CIS Project Success: What to Consider When Hiring a Consultant

The decision whether or not to hire a consultant to assist with a water or wastewater utility's Customer Information System (CIS) implementation project should be a well thought-out process that requires the utility to identify its strengths and weaknesses and match a consultant's knowledge, skills, and services with the utility's specific needs.

Sep 1st, 2010

By Fred Angel

The decision whether or not to hire a consultant to assist with a water or wastewater utility's Customer Information System (CIS) implementation project should be a well thought-out process that requires the utility to identify its strengths and weaknesses and match a consultant's knowledge, skills, and services with the utility's specific needs. A utility should consider the types of services they would like the consultant to perform. Consultant services generally comprise four areas: studies of industry trends, strategic planning, product evaluation and selection, and project quality assurance. A consultant should supplement the utility's implementation efforts with industry experience and a proven methodology.

Studies of Industry Trends

The least expensive service offered by consultants are studies focusing on CIS industry perspectives and market direction or product assessments. These "state of the industry" reports update the status of vendor products or provide insight into what other utilities are doing. These studies should include all vendors, products, markets, and technology options but should focus on the utility's current or projected revenue size, customer growth, and technology and functional requirements.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning studies identify the CIS information technology needs of the utility, including defining the operating environment of the utility's current billing system, future requirements, industry trends and alternatives, and direction towards determining the optimum solution for the utility. The "needs assessment" identifies the short- and long-term operating needs of the utility.

Studies include a cost/benefit analysis and/or feasibly study, which is a comprehensive review of the risk associated with maintaining the current system and with implementing recommended solutions. These studies identify the alternatives to continuing to operate the existing billing system, such as acquiring a new in-house product or contracting with an application server provider. The consultant should identify the business case for each option, establish estimated timeframe, costs, and benefits, and provide decision-making tools to assist the utility in determining the best alternative to meet its needs.

Product Evaluation, Selection

Utilities can utilize a consultant for product evaluation and selection criteria focusing on the individual business needs of the utility, comprehensive product solutions, and integrated product suites. The consultant should have a proven methodology for product evaluation, selection, and implementation for the billing system, integrated solution, and solution components. This methodology should include a step-by-step process or series of templates, checklists or worksheets for functional and technology requirements, process improvements, performance service levels, and contract negotiations.

Product Quality Assurance

A utility may select a consultant to manage the actual CIS implementation process. Under these circumstances, the consultant monitors the CIS implementation for quality assurance from vendor selection through implementation. Quality assurance ensures management of utility and vendor expectations, project scope, cost, timeframes, milestones and risk, contract terms and conditions, and delivered components of the system. The consultant should have a detailed format for quality assurance analysis that includes quality management, project management, vendor management, installation assessments, and contract adherence. This plan should also include monthly quality assurance meetings, project status updates, and project deliverable troubleshooting and post-implementation reviews. WW


About the Author: Fred O. Angel, Jr. is the Customer Operations Administrator for Chesterfield County (Virginia) Department of Utilities and the Project Manager for Chesterfield's CIS implementation project. He can be reached at 804-748-1861 or by email at angelf@chesterfield.gov.

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