How Your Utility Tech Stack Can Power an Industry-Leading Meter-to-Cash Process

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Introduction to CIS

Your customer information system (CIS) is the heart of your meter-to-cash process, converting metered usage into bills and securing collections. It also gives your customer service agents the critical insights they need to ensure the best customer experience. Every stage of your CIS—from collecting and storing energy to flipping a switch at a customer’s home—is an integral aspect of CIS and cloud software for utility providers.  

This is why CIS technology needs to remain flexible, low risk, and current. A CIS isn’t just a cash register. Today’s leading customer information systems generate more data—and have more data flowing into them—than ever before. 

How will your utility turn these massive amounts of data into actionable insights that anticipate customer needs, changing demand, and organizational needs? 

How Your Utility Tech Stack can Power an Industry-Leading Meter-to-Cash Process

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Chapter 1

CIS Features and Functions All Utilities Need

The average lifespan of a CIS is about 15-20 years. This means that some systems used today were planned and launched before the invention of Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones. The “Amazonification” of experiences has forever changed how your customers interact with you and how your stakeholders expect to access critical business information. Your 20-year-old, custom-built CIS was not designed to adapt to modern technology—and now it’s more of a hindrance than an asset. 

All utilities have a CIS, and most use the same one for as long as possible, which can be 10-20 years.

This means that at least 5 percent of the installed CIS base is up for replacement each year. Homegrown and legacy systems are aging, along with the people who know how to maintain and modify them. Upgrades are cumbersome and expensive, and many older systems are not set up to handle new technology that enhances the customer experience.

Advancements in cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) are changing the dynamic and decision set for utilities, making it cost-effective for CIS providers to offer their products to all sizes of utilities. Tier 1 players like Oracle can compete for smaller utilities that utilize less than 100,000 meters, which wasn’t considered a priority a few years ago. Meanwhile, smaller players and new entrants can scale to better serve larger utilities. 

Utilities are also increasingly focusing on customer engagement, and there is a wide range of products and solutions included in many current CIS offerings. 

Considering how rapidly technology has evolved this century, where will your CIS be 10 years from now? How about 20? Rather than having the freedom to focus on forecasting and future initiatives, utilities are forced to spend valuable time and resources repairing their current systems.

Unlike the private sector, most utilities aren’t in direct competition with one another. Nonetheless, more regulations are factored into a utility’s customer service standards during rate cases, so the quality of your CIS directly impacts your bottom line.



Chapter 2

Important Components of Your CIS Ecosystem

1. CIS Features and Functions That Impact Your Customer Service Team

  • Helps to track and manage customers
  • Oversees customer billing
  • Translates rate structures
  • Enables two-way communication between a meter and the utility and records data at short time intervals using AMI adoption
  • Uses data from meters to create advanced customer engagement solutions, such as real-time leak detection and high-usage notifications
  • Enables real-time access to consumption data for utility staff and customers
  • Provides hourly interval data
  • Gives utilities fast, efficient customer service functionality 
  • Boasts user-friendly, client-facing abilities
  • Interprets data using different applications that communicate with one another
  • Finds new efficiencies with automation instead of manual, error-prone tasks
  • Improves customer satisfaction with better service 
  • Reduces debt and improves collections by letting customers view and pay their bills 24/7 
  • Influences desired customer behavior using targeted marketing based on account information
  • Manages the content of customer communications (e.g., emails and SMS)
  • Identifies who needs to receive communications and when 


2. CIS Features and Functions That Impact Your Customers and Community

  • Offers convenience by providing customers with numerous channels to pay bills at any time
  • Allows customers to receive alerts and communications when and how they want
  • Allows customer support specialists to quickly access customer information and history for faster resolution times
  • Enables customers to view and sign up for financial assistance programs
  • Archives and retrieves customer communications, documents, images, and audio files 
  • Offers one point of contact for bill production, payment processing, and customer self-service

3. CIS Features and Functions That Impact Your Field Service Team

  • Lowers costs by eliminating paper-based tickets
  • Eliminates duplicate data entry 
  • Ensures customer support, dispatch, and field techs all have the latest information
  • Provides dispatch alerts and customer notifications
  • Integrates with navigation and GPS solutions
  • Offers calendar, voice, audio, and mobile camera integration
  • Includes interfaces with timesheet and inventory management
  • Reduces costs with automated communications, self-service tools, and digital customer conversion
  • Eliminates the need for manual meter readings through digital meters 
  • Provides physical control over a meter (can vary by utility)


4. CIS Features and Functions That Impact Your Executive Team

  • Minimizes risks in the supply chain
  • Optimizes channel efficiencies using a single vendor who assumes responsibility for end-to-end services
  • Keeps your data compliant with secure, PCI-certified data centers
  • Lowers cost to serve with automated communications, self-service tools, and digital customer conversion

Chapter 3

CIS: How Do I Choose the Right One?

