CIS Systems: Not the Path for Innovation

August 18, 2020
Customer Information Systems

Customer Information Systems (CIS) are the central nervous system for the Customer Line of Business within Utilities.  They are heavily integrated and complex systems centered around the utility meter to cash process and act as the cash register for Utilities.  Utility Customer organizations, however, are being asked to substantially improve engagement and the customer experience.  To do that, they need to offer more than a cash register.

As Utilities continue to invest in improving customer engagement, a new area of innovation is sprouting.  It is driven by the increasing number of choices available to consumers, primarily in two areas:  new rate programs and significant load profile changes. For example, utilities are moving to optional time of use rates to better match supply and demand.  At the same time, the U.S. is experiencing major increases in EVs and roof top solar.

The intersection of new rate programs and customer engagement provides an opportunity for customers to explore ways to save money, and for the Utility to make proactive and personalized rate and program recommendations. Capitalizing on this market dynamic requires tight integration between available rates and customer engagement.  CIS limitations require the innovation to occur outside the CIS.

There are several reasons that CIS systems are not capable of handling this new innovation.

  • Providing customers with bill forecasts and bill simulation based on multiple rate plans and multiple scenarios (load shift, EV, Solar as examples) is extremely data intensive.  CIS systems are designed to calculate one customer bill per month.
  • The CIS system is responsible for many other critical tasks, most importantly acting as the cash register for the utility. Encumbering CIS systems with one more large task is very expensive and risky.
  • Providing customers with bill forecasts and bill simulation is inherently a sandbox ‘what-if’ analysis.  CIS systems were designed only for system of record billing.

Kim Schafer, CEO and Founder of Validos, who advises utilities and utility vendors on CIS systems and customer engagement strategies explains, “CIS systems are highly integrated and complex systems… they are not easy to change when new innovation is needed.  When a utility needs a new way of accomplishing something, it is typically done outside of the CIS or they must wait for their providers to implement it in the roadmap.  Also, a CIS is the cash register for the utility, making a change to a CIS system can be risky.  If not done correctly, it can have adverse effects for both the utility and the customer”.

So, if the CIS is not capable and not the right system to deliver this innovation, how can utilities create these analyses and help customers effectively understand how these new choices will affect their bill? 

An Enterprise Rating Engine (ERE). The ERE sits separate from the CIS and is integrated and calibrated for accuracy.  It has the capability to simulate bills in real-time and at scale, with revenue-grade accuracy. 

An Enterprise Rating Engine produces personalized quotes for utility customers.  Customers can choose from the menu of programs available, including solar, EV, and programmable thermostats.  Personalized bill impacts are then created by analyzing the selected programs using either the customer’s historic or forecasted electricity usage. Utilities can achieve transparency showing customers personalized bill impacts, leading to improved customer satisfaction, which ultimately affects a utility’s bottom line. 

James Riley, Board Member Utility 2030 Collaborative, works with Utilities to help improve their customer strategies.  James states ‘In the new world of time varying rates, EVs and solar, the next logical step for improving customer satisfaction is helping customers understand the financial implications of the choices available to them, including time varying rates, EVs and solar.’

James further explains, “Customer Engagement has moved from reactive to proactive. The technology is available for a utility customer to view how their historic usage would be priced on multiple rate plans and then adjusting their usage by adding an EV, solar or shifting load, and having it repriced on multiple rate plans.  Other industries refer to this as configure-price-quote.  Utilities are starting to move in this direction.”

Providing price transparency for customers is a new and innovative concept for utilities. The speed and flexibility needed to perform these real-time, what-if calculations is not found in a traditional CIS. Utilities will need to consider solutions such as an Enterprise Rating Engine to produce these personalized analyses to greatly enhance their customer engagement strategy.

Enabling and supporting customer choice with price transparency puts utilities well on the way to higher customer satisfaction, and well outside the CIS.