Back when many utility companies implemented their current Customer Information Systems (CIS) the Internet was new and mysterious, cellphones weighed two pounds and social networking involved going to a party.
“Many of the current CIS systems were put in place in the mid-1990s,” said James McClelland, senior global director of the Customer Value Office, Energy & Utilities at SAP Americas. “Though these systems tend to have a long life, market and technology changes have made these older systems inefficient and overwhelmed.”
Utility companies have long relied on CIS’s to track customer use of electric, water or gas, generate bills and monitor payments. Over the years, these systems also incorporated customer relationship management (CRM) functions and enterprise resource planning, making them an essential hub for utilities. However, the time has come for an upgrade.
According to a survey by TMG Consulting, only 12% of utilities are highly-satisfied with their current CIS solutions.
There are a number of factors pushing utilities to upgrade or replace their CIS, including:
- Utilities are no longer highly-regulated markets with limited options. Customers have more choices and are demanding expanded services and better communication.
- Pricing is no longer a one-size-fits all model. Smart grid technology and deregulation have resulted in customized rates for customers.
- Customers want more payment options, including prepayment programs and online payments.
- Data gathering and management is essential for building customer relationships.
- Today’s customers expect companies to interact with them on a personal level, providing prompt service, flexibility and rapid problem resolution.
Because older CIS’s cannot handle these new demands, many utilities are investing in new systems.
Of course, new software is not cheap or easy to implement. In some cases, these systems can cost millions and take several years to fully implement, depending on the size of the utility and the complexity of the software. According to surveys, the most successful deployments involve third-party consultants to make sure the systems are implemented on time and within budget, and become fully functional.
Another option is to outsource the CIS to an Application Service Provider (ASP). The ASP provides the expertise required to host, customize, support and maintain the system, which can be more cost-effective for utility companies that do not have the necessary staff, expertise or technology.
To help make the transition successful, experts suggest spending time and money on employee training programs, as well as working closely with outside vendors, such as data management and billing processors. The best system in the world will not be effective unless employees know how to use it properly and it integrates with all processes.
Taking Advantage of Benefits
Even with the challenges involved, utilities that have taken the plunge have found enumerable benefits from investing in a new CIS, such as:
- Efficiently gathering and managing customer information
- Improving systems operations
- Supporting new marketing initiatives
- Providing flexible billing of services and multiple commodities
- Leveraging e-commerce and the Internet
Let’s take a closer look at some of these improvements…
Some CIS software allow utilities to capture information about all interactions with customers with a single point of customer contact and make that data available across all operation, which helps them build relationships. Customer identifiers track and record all customer interactions, which give customer service representative (CSRs) instant access to customers’ contact histories, including service calls, meter readings and payment records. In addition, some systems allow for the recording and managing of all correspondence with customers, including bill inserts, telephone conversations and email.
These features result in less errors and more efficient interactions. For example, if a utility is using a CIS, which is integrated with an outside data management and billing processor, billing errors can be identified and managed proactively – before customers call to complain!
These systems also allow flexible billing options, such as Electronic Bill Presentation and Payment (EBPP). With EBPP, customers can view, store and pay bills online. Utilities can also provide links to energy use history, graphs and bill profiles, helping customers to better understand what they are paying for and how to reduce their energy costs.
Additionally, today’s CIS’s provide utilities with more opportunities to market to customers with specific promotions and sales incentives. Using customer data, utilities can design and execute customized marketing programs. Customers complaining about high utility bills, for instance, may receive communication that promotes energy efficient light bulbs, offer a free energy audit or water-saving tips.
Investing in the Future
There’s no denying that market restructuring and deregulation is changing the way utilities operate and interact with their customers. The Customer Information System (CIS) is an essential part of these changes. When used properly, a powerful CIS can help utility companies become more customer-focused and competitive, while providing the foundation for future innovation.
Utilitec is proud to partner with municipal, cooperative, investor-owned and public utilities across the nation to provide innovative solutions specific to each organization. We help utility companies across the country to leverage data and maximize their customer communications. At Utilitec, we don’t settle for one-size-fits-all. Instead, we identify specific solutions to meet unique billing and communication needs, from empowering data, and engaging design, to efficient delivery. For more information, please visit https://www.utilitec.net/.
“CIS Technology: What’s the Advantage?” by Anthony Haines, Enlogix, 2002
“Electric Utility Billing and Customer Information Systems Software, Services, SaaS, and CIS-Based Analytics Solutions: Global Market Analysis and Forecasts,” Reportlinker, 2015.
“Time to trade in your Customer Information System?” by Paul Korzeniowski for Energy Central, 2015.