July 2009 -- On occasion, my wife, children and I like to walk down to our local reservoir and go fishing. Before leaving the house we must make several decisions. Likewise, before deciding on purchasing a new Customer Information System (CIS) a water or wastewater utility must plan carefully in order for the implementation to be successful...
By Fred O. Angel
On occasion, my wife, children and I like to walk down to our local reservoir and go fishing. Before leaving the house we must make several decisions: What time of day will we go? Which fishing poles will we bring? What type of bait will we use? How long will we be gone? Do we need to pack food and drink? Not to mention decision around suntan lotion, chairs, wading boots, and other fishing accessories. Whether we're going fishing for an hour or the whole day, we must plan our outing carefully to successfully catch any fish.
Likewise, before deciding on purchasing a new Customer Information System (CIS) a water or wastewater utility must plan carefully in order for the implementation to be successful. Utilities should identify and define the vision, scope, strategies, and objectives of the CIS project, the projected cost and funding of the project, and the projected timeline for implementing the new system. The project steering committee and implementation team must be identified along with the roles, responsibilities, and decision-making authority for each group. The organization’s strategies for serving its customers and what affect the implementation process will have on employees, customers, and the utility needs to be known. It is crucial to the success of the project that the utility create and adhere to a selection process that identifies selection criteria based upon their needs.
The utility should understand and document the organization’s current business and technology processes and environments, identify users of the system, and identify existing limitations or issues with the current billing system. System operating requirements need to be identified in order to define the functional requirements of the CIS operating environment -- including mandatory hardware and software requirements and identifying who will be responsible for maintaining and housing the new system. Systems and processes that will be affected by the implementation, such as software interfaces, network, desktop and other product environments, and reports, bill print and other application services, must be identified.
Additional items to consider include, a project office, training facilities, overtime requirements, purchasing requirements, additional hardware and software requirements to support the project team, staffing requirements for the existing work groups affected by staff being assigned to the project team, and an outline of the process for final approval of the vendor selection. Finally, utilities need to develop evaluation sheets for scoring vendor proposals, interviews, references and site visits, product demonstrations, functional requirements of the system, and cost.
Planning for a fishing trip -- or a CIS implementation -- may not guarantee a successful catch; however, not planning for the adventure is a guarantee for failure. So make your plans accordingly, and may you catch a big one!
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 email@example.com