according to a report by Advanced Manufacturing Research.

The first shipment of the Work Clearance Management module will ship by the first quarter of 1998. Work Management will ship in April of next year. Both will also be available with the planned release of R/3 4.0 at the end of the second quarter in 1998, according to the company.