Ensuring CIS Implementation Success

Some industry analysts estimate that over 70% of all CIS implementations end in failure -- either because the implementation never gets started, or because of cost and timeline overruns. Industry experts agree that the single biggest factor in the success or failure of a CIS project is setting realistic expectations about costs, impact, timelines, and burden on the utility and its employees and customers. How can you assure that your implementation project is successful?...

By Fred O. Angel, Jr.

Some industry analysts estimate that over 70% of all CIS implementations end in failure -- either because the implementation never gets started, or because of cost and timeline overruns. Industry experts agree that the single biggest factor in the success or failure of a CIS project is managing the project by setting realistic expectations about the costs, impact, timelines, and burden on the utility and its employees and customers. How can you assure that your implementation project is successful? Here are a few recommendations:

From the beginning to the end of the implementation, executive management must be actively involved and support the project. Senior management must understand the vision, mission, strategy, scope, and objectives of the project. They must recognize the limitations of the current system and grasp the expectations and requirements of the new system.

The project team must be devoted full time to the project. The team must be led by an experienced project manager and consist of both functional and technical experts, from finance, procurement, information technology, utility, and legal. Knowledgeable end-users, particularly call center representatives, must be included on the project team.

A simple and clear request for proposal enables vendors to be flexible in their proposals regarding bundling or unbundling solutions. Identifying minimum solution requirements eliminates proposals that will not meet the established standards . A scoring system must be established for every proposal, product demonstration, interview, site visit, and functional analysis. Everyone on the project evaluation team must clearly understand where the vendor scores after each step of the review process.

Costs and timelines must be stated clearly. Vendors should provide detailed pricing for implementation, data conversion, modification, license fees, travel expenses, third-party applications, ongoing maintenance fees, and training, etc. Project timelines must be realistic and measure the project's progress and success. Detailed discussions should occur before timeline changes are made; do not allow arbitrary changes to these dates and times.

The utility's commitment to communication, training, and change management must be strong. Communication is essential; information must be shared in a consistent way with the vendor, senior management, the project team, and employees. And all stakeholders must be aware, understand, accept, and commit to training staff on the new CIS system. Never allow training to be scaled back or reduced because of cost overruns and missed deadlines. Utilities must change their way of doing business to adapt to the vendor's CIS solution; changing the vendor's system will only add additional costs and time to the project.

During the implementation process, have dedicated offices, equipment, and training facilities for employees permanently assigned to the project team. When required, move staff onto and off the project team depending upon their level of expertise, experience, knowledge, and skills. Or, add temporary staff if needed to supplement those employees assigned to the project team.

During implementation and immediately after the go-live date, know that your goals and performance measures may change or be lower than past results. For instance, until staff becomes familiar with the new system, most CIS conversions result in longer call times. Identify processes that can be suspended for a few weeks without adversely affecting customers, thereby reducing the burden and pressure on staff. Finally, in addition to buying a billing system, you are also buying the relationship with the vendor; therefore recognize that the long-term relationship includes sales, implementation, and post-implementation support.

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.

###

Want to discuss this article further? Click here to join our Water Community.

More in Technologies