Florida Utility

Vertex turns Florida utility’s focus from infrastructure to customers

The Opportunity: 

There were three reasons one Florida utility needed a new CIS: 

Its CIS was outdated. It lived in a mainframe; it was written with COBOL; and it was past its useful life.

Its CIS was inefficient. It was forcing the utility to complete many tasks manually that, if automated, would have saved time and helped employees operate more efficiently, in some cases saving multiple days per month.

Its CIS was unsophisticated. But more than anything, the aging CIS was holding the utility back from providing the level of customer service that it wanted and needed to, given shifting customer expectations. Increasing popularity of online retailers like Amazon and services like Netflix had started to condition consumers to expect a different level of customer service, one that allowed them to use multiple channels to communicate with the utility. 

The committee tasked with finding a new CIS knew that it was time to identify not just software stout enough to help the utility manage its 130,000 customers but also a partner to implement, host and manage that software. A hosting partner would provide better security than the utility could provide on its own, plus allow the utility to work with experts with levels of experience and knowledge better than it could get by hiring locally. 

The software that the utility chose was SAP, the industry’s leading CIS technology. The partner chosen to implement, host and manage it was Vertex, a company with experience hosting and managing utility CIS technology since 1996. 

The Vertex Approach:

Above everything else, the top two benefits the utility got by choosing to partner with SAP and Vertex were confidence and time. It got the most sophisticated CIS software available, but it doesn’t have to manage it on its own. That means the utility is able to focus on its most important job: serving its customers.

With SAP and Vertex on its side, the business now has the ability to more easily collect on delinquent payments, automated processes for running standard reports that now take hours instead of days, and reading adjustments that can be reflected in the system in a single day instead of five.

Technically, the utility got a level of security that it never had before. Since its data was now hosted in a data center in Dallas (with a back-up in Sunnyvale, CA), it was no longer sitting in hurricane-prone Florida. And the people working in the data center in Dallas have a level of SAP expertise that would have been difficult for this utility to recruit and retain on its own.

System updates are handled by the Vertex team and equipment upgrades are a thing of the past since the data center is regularly maintained and always state-of-the-art. All of this means that the utility’s employees are now free to think about serving the customer instead of spending their days (and nights) managing the technology.

Vertex has been there since the implementation, supporting and consulting with the business and technology teams. The experts at Vertex are truly an extension of the team at the utility. There are regular conversations, including a weekly support call, as well as ad hoc discussions as needed. Together, the team addresses challenges, solutions, and possible pitfalls, allowing utility officials to worry less about the infrastructure and hardware and concentrate on how they can use the technology as a tool to better serve their customers.

Florida Utility

“Vertex doesn’t just run the system; they know our business and help us achieve our business strategies,” one county official said. “We would never host our own CIS again.”

But the biggest payoff of having its CIS hosted and managed by Vertex may be the benefit to the customer and the customer service representatives. Now that the utility isn’t limited by space on the mainframe, its agents are able to have more effective conversations with customers when they call in. Contact logs were available before, but because of limitations on the mainframe agents were forced to use abbreviations and acronyms to save space. With the new CIS, those limitations are gone, so contact logs are more detailed, putting much more information into the hands of the agents.

This allows the agents to work more closely with the customer and speak to them in detail about their accounts.  They are able to say to a customer, "Oh, yes. We have your payment. We see that it came in on this date. Actually, we see that it was a check payment and, here's your check number.” 

For the utility, it’s delivering a great customer service experience. For the customers, it’s being treated in a manner that conveys how important they actually are to the utility. They feel like a person with unique concerns and needs, not just a point of consumption.

The Bottom Line: Better Customer Focus

Partnering with SAP and Vertex has given the utility the experts needed to keep powerful, sophisticated software up to date. It’s provided a current customer experience platform without requiring the purchase of expensive equipment. It’s given the utility a predictable cost of ownership since the technology is managed and updated regularly as part of the service agreement.

This gives the utility the flexibility it needs to continue to meet shifting customer expectations. Introduction of multichannel communications, smart meters, and conservation programs are now possible while ongoing IT spend isn’t going to provide any nasty surprises.

But more than anything, partnering with SAP and Vertex has given these Florida utility officials peace of mind.

“We don’t have to worry about the system,” one official said. “Our technology is up to date and performance levels are guaranteed, so we can focus on our customers.”

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