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January 15, 2016
Before your CIS implementation: Prepping the patient for surgery
By: Dondi Schneider

Few utilities today question the need for a new customer information system (CIS). Over the past decade, customers’ expectations have changed dramatically. And, as their demands for new products and services have increased, so has the pressure from new competitors that are all too eager to give them what they want. In response, utilities are setting out to transform their business models and introduce new capabilities that will allow them to deliver the unique, valuable experiences customers crave. 

To effectively navigate the change now required, utilities really have no choice but to replace their aging (in many cases, 20+-year-old) customer systems. It’s a daunting proposition. The CIS is the heart of a utility’s operations. And “transplanting” that heart comes with great risk and potentially great cost. Utilities have watched others try. Cost overruns, system glitches and underperformance are common side effects, leading many utility executives to question whether the treatment is really better than the illness. 

There are, in fact, a number of “pre-op” tasks utilities can carry out to dramatically improve the likelihood of a successful transplant operation. The goal of these pre-CIS tasks—some of which can be completed up to 18 months prior to the new system deployment—is to make sure the utility patient is as healthy as possible prior to such major surgery. At Accenture, we look at bundling approximately 30 pre-CIS actions into three main categories:

  • People. Some of the first things utilities should do to prepare for a new CIS are to identify and engage key stakeholders to understand their goals and expectations of a new CIS or business transformation program. With those insights, they can establish guiding principles and determine whether they have the internal skills and resources for a successful deployment. 

  • Processes. In terms of process, utilities should spend six months to one year prior to deployment defining their new customer service strategy and the scope of the CIS program, as well as the new products and services they hope to offer and the metrics they will use to measure success. For many utilities, it also makes sense to standardize customer processes, transactions and experiences across various jurisdictions or operating companies well before CIS implementation. Aligning and standardizing processes early can save valuable time and effort once the implementation is under way.

  • Technology. One of the most common and potentially disruptive challenges that arise during CIS deployment has to do with poor data quality. Therefore, some of the most important tasks a utility can perform to minimize implementation and operational risk are those related to assessing (and fixing) data issues, establishing data governance practices, and implementing data-cleansing programs. Also important is a broad view of the utility’s IT landscape and an actionable IT roadmap. If other technology upgrades are being planned, it may make sense to complete those prior to the CIS implementation. Our experience has shown that the complexity associated with deploying multiple systems, such as CIS and meter data management systems, simultaneously can lead to major problems, cost overruns and project delays.

A number of these activities—such as developing a next-generation customer strategy, assessing the performance of customer operations and improving data quality—build “no-regrets” capabilities that can benefit any utility regardless of the CIS implementation timing. But the tasks are especially valuable for utilities that use them to guide their pre-CIS planning and preparation. Those are the utilities that will be in a much better position to improve their operational health—and their likelihood to not only withstand the surgery that lies ahead, but flourish in the long term. They will be able to significantly reduce the financial and reputational risks that have caused so many other CIS deployments to stumble. And, perhaps most importantly, they will stand a much better chance of having the new CIS deliver the outcomes and customer experiences they intended.

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