Utilities and Legacy Systems

How utilities can rewire customer engagement by replacing legacy systems

In Blog by Rod Mack

You flip the switch—and it just works.

When it comes to electricity (and the rest of our utilities), we’ve developed pretty high expectations. We don’t want to think about them, but we expect them to always be ready to serve us.

And on those rare occasions when we do have to interact with our utilities – like changing our address or reporting a power outage – we expect the same kind of customer experience we’ve grown accustomed to in the rest of our lives, especially in this increasingly connected and digital world.

That’s not always a simple task, however, as utilities are already facing a number of challenges in recent years, including regulatory disruption, financial pressures, flat demand and an aging infrastructure. Utilities around the country are recognizing the need to adapt, and they’re starting by taking a closer look at the legacy systems at the foundation of their technology.

Why legacy is lagging

These legacy systems have often been in place for decades, but today lack the flexibility, controls and functionality of modern-day customer information systems now considered to be the standard. To make it worse, both the hardware and software that comprise these legacy systems are often difficult and risky to maintain, and can even pose a security liability in today’s cyber environment.

In our work with utilities, we often see systems that include years of customizations driven by new and evolving business requirements. Plus, the complexity associated with extensive coding just to implement common utility business changes can be daunting.

It can also lead to doing twice the work. During a recent engagement with a large electric utility, we saw many duplicate processes across the enterprise. Not only were many of these processes extremely inefficient, but they required manual integration across their two CIS systems. Part of our solution was designed to drive significant business transformation to consolidate distinct legacy business processes and associated customized legacy systems from two companies to an off-the-shelf preconfigured instance of Oracle CCB. It turned out to be a massive time-saver.

Another mark against these legacy systems? The men and women in charge of operating and maintaining them are starting to retire. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that nearly a quarter of the country’s utility workforce will clock out for the last time in the next five years. With them goes decades of knowledge about the ins and outs of these legacy systems (and how to keep them running). And those people might be tough to replace, explains Smart Energy International:

“The new breed of potential utility and energy rock stars are picky … The modern, digitally transformed workplace has become the gold standard in almost every industry. Millennials and some Generation Z won’t even consider joining your organization if you’re using dinosaur systems or out-of-date tools…”

C is for ‘change’ and a better ‘CX’

Change can be hard, especially something that reaches across the enterprise. But updating these legacy systems is becoming increasingly important, not only from a security and efficiency standpoint but also a CX one. In this world of Uber and Amazon Prime, customers assume their experience will match their expectations. And if it falls short, satisfaction plummets.

Many successful utilities are replacing their legacy systems with new solutions that focus less on a single customer transaction and more on the overall customer journey—viewing the process from start to finish through the customer’s eyes. Through the use of the latest technology, these new solutions can be a win-win, explains Aaron Finegold, et al, who writes for McKinsey & Company:

“Creating better journeys invariably means making more use of digital technologies, since customers increasingly want to engage digitally … Enabling more customers to use digital channels also brings big benefits for the utility: shifting customers from call centers to digital channels drives down costs, while capital investments in technology can add to the rate base … Self-service can often be more satisfying for customers than speaking to someone in person.”

The time is right, too. McKinsey also reports that 60% of utility customers were “less than fully satisfied with the channels available for contacting the utility,” with nearly 45% preferring to use digital channels.

Today, utility customers simply expect more from their providers. Indeed, the expansion of technology in every aspect of our daily lives is also affecting the relationship between utility and customer—and those legacy systems that worked for so long can simply no longer pass muster.

If it’s time to begin evaluating the best path forward for your legacy systems, let us know. We can help design a solution that – like that light switch – just works.

Rod Mack is Chief Delivery Officer at Veracity Consulting, a tech consulting team of trusted advisors, ready to deliver unique solutions to the toughest business challenges of commercial and federal clients across the U.S. Learn more at VeracityIT.com, and share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter @engageveracity.