Teamwork at Basin Electric develops new billing system

three people smiling
Stanley Moss, Basin Electric senior enterprise applications architect; Melinda Weninger, Basin Electric accounting administrator; and Jen Feigitsch, Basin Electric member revenue specialist III.

It can be a challenge working with different departments within a cooperative. There are many departments that workers may not know anything about or what happens within. This can cause barriers or unknowns when working on projects involving other areas. In 2019, multiple departments at Basin Electric faced these challenges and came together to develop a new member billing software application called MemberBilling.

MemberBilling is an application used by the member revenue and member billing staffs to create the invoices that are delivered to Basin Electric’s members that purchase energy directly from the cooperative. Once the monthly bills invoices are generated, the application is used to push billing data into the internal accounting system. Employees involved in this team effort included financial reporting, member revenue, business analysts, database administrators, and developers.

The previous MemberBilling system was old and quickly becoming difficult to maintain. Stan Moss, Basin Electric senior enterprise applications architect, had a major role in building this application. “The previous system was built on a PowerBuilder platform, which we’ve been in the process of phasing out in favor of a more manageable and maintainable option over the past several years,” he says. “In addition, there was a reporting piece to the old system that was built in Microsoft Access, which was aging out and becoming harder to maintain and keep up-to-date.”

The time it takes to develop a custom software application varies depending on difficulty. Simple applications may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, where a more complex system such as MemberBilling took a few years. The custom applications team coordinated with the member revenue and member billing staff to list requirements, design the user interface, and develop the replacement application.

Developers can be faced with many challenges while creating a new software application. Multiple uncontrollable circumstances had the team facing complications.

“Just as we started the project, EVSP hit, and we lost institutional knowledge within our CustomApps team, so the remaining team members were spread across the existing work,” Moss says. “Then, once we really got underway again several months later, we wound up losing face-to-face contact not only with our own teammates, but also with the financial reporting and member revenue departments due to COVID-19.”

Once the team adjusted to the changes, things picked up. “We spend the time necessary to figure out the basics of what our customer needs, then we enter an iterative phase where we build a portion of the product, test it, deliver it, get feedback, make updates, and move on to the next portion,” Moss says.

Melinda Weninger, Basin Electric accounting administrator, and Jen Feigitsch, Basin Electric member revenue specialist III, were instrumental in designing the MemberBilling application, communicating what data they needed to put in and get out of the system. They, along with others on their teams, provided crucial feedback to help craft user interfaces that allowed them to create members’ bills accurately and efficiently.

“I was the lead from the financial side and how the different charges or credits to the members need to flow into our accounting software and how we generate reports and what information we need for the board, FERC, and internally,” says Weninger. “This project showcases different areas of the company working together to increase efficiencies and how we are all a part of the bigger picture as billing the membership is the main source of revenue for Basin Electric.”

“Member revenue was able to use the MemberBilling application development timeline as an opportunity to review and integrate various calculations and workarounds from within the old system into the source documents that we use to determine each member’s load and specific rate calculations,” says Feigitsch. “A new upload process was designed for us to directly provide the monthly member billing determinants into the new application.”

The sharing of data and documents eliminated most of the manual entry process that had been done by accounting, creating a needed efficiency between member revenue and accounting.

“The teams involved in this project did a great job of reimagining the member billing process and put together a product that should meet our needs for many years to come,” says Feigitsch.

The new application was populated with the complete set of 2020 billing data by member revenue and member billing and ran in parallel with the legacy system starting on Jan. 1, 2021. The new application was then placed into full production status later in 2021.

Software like this is hardly ever left untouched after publishing. “As late as earlier this month, a never-before encountered bit of data highlighted that we had a bug in the code that creates one of the reports the system produces, so maintenance work continues on systems like this,” Moss says. “Part of what made this a team win was the chance to work with several different departments. The more departments we get to work with, the better understanding we have of how the business operates, which in turn helps us imagine and create solutions for other processes in the future.”

The full list of project contributors and their roles during development include:

  • Katrina Wald, financial reporting/accounts receivable manager
  • Melinda Weninger, product owner, application design advisor, and legacy system expert
  • Marie Klein, legacy system user and subject matter expert
  • Tom Tooley, legacy system user and subject matter expert
  • Jason Doerr, RTO/delivery services manager and project sponsor
  • Jen Feigitsch, data input advisor, data input technical requirement, and reporting advisor
  • Melissa Schell, data input design advisor, data input technical requirement, and reporting advisor
  • Jessica Moser, data input design advisor, data input technical requirement, and reporting advisor
  • Mandi Hetleved, data input design advisor, data input technical requirement, and reporting advisor
  • Joe Thomas, access program SQL analysis
  • Kezia Zander, email report notification analysis
  • Chase Betz, database management and data & structure updates
  • Jeanelle Vallie, Lawson database access administration
  • Eric Nimmo, Lawson data upload advisor
  • Eric Carufel, Lawson data upload advisor
  • Corey Perman, business applications manager and project sponsor
  • Allan Gerving, project co-lead, development & testing, and bill & report creation
  • Stan Moss, project co-lead, development & testing, bill & report creation
  • Michael Quintus, Lawson connection, Lawson data upload, and development & testing
  • Ryan Zins, billing cycle closeout, dashboard charts, summary tab data, data element visibility by member, Lawson data upload, and development & testing
  • Emily Bakken, bill creation and testing
  • Michele Hellman, testing