URS workflow automation

Automation of workflows

related to audit and statistics was created for Utilityrevenue.com by Redwerk

Utility Revenue ServicesUtility Revenue ServicesDenver, CO, United States

Utility Revenue Services is a utility consulting company that audits third party utility billing vendors with the objective of revenue optimization.

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Project-based

Fixed project quotes were provided to Utilityrevenue.com by Redwerk for this software development assignment. It was possible as the discovery effort by our business analysts resulted into a full-scale scope document including detailed business logic specifications.

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Business Automation

We fully understood the unique business model of Utilityrevenue.com to create a business automation solution that suits their needs.

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Business

Utility Revenue Services (URS) is a utility consulting company that audits third party utility billing vendors, the sole objective being revenue optimization.

Apartment buildings or communities use a lot of water, sewer systems, and other utilities. This responsibility can be passed on to the residents of those communities. The owners of those communities usually contract third-party billing vendors to bill the residents for their share of the water, the sewer costs, etc. However, billing vendors often make mistakes which result in residents not paying enough.

URS is a consulting firm which is hired by the owners of apartments in the community (clients of URS) to audit the billing vendor’s practices and to make recommendations on how to improve the process. These recommendations often result in the amount charged to residents for utility services being increased significantly. For the owner of the community, this increases the revenue. According to URS’s business model, the extra revenue is then split between them and the owner of the community.

Challenge

The client had used a custom-built desktop application for many years. When it became clear that the time had come to modernize this system, URS contacted Redwerk to take care of it. The existing application had an outdated interface and was not too user-friendly. It only worked on Windows operating systems and required an installation. The idea for the new application was to have a modern, convenient interface, to be easier to use and to be extendable with additional functionality in the future.

We were provided with the desktop application (URS Explorer) which the URS staff had been using, and its source code. It was an application built for internal use exclusively. It was implemented using .NET with an SQL database and the reports were created as XLS spreadsheets.

Redwerk’s tasks were the following:

  • Re-create the desktop application as a web app in the cloud, making it accessible from anywhere and from any device, without the need for installation. The new application had to be designed to be usable by more than one user at a time, and to update all data in real time.
  • Migrate data accurately from the MSSQL database while maintaining its integrity.
  • Implement a new function where complete invoices can be exported to PDF files with one click.
  • Add the following new tabs:
    • Report Centre
    • Client Summary
    • Receivables Tracking
    • Administrator tools
  • Implement a platform for alerts/reminders/follow-up notices on different levels, similar to alerts used within Microsoft Outlook.
  • Integrate new types of reports:
    • Open Opportunity Report. Shows opportunities that have been entered into the database that were never activated or only partially implemented.
    • Client/Community Performance Report. Monthly reports for URS clients to show process being made.
    • Remaining Contract Term Report.
  • Implement new functionality for invoice and client data:
    • Outlining negative numbers in invoices
    • Indicating inactive and unused items
    • Replacing fee rates with contract terms and adding contract term counters
    • Adding acronyms for clients and their properties

The main purpose of this software is the automation of workflows related to URS audit and statistics. It was created to solve the business needs of the company by tracking recommendations that increase the revenue on the client’s apartment communities by automating the data management for tracking recommendations month-to-month, by generating monthly invoices for clients which include a table with details on the incremental revenue corresponding to this period.

Solution

To implement the web service we used a combination of Java, Tomcat, and MySQL, and to make our lives easier, we used DWR (Direct Web Remoting) technology, which allows code executed in a web browser to use Java functions on a web server as if those functions were being executed within the browser.

The design of the new application was prepared by our UI/UX designers and subsequently approved by the client. Logical functions were separated from the UI so that coding could be finished as soon as possible. The design followed a minimalistic concept.

For generating the invoices in PDF, we used the Java application Formatting Objects Processor¸ a very handy open-source software solution.

The converter for data migration was designed as a separate module launched within the existing application. This went a long way to simplifying the migration process. An interesting detail was that the desktop application contained formulas, which were calculated using the external Excel files. We used Apache POI to perform a similar function with “pure” Java libraries for reading and writing Microsoft Office files.

Another difficult and interesting task was to create a web view to present all data in a convenient layout. The client had got used to working on the desktop, so we tried to create a web view which would be somehow familiar.

When it came to testing the application, we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of URS employees and see how it would measure up in real-world scenarios. This was an application which used quite heavy calculations and special terms, making this quite a challenge. We still used the original desktop application to test the business logic, comparing the values calculated by our solution to the ones calculated by the legacy software. Data integrity, i.e. the accuracy and consistency of data throughout its life-cycle, was one of the most important aspects to consider. If there was any data corruption, the application would be of no use at all.

In order to extend the functionality of the software, first of all, the existing UI had to be extended. A lot of attention had to be paid to usability and uniformity of style. By using a highly flexible project architecture, we made it easy to add new features.

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5

developers worked on this project

2

QA engineers on the team

20

months long engagement

41,403

lines of code

Results

Redwerk’s engineers are known for their talent in taking legacy apps and adapting them for modern times, and this project was no exception. As a result, a modern, dynamic web application was developed, mirroring the functionality of the desktop application while adding new features. The new web app automates a number of things, which had to be done manually before.

Best of all, the transition to the modern app was super-smooth. No interruptions were caused to the workflow on the client’s side. At one point, URS simply switched over to our new web application, where they found all their data perfectly up to date, and the usability was greeted by universal acclaim by those who used the new solution.

Web app development
Redwerk provided expert knowledge and delivered a solid first generation Web-application that serves a mission critical database for our company. We have worked on subsequent projects to enhance this application and design other Web-based tools.
Brendan Addis Utility Revenue Services partner

Brendan Addis, Principal and Co-Founder at Utility Revenue Services LLC

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Web application development
DWR technology
Direct Web Remoting technology
URS communities
URS perfomance report
Receivables Tracking

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