Dairyland Power is a wholesale power supply cooperative headquartered in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The Publication Services department originally provided support to internal and wholesale power customers but experienced significant growth in the past five years. They now function as a service bureau, selling graphic design, print shop, statement printing and mail processing services to 40 regional electric cooperatives. Lynda Kemp is the manager of Publication Services and credits customer service and flexibility as the keystones to the department�s success. In response to customer requests, they have recently expanded their service options to include electronic bill presentment and payment.
Why We Became Interested in EBPP
In early 1999, several cooperatives asked if we would consider providing electronic bill presentment and payment. My initial reaction was that if they wanted to offer this service to their consumers and we did not make it available, they would eventually look for another service bureau. I also considered that this new method of bill delivery could cause our print/mail business to decline. It appeared to be the new and upcoming method of delivering bills and an opportunity for us to sharpen our competitive edge. Adhering to our philosophy of providing full service to our customers, electronic bill presentment and payment deserved serious consideration.
Selling the Idea to Management
Before embarking on this new venture, we needed the approval and support of company management. The first step was research. What is electronic bill presentment and payment? Who is doing it? What solutions are available? I began reading everything I could find on the subject. I learned there were many options from which to choose: biller direct, thin consolidator, thick consolidator and email. Should we build it ourselves, purchase software or outsource? How should we handle payments? I put my research together in the form of a white paper and presented it to management. They liked the idea and instructed me to move forward with a business plan.
Getting Started 
A group of staff members was selected to work on the project. Our team consisted of print services programmers, the director of information technology, the vice president of finance and administration, several technical staff and myself. Initially, the information technology members were in favor of building a solution. However, it didn�t take long to change our focus. Everything we researched regarding EBPP said � don�t do it yourself unless you have unlimited resources both in dollars and staff � so we made the decision to contract with a service provider. We then evaluated the different options available and decided to implement a biller direct model. Ultimately, consumers would want to receive their statements through other channels; however, we recognized it would require a solid infrastructure built on a direct billing model. For example, most bill consolidators present summary information only. Services such as billing details, customer service and targeted marketing generally require customers to link back to the biller�s Web site.
Once the business plan was written, we were ready to introduce our new service to our statement print and mailing customers. We invited our cooperative managers to a presentation defining EBPP and summarizing our goals and objectives for providing the service. We highlighted the benefits of Internet billing such as reduction in cost and float time, increased customer contact, one-to-one marketing opportunities, cross-selling and competitive advantage. For consumers, it is fast, simple, convenient and flexible. We distributed copies of the white paper and business plan to help educate them on e.billing. After discussions and questions, the group was overwhelmingly in favor of offering this to their consumers.
Vendor Selection
In searching for a vendor solution, we first compiled a list of requirements that would best meet the needs of Dairyland as well as our cooperatives. 
�           Our solution must function in a service bureau environment, i.e. multiple billers on one server.
�           Everything would be installed and operated at our site. Our cooperatives would not be required to purchase or maintain any software or hardware.
�           The vendor would provide training to Dairyland staff for implementation and support to cooperatives. We would be the customer service contact rather than the vendor. 
�           We required flexibility so cooperatives could determine their presentation and payment options, i.e. the look of their pages, enrollment requirements, credit card payments, etc. 
�           We would remain invisible to the end consumer. They would have the look and feel of being on the biller�s Web site, not Dairyland�s site.
�           Cooperative customer service representatives would have back-end access to data on our server so they could view statements as their consumers see them and provide customer support.
Realizing that our vendor selection was key to our success, we made the decision to contract with a consultant, Doculabs, to assist us in the decision process. They evaluated 10 different vendor solutions and summarized their individual strengths and weaknesses. Based on this information, we narrowed our selection to two products we felt were most suitable for a service bureau environment.
One of the vendors was more experienced in this arena but highly priced. The other was new to EBPP and looking to contract with its first customer, consequently a more attractive pricing structure. We felt that the additional implementation time likely with a new product was worth the savings on our start-up costs. We therefore signed a contract with Bell & Howell. Its IMPACT eMessaging solution had features, functionality and a robust, flexible architecture that was designed for a multi-biller service bureau environment. We were excited to partner with Bell & Howell in this new venture and were confident we would succeed. Its technical staff worked closely with ours to define a current and five-year architecture plan for our ASP center.
Moving Forward
The next step in the process was giving a name to our new service. We selected Bill4U and created a logo. The domain name was registered, and we filed an application with the U.S. Trademark Association for a service mark. This was necessary in order to give our customers rights to the name without fear of another organization issuing an order to cease and desist from using it. This also eliminated the need for each cooperative to have their own domain name. When their consumers log-on to view their statements, the site name they see is, Bill4U/ �Cooperative Name.�
Now that we had all of our costs compiled, we needed to establish a pricing structure for our new service. This was difficult because we were unsure what our enrollment numbers would be. We gathered our fixed costs for hardware and software and then calculated estimated variable costs for labor and maintenance. We determined a one-time setup fee and a per-consumer monthly �click� charge. These rates were based on a 3% adoption rate. With the assistance of our attorneys, we then drafted a contract for the cooperatives including description of services, implementation schedule and pricing structure.
