Making new technology investments is a balancing act, not just for utilities, but for companies in any industry. Justifying the budget for those investments—both before the acquisition and after—can be even trickier. An IT team is under pressure to “right size” its solution landscape as well as its infrastructure and to not spend money on more capacity than is necessary.
But right-sizing is a challenge, because business needs and conditions change as quickly as the technology itself. If you don’t allow for spare capacity—for servers, storage, network bandwidth, and so on—you’ll be hard pressed to scale when there’s growth in your customer base or, worse, to respond to an unexpected outage. In these and dozens of other scenarios, you’ll be going back to the trough sooner than you’d like. And you’ll have to not only justify the additional funds you’re requesting, but also explain why you didn’t plan better. On the other hand, if you overestimate the capacity you need, the technology sits unused—and you still have to explain yourself.
Is underutilization really a problem?
The answer to this question may seem like an obvious “Yes.” But in reality, underutilized technology infrastructure doesn’t have to be a problem.
Maximizing utilization needn’t be a goal in and of itself. Take a simple example of a spreadsheet application like Microsoft Excel. Most people use a mere fraction of all functions available in the application, simply because they don’t need all those capabilities. Even power users rarely need all the functions Excel provides. It only becomes a problem when, despite the tool, the user ends up doing calculations on paper—either because they aren’t aware the app can do something better and faster, or they don’t know how to use it the right way. What’s important isn’t whether someone always uses every feature, but rather that those features are available when they are really needed.
Similarly, underutilizing a technology asset—whether it’s a CIS application or, more broadly, processing or storage capacity—becomes a problem when you don’t have the features or capacity you need, or you simply don’t leverage the available functions and processes that would benefit you. We often see examples of this within the analytics and reporting areas, where KPIs and dashboards are manually compiled. The solution either cannot provide, or haven’t been enabled to provide, the information needed in a way that makes sense to the stakeholders. On the platform side we see this e.g. in hardware sizing, where the platform is underutilized because it is sized to meet the needs of a predicted state that may be years down the road.
Recognizing underutilized technology
There are a number of ways for companies to recognize when their technology investments aren’t being fully utilized.
One indicator is the proliferation of processes being executed outside an application, when those same functions are available within an application, such as a utility CIS. Another is when these same processes are performed differently—or worse, manually— in different parts of the organization for no reason. Both point to the organization not leveraging the technology asset to do the job it was purchased to do.
When identical functions are performed in widely different ways and without leveraging the available technology, assessing efficiency is a challenge. Such behaviors make it difficult, if not impossible, to report on key performance indicators (KPIs) consistently across the entire organization. In such environments, consolidated reporting requires someone to compile and format data from multiple sources, which is what the technology investment was meant to avoid. You cannot compare apples to apples, so to speak.
The real cost of underutilization is more than dollars
We’ve established that underutilizing technology at any given moment needn’t be a problem, but that not leveraging available capacity or features when they are needed definitely is. But how do you measure the cost of this?
The true cost is more than an arbitrary fraction of the cost of the asset. In fact, the greater (and harder-to-calculate) cost comes from the extra work which results from performing tasks manually and inconsistently, when instead they could be done by the system.
A potentially even greater cost comes from not utilizing the business insights made available by the technology investment. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” What if, by better utilizing the system, you could better know and service your customers? What if you could then direct your company’s efforts to prevent customer dissatisfaction and churn?
Viewed in this way, the actual cost of underutilizing a technology investment has to include not only the price tag of the technology itself, but also the cost of lost deals and even lost customers.
Improve your technology utilization, improve the customer experience
To better utilize your technology investments, increase operational efficiency, and improve your customer experience, don’t be afraid to seek guidance from those who’ve been there. Join user groups and engage consultants that understand your utility and your customers. And, of course, you can rely on Vertex’s 20 years in providing excellence in Customer Experience technologies.
VertexOne was developed specifically for North American utilities and helps you address the issues of underutilization in a few different ways. Firstly, we offer VertexOne as a fully hosted and managed solution. You don’t need to worry about infrastructure. We commit to SLA (Service Level Agreement) levels for performance, response times etc. and then right size the infrastructure to meet those SLA at any given time during the contract duration. No need for you to think about and attempt to guess your needs years down the line. Secondly, we implement industry best practice business processes, which are right sized to utilize the solution optimally. Thirdly, we can manage the solution for you after you take your solution live (what we refer to as the ‘Grow’ phase) where we together with you grow the solution as new needs evolve over time. All three points help you avoid underutilization by: Optimizing the platform, optimizing the solution and optimizing the support team.
Ready to better leverage your utility’s technology investments? Contact us today to find out how Vertex can help.