Over the past 5 years, utilities have been embracing the depth of digital transformation and what it actually means to deliver an enhanced customer experience.
According to Wood Mackenzie, over 1.3 billion smart meters will be installed all around the world, and “more than four-fifths of U.S. utility customers will be equipped with smart meters” by 2025, enabling utilities to gather real-time information to complement their offering and ultimately, making their customers lives just a bit easier. Of course, such a rapid acceleration in smart devices comes at a cost. With weakening infrastructure and legacy systems trying to catch up, companies may be overwhelmed and just might miss the opportunity to become a modern utility. According to TMG, 52% of utilities consider the need to improve integration as the main driver for Customer Information System (CIS) modernization. The industry is clearly banking on two main trends, expanding their CIS rather than integrating, and implementing a cloud-based solution, not an on-premise solution hosted on the cloud.
The risk of not entertaining modern solutions is too high
Utilities tend to hear from their current CIS vendors that a new and modern solution is just around the corner, but that is far from the truth. There are several shortcomings to sticking to legacy systems rather than looking into the market for modernized solutions. A few of these shortcomings are:
- Not tailored for the future: Some industry vendors focused their efforts on a technical upgrade and completely forget about increasing the functional scope. In today’s world, utilities’ main focus is to deliver an enhanced customer experience and have the flexibility to implement new business models. Companies need to rely on a CIS solution with robust functionalities that ensures collection as well as new functionalities to support new services based on Smart Grids, among others, that simply cannot be achieved with a platform or programing language switch.
- Increased maintenance cost: Vendors will be pushing for non-existing innovations that will only be applying pressure to the ecosystem and eventually not have it keep up with modern customer requests.
- Siloed Legacy Systems: Typical legacy systems are not built with a Holistic framework. Issues like data duplication, constant need to support, and multiple application customization are just a recipe for disaster.
In our experience, the biggest risk that utilities have when committing to legacy systems is that they are simply not looking at the bigger picture! Utilities need to be on the lookout for vendors that have had proven success in achieving elevated customer experience and not conform with their status quo.
There are top utility executives that believe that the purpose of a CIS is “to manage customer profiles and integration of data to provide a holistic view of the customer and should enable expected customer capabilities”. In our experience, the only way to see the big picture is to make sure that all of the pieces of the puzzle are from the same vendor and not a scattered Frankenstein architecture. By implementing a modern holistic solution utilities can:
- Achieve cost and process synergies, improving the system efficiencies
- Become flexible to adapt to future regulatory and industry changes
- Keep key customer-facing solutions like Mobile Workforce, Customer Self Service Portals, Meter Data Management, and CIS under one hood.
There is a rising number of utilities that have embraced the holistic approach, looking to replace their legacy systems for modern CIS solutions that can include features such as mobile applications, dashboards and metrics, GIS mapping integration, bar-coded payment stubs, and customer portals today and don’t need to go over a modernization process’s just to deliver on their customer goals.
Don’t confuse cloud-based with cloud-hosted solutions
Utility companies are looking for new ways to focus on their business while streamlining IT platform management, optimizing costs, and adopting rapid technology cycles. Cloud computing has emerged as the answer to these needs and has started to quickly establish itself as a key strategy in the utility industry. Due to cost-effective access to high availability capabilities, ease of scalability, and agility to keep pace with technology evolution, cloud solutions are quickly becoming an indispensable part of business architecture roadmaps. Software providers are trying to take advantage of these benefits by a simple lift-and-shift from on-premise infrastructure to a vendor pre-determined cloud. Simply hosting an on premise-based architecture on the cloud does not truly take away the benefits that a utility can embrace with this type of rollout. Vendors in the industry try to hide the fact that their outdated solutions are modern, just because they are hosted on the cloud. Utilities need to be aware that such presumptions could lead up to a catastrophic ordeal, not only in the implementation stage but also during the solution’s life. Regardless of the rollout strategy, a cloud-based architecture allows companies to have:
- Small monthly updates
- Continuous value generation
- Non-Disruption in the operation
A Modern CIS for a Modern Utility
There are 3 main features that make up the fabric of a modern CIS:
- Holistic and Flexible Solution: a CIS extended in key customer capabilities like Meter Data Management, Customer Self Service Portals, Mobile Workforce with a high level of configuration using rules engines to support workflows and business processes.
- Cloud-Based Architecture: A CIS that is designed from inception to embrace the benefits of the cloud, regardless of the utility’s preference for rollout.
A holistic CIS allows a utility to avoid maintaining several solutions and rely on a single database that requires no synchronization, no interfaces, and overall real-time information across the board. If there are fewer pieces to operate this will result in a lower cost to serve, delivery certainty, performance-based commitment, and an out-of-the-box solution. A flexible CIS enables innovation capabilities and transforms a standard transactional system into a key to improve customer experience and increase operational efficiency.
A cloud-based architecture allows for continuous and non-disruptive updates. This allows utilities to be able to seamlessly evolve their platform capabilities with the core operational systems. A modern CIS that can guarantee a continuous evolution is built for agile upgrades, ensuring that the utility will perceive value at earlier stages instead of having to wait years and invest a lot of money and effort in each update.
Open Smartflex is a Holistic CIS that has been built with these two foundational concepts. It is a CIS that is extended in MDM, CSS, and MWF capabilities to help utilities avoid unnecessary integration costs and focus on what really matters: ensuring customers are happy. In today’s everchanging world, utilities cannot afford to service their customers with static solutions. As a matter of fact, utilities cannot embrace a solution that is redoing their architecture just to keep up. Open Smartflex’s flexibility is backed by its platform features that push for agility through Apps, Rules editor, and Workflows.