By Fred Angel
In analyzing the need for a new Customer Information System (CIS), one of the options available to a water or wastewater utility is choosing an independent consultant. An independent consultant can play a valuable role in the stages of the CIS project, providing industry perspectives and analysis, identifying the strategic business benefits of the implementation, characterizing strategic planning needs and analysis for the current system, defining future business requirements, assisting with vendor and product selection and evaluation, offering technical experience before, during, and after implementation, and monitoring project quality assurance efforts.
The consultant should be independent from all CIS software vendor relationships, be familiar with the CIS market, understand the options and alternatives available to the utility for enhancing or replacing its current billing system, identify costs, and build the business case for any recommended solutions. A consultant should have extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of all CIS vendors, products, services, and solutions. He or she should be able to recommend comprehensive application solutions utilizing a proven methodology for planning, designing, selecting, installing, auditing, and reviewing CIS recommendations and solutions. The consultant should have several years in the marketplace with an identified client base, solid customer references, and a track record of successful CIS project implementations.
The consultant should also exhibit the following criteria:
- no pre-defined solution recommendations
- proven tools to accelerate the project work effort
- guaranteed pricing based upon completion of milestones
- specialized and experienced staff who will remain with the project throughout its duration
- ability to facilitate the project rather than control the project
A consultant should submit a response to a utility's request for proposal that demonstrates an understanding of the project's scope, objectives, and context. A listing of the specific deliverables -- and who will do what by when -- should be provided. The response proposal should explain how the consultant will achieve the project's goals and objectives and detail the financial offer in terms of fees and expenses.
The utility should insist that the consultant's staff -- who will actually work with the utility -- have the experience and background to successfully carry out the project. Therefore, the consultant should identify the individuals who will actually be assigned to work with the utility. The consultant should not substitute the experienced senior staff member responsible for winning the business with a less experienced staff member who will be responsible for the work.
When interviewing a consultant, some questions worth asking include:
- Does the consultant understand our business?
- Does the consultant listen and respond to our particular needs or try to impose a standard solution or methodology?
- Do the consultant's strengths fit well with the needs of the project and the profile of our in-house project team?
- Do the consultant's proposed project personnel have sufficient technical understanding, project management experience, interpersonal skills, and team building skills to carry out our project?
- Does the consultant have the authority, self-confidence, and maturity to confront the in-house team with unwelcome or difficult questions?
- Will the consultant's assigned staff be committed for the entire project?
The consultant's Statement of Work (SOW) should include project scope, objectives, and goals. The scope of the consultant's responsibilities and the responsibilities of the utility project team should be clear and concise. Deliverables, timetables, quality levels, and costs should be identified and agreed upon by both the utility and the selected consultant.
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 [email protected]