How can CIOs spark the development of better customer and billing systems in the power and utilities sector?

David TownshendDavid Townshend, Global Power and Utilities Customer & Billing Transformation Leader, writes about what CIOs can do to allay Power and Utilities (P&U) companies’ fears about customer and billing (C&B) transformations.

Today’s consumers are very aware of the conveniences that advanced, interactive, intelligent technology can offer. And they expect their service providers to make this convenience available. In the P&U sector, for example, customers want to interact with their service providers on mobile devices, social media channels and other digital platforms, mainly expecting better accuracy and minimal human intervention.

However, with outdated C&B systems, many P&U companies are struggling to meet these expectations. In a survey by Five Point consulting, a company recently acquired by EY, nearly half of the utilities questioned said they either need a major system upgrade or an outright replacement of their C&B systems within the next five years. These systems will provide a wealth of customer data across different communication platforms and support the delivery of new products and services.

At the same time, utility companies are often reluctant to plunge into this transition because of the high price tag attached, and news about C&B system transformations gone awry in other companies. The reasons why C&B transformations fail are often because they overshoot budget or time limits as a result of ambiguous project scoping, poor project management, inadequate testing, poor program governance or underestimated project complexity.

The CIO can help deliver a system that meets the needs of the business and delivers the expected value. This includes preparing the organisation for the magnitude of change a C&B transformation will introduce. In addition, the CIO will need to allocate adequate resources to ensure that the data drawn from the new solution is of sufficient quality to process transactions and provide the reporting information necessary to run core business operations. Here are three golden rules the CIO can keep in mind while helping companies plan a C&B transformation:

1. Focus on value and minimize unnecessary customization
Customizing the new system excessively to make it work exactly like the existing one can increase costs and risk. This can be avoided by focusing only on those processes that are directly related to the delivery of benefits agreed in the project business case. Before undertaking customizations, the project steering committee should confirm they are absolutely necessary and assessed the cost benefits.

2. Be prepared to tackle post-go-live issues
The organization needs to have adequate skills and systems to handle both expected and unforeseen changes once the new system goes live. The CIO can help facilitate a smoother transition by: planning for how the new system will change people’s role and responsibilities, identifying likely problem areas, creating adequate reporting processes and establishing organizational agility to address real-time issues.

3. Invest in data quality
Failure to ensure data quality often makes the transition to the new system more complicated and lengthy, risking delays in the overall project. Accurate data transfer from the old system and regular data cleansing helps reduce this risk. Robust processes help enable data to be made available to the new C&B systems at any time.

The demand for C&B systems that are more technologically competent and agile is gaining momentum in the P&U industry. CIOs can turn this industry demand into a career opportunity by helping their companies’ transition smoothly from the existing system to the new one. However, their tasks do not end there. Companies need the CIO’s continued support to compete with new market entrants, build loyalty and take customer service to a whole new level.

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