Faced with a growing customer base and network expansion, Hong Kong and China Gas (Towngas) has moved to standardise its e-business operations. The shift to a Siebel Systems platform marks the first major energy-sector deal in Greater China for the software firm. Senior officials from both companies said their customer relationship management (CRM) project would automate Towngas' ability to manage customer relationships across multiple channels, including the Internet, customer centres and dealers. Deployment of Siebel's CRM program has just started and is due for completion in April next year. Towngas signed up with Siebel in December after a year-long evaluation. Financial details were not released. Towngas managing director Alfred Chan Wing-kin said its CRM strategy would help the company to support and market new products and services. He said Towngas supplied about 1.4 million customers, covering about 85 per cent of Hong Kong households. This number was expected to increase to 1.8 million in the next three years. For the first half of last year, Towngas said its net profit rose HK$106.7 million to HK$1.7 billion on revenues of HK$3.71 billion. Efforts to raise operational efficiency in Hong Kong are expected to boost Towngas' prospects in the mainland, where it has a growing number of joint ventures. Last year, the company bought a 45 per cent stake in Suzhou Industrial Park Hong Kong and China Gas, formerly Suzhou Industrial Park Shell Gas, which has sole proprietary gas-supply rights within the Suzhou Industrial Park in Jiangsu, near Shanghai. Towngas also has a 3 per cent stake in the Guangdong Liquefied Natural Gas Receiving Terminal project. This HK$4.8 billion initiative will pave the way for developing the natural-gas market in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region. The first phase is expected to be operational in 2005. Murray Creighton, Siebel vice-president and general manager of Asia-Pacific, said the Towngas CRM program covered only the gas utility's Hong Kong operations. 'However, Towngas and Siebel are in agreement that this will be a showcase CRM project for the Greater China region,' he said. Mr Creighton said Towngas would use Siebel's eEnergy CRM program, part of the new Siebel 7 range of e-business applications. Mr Chan said: 'We recognise that Siebel eEnergy is the best solution for managing the company's vast amounts of data and developing a 360-degree view of our customers - essential elements for enhancing customer satisfaction and improving operational efficiency.' Mr Creighton said Siebel's experience with Towngas could provide the company with an opportunity to pursue more application development projects in future. He also said Siebel was keen on developing its customer base in Asia's energy sector. The company, which operates in 37 countries, has energy-related projects in Japan and Australia. Siebel's net profit rose to US$254.6 million last year from US$123.1 million a year ago. Global revenues increased 14.1 per cent to US$2.04 billion from US$1.8 billion the previous year. In December, Siebel announced it helped the Hong Kong Government's efficiency unit standardise its call-centre operation on its e-business software. The unit's call centre provides one-stop services to handle all telephone inquiries for the Environmental Protection Department, Transport Department, and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. In July, Shanghai Roche Pharmaceuticals said it was standardising its sales and marketing efforts on Siebel's software.