The consultant's role in a CIS implementation project

When undertaking a Customer Information System (CIS) implementation project, a water or wastewater utility may consider hiring a consultant...

By Fred Angel

When undertaking a Customer Information System (CIS) implementation project, a water or wastewater utility may consider hiring a consultant. The utility should identify what services they want the consultant to provide and the role the consultant will play in the overall project. On a limited basis the consultant can provide industry perspectives, vendor and/or product assessments, or strategic planning support for the Request for Proposal (RFP), information technology, and application strategy. Or, a consultant can act as a specialist limited to areas in which utility management and staff lack experience, knowledge, skills, or personnel. On a larger scale, the consultant can assist with the management of the entire CIS project from the initial business justification through vendor selection, project implementation, and post-implementation.

When involved with a CIS implementation, the consultant should have a methodology that assists the utility through the various stages of the project consisting of goal setting, needs analysis, process flow diagramming, staff education on the various products and solutions in the market place, RFP generation, vendor selection, contract negotiation, and implementation of the actual project. If the consultant's role in the project implementation is as the principal project manager, the consultant should monitor the performance of the selected CIS vendor against time, quality, and cost criteria as established in the project plan, thereby ensuring that the project's outcomes meet the original objectives and scope of the project.

Other services and roles a utility should keep in mind when selecting an independent consultant include teamwork, contract pricing, facilitation or control, and vendor RFP specifications. It is crucial to the success of the project that the consultant and utility project team cooperate and communicate openly. Therefore, regularly schedule meetings should occur to discuss project issues, deliverables, tasks, and risks. The consultant should offer competitive fixed pricing with payment schedules tied to completion of defined project milestones; billable hours should not be an option.

The consultant must be a facilitator not a controller of the utility's project; the utility should drive the decision making process regarding the CIS implementation with input and recommendations from the consultant. If assisting a utility in writing a CIS RFP, the consultant should ensure that the vendor bid evaluation process is designed to be fair and objective; assist in vendor evaluations; engage in contract negotiations; identify functional requirements; and have a methodology that automatically ranks the vendors using a weighted priority scheme. Additional responsibilities a consultant may assume during the vendor selection RFP process, include providing the RFP template; assisting in the assemble, coordinating the release, and distribution of the document; contacting and soliciting responses from prospective CIS vendors; and acting as the main point of contact with vendors, answering questions, and conducting meetings.

Selecting an independent consultant to assist in a CIS evaluation, selection, and implementation project is a major decision. Take the time to evaluate the strengths and weakness of your utility and project team. Comparing your utility's needs with an independent consultant's experience and expertise will enable you to make a knowledgeable decision about the importance of selecting a consultant to assist in your CIS implementation.

About the Author: Fred O. Angel, Jr. is the Customer Operations Administrator for Chesterfield County 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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