In the utilities industry, we know trust is critical­ when selecting a vendor to support your critical customer systems. Once you make your selection, your CIS and its provider will be with you for years to come.

Any vendor is only as good as its people, and we think ours are the finest. Welcome to The Faces of Vertex, a periodic feature for our blog that will feature employees from different areas of our company each month. Our hope is you’ll come to know the people at Vertex and how we work each day to help our customers succeed.

Dean Sadites, Director of Application Development

Last week I spoke with Dean Sadites, an application development director in our Toronto, Ontario, Canada office. His group focuses on developing web technologies—including customer-facing portals and e-billing—that work with a variety of CISs, including SAP, Enlogix, and Banner.

PAM: Dean, describe your role at Vertex. What is a typical day on the job for you?

DEAN: A large part of my job involves supporting five of our clients. We host customer-facing portals for four of those and web services for the fifth. These clients are very active, so we always have open tickets for new functionality or enhancements to existing functionality. One of our major projects right now is to develop a multichannel communication solution.

We also support a number of other products we've developed. We have an e-billing product called BillVantage, that currently hosts some 60 million bill images for our clients’ end-customers. We also developed a single-response search engine called UniResponse, a document manager that interfaces with a variety of CISs, and a reporting engine that leverages an ultra-fast in-memory database.

PAM: How do you typically interact with your customers?

DEAN: We usually work through our client advocates and use a ticketing system called IssueTracker. When a client makes a request, IssueTracker assigns it to the appropriate party, then the ticket follows a workflow based on its type. We respond via IssueTracker, and the advocate follows up with the client as needed. So, in a typical day, we’re not firing e-mails back and forth, mainly because e-mails are not so easy to manage or audit. IssueTracker makes sure requests don’t “fall between the cracks.”

When necessary, we have conference calls and occasional on-site meetings with clients. But we try to communicate through IssueTracker as much as possible, for efficiency and accountability.

PAM: What size team do you have to handle these client tickets?

DEAN: The entire team is about 60 people. My team has nine people, including eight here in Toronto and one in our Dallas office.

PAM: I know that you support Banner systems for several of our customers. What other applications do you create and support?

DEAN: Banner is the backend CIS system. What we do is create add-on products that enhance and extend Banner. Most of these products are customer-facing, such as our VertexOne Web & Mobile Self-Service portal.

We also build web-based add-ons for the CIS itself, like the multichannel communication solution I mentioned to extend feedback into the CIS system. It is being developed around Banner, but a client can use most of our components with any CIS system.

PAM: What about the document manager you mentioned? How does that help our customers?

DEAN: It’s a web-based application we developed called Document Manager. It allows a CSR to call up all documents either sent to or received from a customer. They simply click an icon in the CIS, and it launches Document Manager, automatically signs in and brings up documents for the specified account number. It uses our single sign-on technology, so no separate log-in or retyping the account number is required. Document Manager allows users to add, delete and replace documents, but primarily to view the customer documents coming in via many different channels.

We currently have Document Manager running for two large clients, who both happen to use Banner. We’ve also developed it for VertexOne and can easily adapt it for any other CIS out there that may require it.

PAM: Trust and information security is critical for our clients. How do you ensure the security of these documents for them and for their millions of customers?

DEAN: The interface between Document Manager and a CIS is in two parts. The first part is a web service that displays whether there are any documents for that customer. That saves time since a CSR doesn't have to launch the application to determine that. Also, you can’t just have someone getting into everyone else’s documents. The second part sends an encrypted token to authenticate the user and launch the Document Manager application itself.

There’s a lot of security, permissions and auditing around this. The permissions are quite granular. A CIS user may only be authorized to see certain types of documents. Say a police report was uploaded for theft of service. Only certain staff members can see it, depending on their permissions in the system.

PAM: You said a large part of what your team supports is e-billing and bill presentment. Tell me about that.

DEAN: Another way we extend the backend CIS is by adding bill view capability. As I said, BillVantage currently hosts around 60 million bill images for clients and their customers. These images are available not just to customers via the portal, but also to the CSRs. This is a very powerful feature for CSRs. What better way to serve customers than to see exactly what they’re looking at?

Just like Document Manager, we developed our e-billing solution for Banner, VertexOne Cloud CIS and the other CISs we currently work with. But unlike other, non-integrated solutions, we let you just click a single button to see the bill you’re interested in, in a secure fashion.

PAM: From the customers’ viewpoint, what value do you and the rest of the Vertex team provide to their business—both every day and strategically?

DEAN: First, most of what we design works for any CIS, whether it is from Vertex or not. Even though it’s tightly integrated, it uses our single sign-on technology and web services. If they can invoke standard web services from their existing CIS, it’s going to work and extend their systems' capabilities. That’s a huge part of the value we bring.

I talked about Document Manager and BillVantage, which enhance the CSR’s ability to serve the customer over the phone. These offerings can cut the length of calls significantly, which translates into cost savings.

But when you make a portal like VertexOne Web & Mobile Self-Service available to end-customers, you’re providing another huge avenue for cost savings. Letting customers enroll themselves for automatic payments, budget billing, payment arrangements and more—those are phone calls that didn’t have to be made. In a typical call center, each phone call saved could be worth as much as $6 to $7.

Enrolling in paperless billing is another massive potential for savings. Say it costs 15 cents to print a bill. For our Canadian clients, you’re looking at 80 cents to mail that letter. Multiply that by 12 months and 1.4 million customers. If you could get 50 percent of customers to use paperless billing, that’s an annual saving of about $8 million. That’s why we created the EasyEnroll module. It allows CSRs to easily enroll customers for paperless billing right over the phone.

That’s the kind of value our team brings to our customers.

PAM: What do you feel that Vertex does better than any of its competition?

DEAN: Vertex doesn’t just give our customers a minimal solution. Whether it’s e-billing, document management or customer portals—we always go beyond what’s necessary to give them a good, solid solution.

PAM: Pick one thing you do that makes customers trust Vertex as a company.

DEAN: We’ve been recognized for not just trying to market something to them. We’re honest and forthright with what gives customers the most added value. They recognize that, and that’s what keeps them coming back.

For example, SaskPower awarded Vertex a project about 10 years ago. We developed a customer portal for them. In 2011, they decided it was time to move off their legacy system and onto SAP. So we adapted our customer-facing portal to SAP, and we’re still hosting their customer portal today.

We always try to do what’s in their best interest. That’s why our customers stay with us. They trust us to help them take the next step in their business.