We were now ready to select a cooperative for our Bill4U pilot program. Because this was unfamiliar territory, we needed our pilot customer to understand that we would be learning as we went along. The cooperative we selected agreed to work with us and give its input, ideas and feedback to make sure the venture would be successful.
In September of 2000, we installed the necessary hardware and software, and Bell & Howell staff came on-site to provide basic training. Throughout the implementation, they were linked into our servers to work on setting up our first customer. Dairyland�s customers use one of four different billing packages, and our first challenge was converting its billing files into XML format. We wanted to work with XML data because it was fast becoming the Internet industry standard and offered us the greatest flexibility on how we managed our customer�s data. The last thing we wanted to do was paint ourselves into a corner with a proprietary format that would limit our technology choices. Bell & Howell�s TransFormer print manipulation utility, a component of the IMPACT eMessaging solution, offered us the broadest range of billing file format support � including ASCII, AFPDS, Metacode, PCL and DJDE. The TransFormer allows us to work with customers using any of these formats and convert their files into XML format.
Once we had billing data in a Web-friendly format, we needed a solution that could securely manage data for presentment, data mining, reporting and integration with third-party delivery channels. Bell & Howell�s eRoute product, another IMPACT eMessaging component, is Java-based, manages data in XML format and supports a variety of application and database servers. We decided to use eRoute with an Orion application server and Oracle database software. This environment offered us greater data security and scalability than other vendor solutions, which didn�t take advantage of the functionality supplied by each of these components. 
Addressing Security
Unlike single biller environments, service bureaus have to be concerned with data integrity of account information across multiple billers. We needed to ensure that one customer service representative would not have access to another customer�s accounts. eRoute handles this by storing and managing each customer�s data in separate, distinct databases. Our database schema satisfies both our customer�s security concerns and our technical team�s requirement that one bad database not bring down service for all customers. 
In keeping with our philosophy that Dairyland stay invisible to the end-user, we configured our Web and application server to allow secure, remote access to eRoute by our customer�s service representatives. This allows each customer to handle its own end-user enrollment for one or more of our supported Internet delivery options and have online access to billing information presented using the same bill design as the end-users. Our customers do not need to install client software for remote access; they simply use a Netscape or Internet Explorer browser with a valid username and password.
eRoute�s integration with Macromedia�s Dreamweaver product provides a great combination of XML data, Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs) and Java Server Page (JSP) tags, with an industry leading design tool. With a single day of training, we were able to start building professional looking, dynamic Web bills with personalized links to other services and marketing promotions.
Our pilot cooperative chose to present a statement that did not replicate its paper bill, so we created a few thumbnail sketches for review. They selected a look that closely resembles the look of the company�s Web site. The statement is designed as three screens. The first page is a summary bill, and the consumer clicks to view detailed electric usage and meter readings. When their consumers log-on to view bills, they have the look and feel of the cooperative�s site. Its home page links frame the statement, allowing consumers to easily navigate from the bill to information on other services available from the cooperative. We added additional links to the bottom of the statement for Help, Change email, FAQ, Past Bills and Log-Off.
Once everything was in place and tested within Dairyland, the cooperative enrolled its staff, board members and family to further test and evaluate the new service. We did this for two billing cycles, getting feedback and making changes based on the enrollees� comments and suggestions. Meanwhile, we began designing our second cooperative�s statement working with its data to set up a pilot program. 
In order to assist the cooperatives with marketing this service, we designed and printed a full-color bill insert explaining how the service works and giving consumers an opportunity to enroll. Our cooperatives intend to offer enrollment incentives to their consumers such as a free electric grill, home energy audit or discounts on their electric bills.
Next Steps
Phase I of Bill4U is only available in the biller direct model and only to those consumers that use an automatic payment method such as ACH or credit/debit cards. We plan to move into Phase II later this year. Using the IMPACT eMessaging solution along with partner alliances, we will be offering alternate delivery options such as �thin consolidator� and �secure email� models. We will also offer additional payment options such as CheckFree�s payment service and ACH file transmission.
What initially seemed to be simple and straightforward turned into a very significant project. There is so much involved � hardware, databases, liability, software, security, Web design, marketing, customer service, contracts, regulatory issues, etc. No one person can be an expert in all of these areas. It required a team effort, and we were fortunate to have internal support as well as an excellent vendor and pilot customer. As with any new venture, there were some unexpected issues and frustrations. However, we are confident that we made the right decision to move into the world of electronic billing and are pleased to offer this enhanced service to our customers. 
Lynda Kemp is manager of publication services for Dairyland Power Cooperative. For more information, contact Lynda at 608-787-1314 or email ljk@dairynet.com.