True Stories: integrating information at ComReg

27 Oct 2003

The Commission for Communications Regulation (Comreg) is regularly in the news but normally only in the context of the three mobile phone operators, the 30 or so telephony licensees and An Post. It may come as a surprise to many, however, that the 120 employees of the commission deal with over 14,000 different licence holders. “We also license business radio, taxis, the Garda Síochána, ships, aircraft, in fact any wireless communication,” explains Barbara Delaney, MIS manager at ComReg.

Not surprisingly, to manage those licences the Commission makes extensive use of information technology. Until recently, it used a combination of technologies. “We were using a combination of Tas Books on the supplier side and manual things like spreadsheets,” explains Delaney. “We also have a legacy system which we use for licence applications and it was taking some of the responsibility in terms of the financial processing side of things for debtors.”

According to Delaney, these components were not integrated. Creditor information was held in the Tas Books application and was transferred, by manual rekeying, to the legacy application at periodic intervals.

While the system worked, it was not entirely satisfactory. “We wanted to move from a combination of manual tasks and a non-integrated system to an integrated system that could give us more automated processing,” says Delaney. “The other thing we wanted to do was to move to an enterprise application as opposed to more of a small business application. We wanted to move upscale a little bit. Considering the volume of transactions, particularly on the debtor side, we really needed to move up.”

Another factor in the decision to seek a new solution was the use of the legacy system. Originally created to calculate licence rates and produce licence documentation, it was taking on the task of handling debtor financial information, something it wasn’t really designed for. “We wanted to be able to offload that role onto a pure financial system rather than a bespoke system that was handling the financial aspect.”

Accordingly, ComReg tendered for a new system that would work with the legacy system but would automate many of the financial tasks. Several companies were invited to tender and eventually Exchequer was chosen.

“We would have laid out criteria in that tender and we would have looked at each submission closely. The big thing we were looking for in a system was that it cover everything that an enterprise financial system would do so. But what we were also looking for that was a little bit different, was to achieve as seamless an integration as possible with the legacy system. I suppose that was one of the drivers for picking Exchequer was because of the ability to use an SDK developer toolkit. That gave us an option to build a bridge between the legacy systems and Exchequer.”

Other factors that attracted ComReg to the Exchequer proposal were features like report creation and support for Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), a Microsoft standard that allows data from one application to be included and manipulated in another. “It allows us to work with the data in the system to give us a better view of it,” says Delaney.

The new system went live in July of this year after two months of work. Exchequer and the developers of the legacy system worked closely together. “What they basically did was not just build a bridge between the two systems but they were able to slim down the legacy system because the functionality was going elsewhere.”

Exchequer’s toolkit also allowed the historical data on the old system to be migrated to the new quickly and easily so when it was turned on, there were no bad surprises. In fact it was quite the opposite. Because the Exchequer system handled all financial tasks and held the licensee data, the legacy system ran more efficiently. But the benefits to ComReg were more than a faster system. For a start, manual rekeying of data was eliminated. “We are starting to reap the benefits of that in terms of being able to produce the management accounts automatically,” says Delaney. “The cash reconciliation is likewise done automatically and the other thing that is good for us is we have debtor clarity and we have a better process in place for pre-notification, reminders, chase letters and so forth.”

Delaney adds: “Another key benefit is that because we have an integrated system the management information is better. In the longer term, we hope to build on that and push it out to managers through the desktop rather than through hard copy reports.”

According to Alan Connor, commercial director at Exchequer, the lesson for small and medium-sized businesses is that there is a product out there for them as they grow out of their original software. “You don’t go straight from a Tas or Line 50 straight to a SAP solution,” he says. “There is a whole mid-range marketplace and by specialising in that marketplace we have been able to concentrate on functionality. It is a testament to what we and our competitors in that space have done, that companies like Oracle and SAP are coming down into that mid-range market.”

By David Stewart