Aurora is a prepayment platform for Power, Water and Gas utilities that is meter manufacturer independent, allowing the utility to provide prepayment service to consumers using any combination of STS and AMI meters with integrated disconnect functionality from all major manufacturers.
Metering Technology Support
Most prepayment systems lock a utility into a single meter vendor; Aurora is an open system supporting a variety of metering technologies. Aurora is capable of supporting any AMI vendor that offers meters with an integrated remote disconnect capability and provides an API to interface with their head-in system. Aurora also supports specialized prepayment meters using numeric-key (IEC 62055-51) manufactured by STS compliant vendors. Capable of supporting multiple meter technologies on the same installation, Aurora provides a migration pathway to newer meter technologies as well as allowing piloting of products from multiple meter vendors simultaneously.
Aurora Revenue Management System
The Aurora prepayment platform is a fuIl-featured prepayment CIS. Features include:
- Role-based system, with granular access control
- Life record system
- Customer account management
- Arrears collection
- Tariff administration
- Aurora wallet
- POS interfaces, device support, and gateways
- Vendor management
- SMS and IVR communications
- Cash management and accounting
- Flexible reporting
- Management dashboard
Role Based System
Aurora is a role-based system that allows granular access control. Users are assigned to general roles such as CSR, vendor, engineer, etc. that restricts their system access. These roles may be customized during the implementation process. Within the permissions provided by each role, Aurora allows the system administrator to customize access to as many as 50 system features using the web interface. Any changes to a user's role or permissions are logged as a Life record, including the system administrator making the change. Recent changes are available as a dashboard item and historic changes are provided through standard reports.
Life Record System
Aurora stores all documents and non-transactional events as Life records. This includes all receipts, statements, tokens, and shift-reports, as well as administrative activity such as meter change-outs, customer moves, etc. The utility may upload documents such as customer contracts or images such as photographic evidence of tampers and associate them with a customer, location, and/or meter. The Life system provides a history of key elements within Aurora augmenting the financial record and is used pervasively throughout the system.
Customer Account Management
Aurora’s customer account interfaces integrate customer location, and meter specific information in a single display that allows the user to quickly view key information about the account. Tabs within page provide detail information for specific areas. Function buttons allow the system user to quickly access vending or administrative functions.
One of the primary purposes of a prepaid program is to allow the utility to continue services to financially challenged customers. Since post-paid customers that migrate to prepayment typically will have an outstanding balance, it's necessary to allow the customers to pay-off past balances over time. Aurora addresses this need by allowing the utility to collect past balances over time by taking a portion of each future purchase until the debt is paid' In doing so, the utility is able to continue service to these customers while working off outstanding balances over a reasonable period of time.
Tariff and Rate Administration
Aurora is designed to handle complex tariff structures with multiple components. This includes support for step, or 'block' tariffs with rates depending on consumption as well as additional unit based charges such as fuel surcharges and structured VAT taxes. Aurora supports time-of-use (ToU) rates where AMI meters are in use for prepayment. Aurora also allows for the collection of standing/fixed charges and other monthly customer fees. The collection of these amounts is utility configurable, but generally takes the form of a daily charge over the first 28 days of the month.
Tariff structures are configured during the implementation phase and the initial rates are set. The utility manages changes over time through an intuitive web interface.
Each customer account within Aurora has a wallet balance. These are funds held for future power, water or gas purchases or payment charges. When a customer makes a payment, funds are first used to pay outstanding arrears, should such exist. The balance, net of any taxes due, is applied to the Aurora wallet. For token-based systems, customers may elect to have the entire balance converted to a utility token for consumption. However, the customer may also elect to generate a token for portion of the available wallet balance, leaving tile balance in their wallet as a reserve' If the customer has funds available, they can issue a token for electricity, water or gas by sending a SMS to the system. Aurora will return the token via SMS.
Allowing customers to maintain balances in a wallet further empowers them in that the wallet funds can be transferred to another customer account as a loan or sale. For example, a son or daughter living in an urban area may add funds to their parents account, whereas the parents in turn can share a portion of the funds with other relatives. Alternatively, for AMl-based systems, the available funds are held in the customer’s wallet for future consumption. Pro-rata fixed charges are deducted from this balance on a daily basis, and tariff charges are applied upon reads. Wallet funds are transferable in the same way as above.
POS Interfaces and Gateways
Utility cashiers and CSRs are provided web-based POS interfaces for servicing customers at utility offices. Designated third-parry resellers can also access the system via secure web-access using standard pcs or dedicated POS devices. Aurora can also support automated kiosks for deployment at both utility offices and third party locations. The Aurora platform includes voucher, scratch card functionality including inventory management via barcode, reseller tracking, and reversal capability. Scratch cards can be produced by PrepaidMeters.co.za or sourced locally. For low-volume or remote vendors without reliable internet connectivity, Aurora provides SMS vending capability. This allows a designated agent to vend power via a basic mobile phone with the token/receipt sent to the customer’s mobile phone.
Aurora can interface with third party devices and networks through its web-services engine allowing the utility to incorporate a wide range of alternatives for purchasing power. PrepaidMeters.co.za can provide straight-forward, XML-based interface APIs as well as provide integration services based on third party specifications. Examples of these systems include payment systems, traditional banks, and ATM networks.