There are many different factors to consider when selecting a CIS—the heart of your tech stack.

Here are some important questions you should ask yourself before choosing a CIS:

  • What are the unique needs of your customers? 
  • What is your budget? 
  • How will your organization manage the change?
  • How will you attract and retain employees with the skills needed to manage and evolve your CIS?
  • How much time and effort will be required to sustain day-to-day operations?
  • How easy will it be to make changes to the platform?
  • Can the platform scale in response to an increase in data or customers?
  • How can you get a predictable total cost of ownership (TCO) and provide your business with guaranteed service levels?

There are many different factors to consider, which is why it’s important to develop a proactive plan and ensure your CIS can easily connect with your metering and mobile work management (MWM) systems both now and in the future. 

A decade ago, utilities were unsure about the convenience and safety of a cloud-based CIS. However, as utilities discover how a cloud-based CIS can increase efficiency, security, and overall ease, this outdated perspective has started to change. 

Chapter 4

Know What You Need to Future-Proof Your CIS

There has been a rapid increase in demand for convenient technology among consumers, making a future-proofed CIS necessary to create dynamic service.

With a CIS, utilities gain:  

  • Total flexibility to carry out interval meter reads and complex rate variations across multiple service types, locations, municipalities, and jurisdictions.
  • Comprehensive customer service so they can provide the best experience using two-way communication and multiple channels.
  • Ease of use so customers can easily understand resource efficiency, its importance, and how it can be deployed. 
  • Real-time integration that allows the CIS to be used with other technologies, such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). 
  • Future scalability that allows for an efficient, adaptable CIS that grows with the organization.
  • Safety and security that can be adjusted to future security needs and upgrades.
  • Self-service integrations that are simple to learn.


Chapter 5

Future-Proofing Your CIS

Before selecting a CIS for your utility, you must ensure your current platform can handle this new technology or deployment will be a disaster.

The following steps can help: 

  1. Know the end goal for your CIS and AMI. Set realistic, reachable targets that adhere to your budget and timeline. 
  2. Coordinate AMI deployment with your existing CIS. It’s a good idea to upgrade the CIS first to ensure it can handle AMI data. 
  3. Ensure that your integration platform can handle upgrades. You are future-proofing your CIS, so make sure upgrades won’t be a problem. 
  4. Determine your utility’s ability to upgrade both CIS and AMI. Some utilities don’t have the proper resources to upgrade both simultaneously. Updating only one of these elements can lead to problems because the non-updated technology would need to work with the rest of the tech stack. 
  5. Recruit a trusted utility advisor. Make the process easy and efficient by consulting with experts who understand the deployment process and can help with change management.



Chapter 6

CIS and Your Internal Teams

Deploying a new CIS will impact every employee in one way or another.

From training call center agents to ensuring data quality, seamless adoption of a new CIS is crucial. You have to ask yourself several questions, including:

  • What will the employee learning curve be?
  • Will employees who print bills and handle payments still have access to what they need?
  • How will the change impact field service?
  • Will deployment be intuitive enough for every learner?

Champion the Internal Change

For a seamless rollout that has minimal impact on business activity, new CIS training should be endorsed from the top down to get buy-in from everyone. Championing the deployment of new technology is highly effective—especially when the change management process is smooth.

Some utilities have their own change management processes and prefer to handle all transitions internally, but many utilities rely on a CIS partner. 

Choosing a CIS that provides comprehensive onboarding and training is a wise idea, even if you have solid processes in place. A trusted CIS partner may be able to maximize those processes, ensuring business can go on as usual.  

Chapter 7

CIS and Your Imminent Request for Proposal

Utilities often put out a request for proposal (RFP) to find the right CIS. They usually create RFPs when they have equipment in the end-of-life stage, when experienced staff members are retiring and taking their skills with them, or when they need help with AMI.

The process can be time-consuming and overwhelming, which is why it’s crucial to know what you’re looking for. Not all solutions are created the same, and it can make understanding what you actually need—and how much it will actually cost—a bit difficult. 

What are the minimum requirements?

Don’t make the mistake of taking prices at face value. Often, there’s much more—or less—behind the number. If your instinct is to go with what looks the most affordable, dig a little deeper. With CIS platforms, it’s all about what is included in that price. If the price doesn’t include future upgrades, post-deployment support, and hardware, it starts looking significantly less attractive. 

When developing an RFP, ask the right questions to get the best responses. Start with:

  • Is all hardware included in the cost?
  • Are there installation or deployment fees?
  • What support is available after the go-live date?
  • Does the price include data migration?
  • Are training and development included?
  • When a job fails, who do we call? 
  • Are tech upgrades included, or do they come at an additional cost?
  • Does your price include setting up users when we hire new people?

