Many utilities have grown their customer management, customer information systems (CIS) and billing capabilities around tenured platforms like SAP, Oracle or other mainframe-based platforms. As the industry navigates new challenges such as the cost to acquire and serve customers, customer experience issues, and the requirements of a low-carbon economy, the pace of change has forced utility companies to upgrade their capabilities and make customer management systems more intelligent. Their old platforms simply aren’t able to accommodate current market demands.
Large providers like SAP, Oracle and others have introduced a variety of new industry cloud solutions to meet utilities’ need for better returns from existing investments, to avoid the risks involved in system transitions, and to accommodate their comfort with existing platform stacks. But how should utilities explore these strategies when planning their digital and business transformation?
Three Ways to Approach Intelligent Transformation
Utility companies can meet market demands by adopting one of three distinct approaches to make their customer systems more intelligent. Business performance acceleration solutions address the typical challenges in specific areas affecting business performance, areas like late/incorrect bills, high volume of billing exceptions, and cumbersome user journeys. Heritage-led transformation solutions help clients develop new capabilities without replacing their existing billing/CIS solutions by deploying micro-services/API-based architecture solutions to integrate new capabilities. Total platform transformation includes deploying systems for the future by embracing the best of digital tech including AI/ML, automation, and the cloud economy.
Cloud solutions from firms like SAP and Oracle are advantageous for utilities that have made significant investments in these legacy platforms. These cloud-enabled solutions target companies looking to deploy new customer management and billing solutions but prefer established market solutions for reasons including risk mitigation, customization, and the size of their customer base.
Meeting Market Demands with New Capabilities
These new market solutions are embedded with many new capabilities. Typically, vendors such as SAP and Oracle target four important new trends to help utilities meet current market demands.
These pre-built solutions shorten the time to rollout and reduce custom code footprint on billing and CRM systems. They also make the existing system easy to upgrade.
Pre-built solutions connect silos and deliver seamless customer experiences across channels without cannibalization. With capabilities such as Customer 360 or customer data platforms, these solutions pass customer context data across channels and enable features like intelligent call routing.
Insights help companies provide better customer experiences and identify new opportunities. Using the power of AI, personalization is possible through experience orchestrators with predictive insights, optimization algorithms and advanced information presentation capabilities. These insights can be deployed across channels.
Automation can serve various customer segments (personas) through a variety of channels. For example, automation can address many standard interactions like handling product inquiries. AI can quickly identify interactions that require empathy or persuasion and automatically route those queries to an agent.
Strategy to Transform Customer Management
Taking an iterative approach can help utilities grow their future customer management capabilities without sacrificing their investments in tenured platforms. This strategy allows utility companies to deliver business value faster while providing time to adapt to new workflows and adopt new capabilities as needed. This approach can be conceived as a four-step journey.
Start by addressing any significant stability and business performance issues with the existing suite of applications. Employ utility best-practice playbooks and other solutions like AI-based exception management. It is important to ensure that business KPIs like late bills, unbilled revenue, data inconsistency and business exceptions are reduced. This will significantly improve business value and customer satisfaction.
Consider robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent solutions to enhance the customer service agent’s experience without major changes to the core system.
Next, update existing customer systems to systems of experience and engagement through microservices/APIs. Microservices are a great way to quickly add new functionality without rebuilding existing systems. Use intuitive UI and analytics-driven interactions as an incremental layer on existing solutions to add personalized customer experiences.
By using industry cloud solutions incrementally, core customer information systems are eventually migrated to the cloud. Cloud journey roadmaps and utility templates groomed through best practices can significantly mitigate program risks and accelerate the deployment.
Utilities maturity journey and Wipro offerings
Figure: Four steps to customer management transformation
Many large utility organizations have invested both time and money in legacy mainframe platforms but now find the need to modernize their capabilities. The good news is these platforms are answering the need by addressing new market demands in their roadmaps with solutions that are easy to add like microservices. Transforming customer management on legacy systems doesn’t have to be overwhelming or require adding new vendors. Following an iterative approach allows utility companies to gradually meet the demands of the market by adding new capabilities to their existing systems without compromising time to market, risking core system functionality or disrupting their existing customer base.
Vipul Kumar Gupta
Consulting Partner, Utilities, Wipro Limited
Vipul is a consulting partner in the utility sector with 24 years of experience in IT. He is part of Wipro’s Domain and Consulting practice, specializing in domain-centric utility solutions. Vipul is a thought leader in the customer experience and billing areas, helping global utility companies optimize their current customer and billing platforms.