Why CIS Projects Fail

Implementations of customer information billing systems can be expensive, lengthy, time-consuming projects full of risks and uncertainty. Poor decision-making, continual delays, increasingly out-of-control costs, and a lack of resources are potential dangers for any implementation...

By Fred O. Angel, Jr.

In our last E-Newsletter we discussed how a utility can ensure that their CIS implementation project is successful by setting realistic expectations and managing costs and timelines. In this issue we will look at why, despite the best intentions, projects fail.

Implementations of customer information billing systems can be expensive, lengthy, time-consuming projects full of risks and uncertainty. Poor decision-making, continual delays, increasingly out-of-control costs, and a lack of resources are potential dangers for any implementation. These risks are often not a result of hardware or software installation or technology mistakes, but rather poor project management by the utility. Although the risks associated with a CIS project implementation are great, they are controllable provided the utility manages the project appropriately. Here are several reasons why CIS implementations could fail.

A strong indicator that a project is doomed for failure is when a utility's Request for Proposal is unclear. The vision and purpose, objectives, strategy, scope of effort, current systems overview, existing limitations of the current system, expectations for the new system, and responsibilities must be concise and clearly defined. Ambiguous terms and conditions pertaining to the statement of work specifications, utility information, business requirements, implementation, support and maintenance, upgrade expectations, and criteria for the selection process can result in vendor confusion and misunderstanding, and thus a poor RFP response.

Another risk for a utility is in selection of the wrong vendor product. A utility must recognize that vendor CIS billing systems may be targeted to and more suitable for a utility with a different size customer base. Also, some products are in the development stage, while others have only limited installations. In addition, utilities should be wary of promises from vendor sales personnel that the vendor's installation team cannot meet or deliver.

If the RFP is not sufficiently clear and concise prior to implementation, project expectations, costs, and timeframes can be unrealistic, unspecified, minimized, and impractical, requiring major delays or changes during the implementation. As a result, project team resources for both the utility and the vendor could be allocated improperly: utility project teams could be understaffed; team members may not have the necessary job skills or experience; or team members' roles and responsibilities may be unclear.

Project risk further increases when a utility decides to keep its existing business processes and requirements rather than adapting to the vendor's solution. This forces the vendor to modify and customize its software to meet the utility's current environment -- increasing the scope of the project, costs, work effort, and timeframe.

Finally, implementations can result in failure if there is a lack of strong senior management support and involvement. Communications efforts must be consistent and clear: without a clear, strong message, training can end up being poorly timed, under-funded, or considered unimportant to the success of the project.

About the Author:Fred O. Angel, Jr. is the Customer Operations Administrator for Chesterfield County Department of Utilities. He can be reached at 804-748-1861 or by email at angelf@chesterfield.gov.

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