Key Questions a Utility Needs to Ask Before Hiring a Software Development Firm

Several business scenarios faced by today’s utilities present challenges when deciding how and where to invest technology and IT resources. As utilities contemplate how “out of the box” technology will support evolving business models, complexities may arise resulting in a perceived need for custom application development.

It’s said a 100,000-customer municipality can run 80 applications simultaneously on any given day, and the average multi-commodity IOU may run up to 750 applications. The result? A growing initiative and spending in application rationalization. The question of whether a utility should purchase new software or modify existing applications is becoming a more common discussion surrounding the benefits of consolidation vs. optimization.

While some utilities elect to develop their own customer self-service portals and mobile apps, others contemplate building an application to modernize the performance of the utility billing and customer information system (CIS).

Ellis Chandlee, Director of Commercial Applications, IT, at ONE Gas, is experienced in the challenges with selecting the right development plan to maximize application performance. “We needed modifications to our existing CIS, however obtaining regulatory approval for a CIS replacement could be a challenge, especially with the underlying data structure, infrastructure, and batch still performing reliably.” says Chandlee.

After working closely with Chandlee and his team, Milestone has identified key questions to help utility IT directors and business analysts effectively determine the most cost-effective ways to spend Opex and Capex dollars before hiring a development firm:

To what level does the vendor firm understand meter-to-cash utility processes?

A: Longevity in the utility industry and technical innovation is the crucial combination for the best possible development vendor. We’ve seen projects delayed if a utility hires a firm that can only provide one or the other; the key is a healthy mix of both attributes.

Who will maintain this application?

A: The last thing the utility IT department needs is another application to manage! If you are developing a customer mobile app, or deploying a CIS extender, ideally this will fit within your existing resources.

Will this new investment replace at least 3-5 existing applications or provide tangible results?

A: Application rationalization can lead to the realization of cross-functional capabilities among applications. Or, a CIS extender can provide more modern customer service processes at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new CIS. Whatever the result, be sure you can articulate it.

What is the achievement, and how can I prove success for years to come?

A: The best tech vendor is one who has your ROI in mind and will become a unified part of your internal teams. Selecting the right vendor will set you and your utility up for success. We recommend conversations with referral sources prior to signing any MSA.

Utilities understand the need to modernize legacy solutions to reduce operational costs and improve efficient functionality. If you missed Chandlee’s session  during CS Week 2017 on transforming 330 business requirements into an integrated business process optimization platform for enhanced “people and process” functionality, contact us directly to learn how our CIS extender, Milestone eCSR may help your utility avoid a costly replacement. You can also reach me directly at [email protected]

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