by Fred O. Angel, Jr.
“Be prepared.” It’s the motto of the Boy Scouts, passed down from troop to troop, leader to scout, and scout to scout for generations. Being prepared is the fundamental requirement of every activity a Boy Scout encounters. From participating in outdoor programs to rank advancement to leading troop meetings, scouts must be ready for the challenge. Every Boy Scout understands the meaning of being prepared: the success of any troop activity depends upon it.
“Be prepared” should also be the motto for any water utility thinking about replacing its current billing system. Customer Information System (CIS) industry experts agree that the fundamental requirement for any CIS replacement project is preparation. CIS projects are successful when utilities prepare for the implementation process before undertaking it, identifying project requirements, scope of services, and the roles and responsibilities of the project team. CIS projects fail, however, when utilities do not spend the time and effort necessary to establish these basic, preparative criteria.
The first step in any CIS project should be to define the entire implementation process. This prepares the utility for the implementation ahead. Often called the preparation or planning phase, this process identifies all of the steps and components necessary for a successful implementation, including what it is the utility wants to accomplish with the implementation. The preparation phase of the project includes analyses of the utility’s current business environment, future requirements of the new system, and the overall installation plan. The utility should identify and define its expectations for the implementation project; specific roles and responsibilities of the consultant, project team, and vendor; business and technology functional requirements; and potential costs for the new system.
Current Environment Analysis
The current environment analysis identifies how a utility presently operates, including current business processes, organization alignment, technology, application data, informational and reporting requirements, operational measures, cost metrics, and goals and objectives.
Specifically, the current environment analysis identifies: utility profile information, customer operational statistics and data, rates, technology, system processing statistics, hardware and software configurations, User Lists/Desktop/Network data, application statistics, funding sources and cost allocations, and procurement documents and processes.
Utility profile information should include the number of water and wastewater accounts, water-only accounts, wastewater-only accounts, residential, commercial, and industrial accounts, companion meter accounts, and miscellaneous accounts. Rates should include the types of charges billed for water and wastewater, as well as miscellaneous charges or special rates. Technology information that should be gathered includes: operating system characteristics; type, number, and configuration software of workstations; type, number, functionality, and location of servers, network connection and cabling; current database information; Intranet, e-mail, Web, and IVR access and functionality; interfaces and supporting software; electronic files; printing and mailing of bills; and meter reading, telephone system, and processing of counter payments requirements. Funding sources should include current financial support solutions. Finally, the project leader should meet with the Purchasing Department to determine its needs and requirements for issuing a request for proposal for a new CIS System.
After identifying what the utility currently does, the next step is to identify what the new billing system should do. This is the starting point for determining the future direction of the utility and includes identifying CIS requirements for business processes, organization, technology, application, information and reports, operations, and cost metrics. Goals and objectives should also be defined.
Identifying the future requirements results in a sound business strategy for the technology, customer, product, installation, consultant, and vendor profile and support requirements of the new CIS system. In addition, it establishes strategies for the scope, purpose, and objectives of the project, and for industry, market, and customer service overviews.
Chesterfield County’s CIS project team prepared for the implementation process, identifying project requirements, scope of services, and the roles and responsibilities of the project team.
When looking at the future requirements of the new system, it’s important to ask:
- What does the new system need to do?
- What are the methods for determining the requirements of the new system?
- How much work is this going to involve?
- Who is going to do the work?
- Who are the users that will be affected by the new system?
- How many users will be affected?
- To what extent will these users be affected?
- How much will the system cost?
- Who will pay for it?
- Where will the new system be housed?
- Where will the people implementing the new system be housed?
Industry, GAP, alternative, and business analyses should also be included in the requirements. The industry analysis compares the utility’s CIS needs and requirements to the industry. The GAP analysis identifies the gap(s) between the current billing system and the requirements for the new system. The alternative analysis identifies alternatives for achieving the requirements of the new system. The business analysis defines the cost, benefits, return on investment, risk and time frame for the project.
The Installation Plan
The installation plan identifies the steps necessary for the successful implementation of the new billing system. The installation plan may include a project overview; plans for technology, installation, management, and marketing; description of the project approach and business plans; and contracts and addendums.
The project overview is an introduction of the entire project, identifying the scope, objectives, purpose, needs assessment, and alternative solutions. The technology plan identifies the server hardware, software and environment, database management system, application software, network connectivity, and desktop environment. The installation plan addresses project and quality management, hardware and software setup and training, business development, product configuration and conversion, data perpetration and cleanup, bill format development product modifications, interfaces, reporting, training, testing, go-live, post implementation, and sign-off. The management plan details the project timeline, organization, staffing, risk, contingency, and procurement requirements. The marketing plan identifies change management and marketing campaign philosophies. The project approach spells out the expectations for the planning, selection, implementation, and postimplementation phases of the project. Costs are identified in the business plan, which allocates and tracks project installation costs by fund, customer, or category, vendor disbursement schedules, and financing options. Finally, consultant, vendor, and third-party contracts are identified along with any attachments, such as worksheets or addendums.
“Be prepared.” It’s the motto that has served the Boy Scouts well for many years. Likewise, a utility must be prepared before beginning a CIS replacement project. Identifying the current business environment, the future requirements of the new system, and the overall installation plan will ensure that project leaders are ready for the challenge of successfully implementing a new CIS.
About the Author:
Fred O. Angel, Jr. is the customer operations administrator for the Chesterfield County Department of Utilities. He can be reached at 804-748-1861 or via e-mail at email@example.com.