Proposal Red Flags

Knowing what to ask is important—but so is knowing what to avoid. When you put out an RFP and get responses, there are some deal-breakers to look out for. It’s important to remember that not all CIS solutions are the same, even if they seem the same. 

Red flags to look for when reviewing proposals during the RFP process include:

  • Limited Data Storage: If there is limited storage capacity now, it will squeeze you even more in the future. This should be a deal-breaker. 
  • Hidden Costs: If the CIS solution wants to charge you to upgrade, think of how much that can add up over the next 20 years. 
  • Technical Currency: How innovative and future-proof is the technology? If it’s on the verge of becoming obsolete, it won’t help you stay up-to-date in the future. 
  • Integration Fees: Will you be charged to integrate the new CIS system into any of your current systems?
  • Limited Support Hours: If they can’t help you when you need it, don’t engage. Limited support hours could mean waiting days for one crucial answer. 
  • Lack of Data Security: If there is offshore development, the solution may not have the data security you need. 
  • Deployment Abilities: Check for testimonials about deployment. If you can’t find any, there is probably a reason. You want to choose a solution that is tried and true.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Utility Size: Do they have the capacity to handle all of your needs? Are they too big to care about your needs?
  • User Roles: Does the solution provide the user roles control you need? Will it cost more to add new users?
  • Pricing: What goes into the pricing? What will cost more down the line? Are there hidden costs?
  • Customization: Will you be able to customize the solution the way you need to?
  • Upgrades and Updates: Is there a price and timeline difference between upgrading versus a new deployment?

Chapter 8

Why Utility Customers Want a Modern and Future-Proof CIS

VertexOne’s suite of software products was developed to provide the required features and functionalities that your utility employees need. With real-time integration using multiple web-based APIs, our CIS  allows utilities to seamlessly integrate with payment providers, customer engagement platforms, field service management solutions, financial systems, and more. 

In addition to the tangible benefits a modern CIS offers to utilities, it also addresses the ever-changing modern expectations of customers. Twenty years ago, ordering a product using a mobile phone and receiving it within just a few hours seemed like a futuristic fantasy. 

However, as these types of services become more commonplace, customers’ expectations have also risen, and they demand more from all service providers, including utilities. 

It’s now considered unacceptable to provide a bill without itemization or context related to how or when water or energy was consumed. In a world of video doorbells and motion-sensitive cameras that use low-cost IoT sensors and inexpensive telecom devices, there is no excuse for reporting energy or water use only once a month. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of installing a future-proof CIS: 

Modern, Evolved Software

VertexOne focuses on continually evolving its products and modernizing its architecture to keep up with the ever-changing technological world.

Improved Call Resolution

VXcis optimizes the real-time presentation of key account information, increasing first-call resolution and simplifying account updates. In addition, charts and graphs that provide comparative consumption and other statistics support quick, accurate responses to customer billing inquiries.

Automated Processes

Automation saves time by alleviating manual processes such as meter reading, bill cycle initiation, usage calculation, billing, and statement generation. 

Simple Payment Integration

VXcis offers choices to customers, such as online payments integrated into a self-service platform, in-person cashier payments with receipts, or group payments entered manually or via a lockbox interface. VXcis supports multiple account payments using a single payment, summary bill invoice payments, transfer of payments, and misapplied or non-sufficient fund payment reversals. 

Solutions for Delinquent Accounts

The VXcis solution provides tools to assist in recovering outstanding balances, such as: 

  • Collections: A configurable process that involves a series of reminders and warnings that encourage an account to pay a certain amount by a certain time
  • Hold: Offers the ability to stop collections processing of an account indefinitely or until a specified end date 
  • Arrangements: Offers the ability to create payment arrangements with customers, keeping them out of collections if they do not default on a payment
  • Bad debt: Allows the utility to reduce the accounts receivable balance to zero and transfer it to the bad debt ledger, where the balance is no longer considered recoverable

Chapter 9

Future-Proof Your Customer Experience with the Ultimate Cloud CIS

Moving IT infrastructure and applications to a fully hosted and managed model in the cloud brings utilities flexibility, scalability, reliability, and predictability. Plus, it shifts the burden of hardware maintenance and security expertise to the provider. 

Make sure you choose a cloud provider that understands the unique needs of a utility. VertexOne has more than 30 years of experience with utility CIS solutions, SAP, and other leading technology—putting us ahead of the curve. With a SaaS delivery model, your utility gets a future-proofed CIS and the ability to choose which updates and upgrades it wants to roll out and when—without any major overhauls.

To future-proof your CIS, schedule a VertexOne demo now



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    How Your Utility Tech Stack can Power an Industry-Leading Meter-to-Cash Process

    Download a PDF version of this guide.