Utilities frequently contract with resellers and other organizations to resell power. These organizations may have multiple employees who authorized to vend utilities. Within Aurora, a master account is setup for the vendor entity and a logon is associated for each employee so that all activity is tracked by both the vendor and system user. Aurora allows the utility to either set a credit limit (set as either an unsecured line of credit or as a prepaid balance) for the vending organization once setup, vendors can resell power so long as it exceed its aggregate credit limit. Vendor payments are received by designated utility staff using web interface which makes the appropriate entries and adjusts the vendor's available balance.
Each vendor has the administrative capability to set credit limits (subject to their aggregate limit) for each of their employees' Aurora manages the credit limit for the employee in the same manner as the vendor entity, allowing the vendor to better manage the risk of a rouge employee. This administrative capability also allows the vendor to monitor and report on activity for all its employees on a real-time basis. Either the utility or the vendor admin may block any of the vendor's employee access to the system on a real-time basis.
Each vending logon is required to close his/her shift at least daily. The outstanding balance is logged and end-of-shirt reports are created breaking out transactions by payment type. All end-of-shift reports are stored as Life records for the vendor.
SMS, WAP and IVR Communications
Aurora allows customers to access as much as is possible of the system functionality through text messaging (SMS), wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and Interactive voice Response (IVR) gateways. At the base level, SMS, WAP and IVR are as additional tools for sending alerts and tokens to consumers. Customers may also utilize additional services to access account information, use wallet funds, and transact using these mediums.
Financial Management and Accounting
Rather than function as a black box providing only a summary of information at the end of a period. Aurora generates a journal entry for each transaction that follows double-entry accounting standards and enforces that each transaction creates a balance entry. This accounting uses the utility specific chart of accounts and PrepaidMeters.co.za works with the utility during implementation phase to ensure that each transaction type follows the utilities accounting policies. Users with appropriate access can view the accounting entry for each transaction, as a tab within the customer account screen' allowing the validation of any specific transaction or type of transaction.
On a regular basis Aurora posts journal entries at a utility specific revel of detail to the utility’s financial system. This information is also provided in a human readable format that allows the utility to drill down to the transactional level for any entry.
While Aurora can function simply as a sub-ledger to a legacy CIS with transactions posted to the CIS, this would severely limit the functionality of the system and impact the customer-experience. For prepayment to be truly successful' it must be attractive to the customers using the system. It also creates a need to reconcile the two systems on a regular basis to make sure that they are in sync. It is recommended to take an approach similar to that of most telecoms providers in having separate billing systems for post-paid and prepaid that each post to the utility’s billing system' This allows the utility to offer prepayment as a truly new, attractive service rather than as a punitive measure enforced by the legacy post-paid system.
Aurora has an integrated report engine and a large library of standard reports. Reports can be viewed in a through the browser interface or exported in CSY XLS, or PDF formats. Reports have sub-totalling options, filters, and other features to allow for adhoc customization. Aurora is designed to take advantage of the ability of modern hardware to handle flatter table structures. This flatter structure allows for simpler queries to generate most reports which dramatically reduce the complexity of creating custom reports.
Aurora’s ability to provide prepayment services for Power, Water and Gas utilities is unique. Aurora allows utilities and their customers to manage all of their prepaid utility services from a single point, using a common interface with a standardized approach to funding their Aurora Wallet and vending to the different utility meters installed at the customer’s service location. Aurora can therefore service the different needs of independent service authorities on independent platforms or provide multi-utility, co-located service on a single unified platform. Utilities can therefore choose to polarize or share information depending of different requirements; while customers enjoy a single point for managing all their prepaid utility requirements.
Aurora’s is available as a stand-alone, delivered server or as a hosted managed service. Use of Internet and GSM networks provides utility customers with the means to deploy Aurora in Software as a Service (SaaS) model to reduce initial capex risks and opex costs while retaining the future option to move to a stand-alone server. This flexibility makes Aurora the ideal choice for utilities looking for a turn-key solution capable of delivering a robust, scalable service that can be rapidly deployed, with deep market penetration, while reducing initial risks.
Language and Currency Support
A11 Aurora interfaces are multi-lingual and UTF-8 compliant. The primary language is set by the user as opposed to the being set at the system level allowing for multi-lingual deployments. Standard library translations can be updated to reflect local dialect and/or usage by editing any of the 300 words and phrases in the system
The system also supports multiple currencies and numeric formats. During the implementation process, it is ensured that the proper symbol and formats are used throughout the system. If the utility allows payment in multiple currencies, the POS interface will convert allowed secondary currencies. The POS system maintains balances for various currency types providing multi-currency cash management with primary currency used for accounting purposes.
3rd Party System integration
Interfacing to 3rd party applications including customer information/billing (CIS), metering head-in (AMI) workflow, and financial systems is typically the source or order to be completed and the final repository for data to be collected in the field.
For utilities wishing to move to the Aurora prepayment platform, PrepaidMeters.co.za provides services for migration of existing prepayment systems to Aurora