Key factors utility companies should consider while deploying secure, scalable, and smart billing systems

Exceptional customer experience and effective customer data management are the need of the hour for utility companies. With digitization affecting all facets of this industry in terms of transmission (smart grids and smart meters), digital customer engagement (customers want to control everything), and digital workforce enablement, utility providers need to upgrade their IT systems to not only upgrade their systems to align with next –gen, smart technologies but also provide a differentiating experience to the customer.

Among various other technologies, smart meters are to cast a bigger shadow on the utility industry in the near future. Northeast Group estimates that the global electricity metering market would grow to $26.8 billion by 2024 (from $9 billion in 2014). By the end of next decade, the residential smart meter installation base would be 1.1 billion worldwide, amounting to 57% market penetration. Commercial and industrial electricity meter market would be worth $3.1 billion by 2024. Some of the key regions to showcase high growth are the U.S., Japan, China, Brazil, India, and the UK. The study also reveals that, by the end of 2024, 115 million smart meters will operate via cellular communication. Thus, the customers and electricity utility companies would not only monitor the usage in real-time, but also manage the consumption and reduce power wastage. Given these facts, utility companies ought to have an efficient customer data management that processes the data in real time.

In the UK, customers have the liberty of switching to other utility providers. A survey by Ofgem revealed that 43% of customers did not trust energy companies to be clear and honest about prices. The fuel prices have risen by 24% between 2009 and 2013. As the use of smart meters would increase transparency in the billing mechanism and optimize power consumption, the UK government has laid out smart meter roll out plan- as per which 53 million gas and electricity meters are to be installed across homes and small businesses by the end of 2020.

However, the roll out may face headwinds because of data security concerns. The question uppermost in the minds of customers is “Will my smart meter be able to track what I do at home?” For which the answer is YES, as of now. By having a robust and secure billing and CIS systems, utility providers can ensure that customers’ personal data are not misused. Such systems will also help the utility companies to gain customers’ trust.

Utility providers should consider the following factors (as outlined in the graphic below) before they deploy these new billing systems.

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Efficient, scalable, and cross-functionally integrated billing system is the need of the hour. Many IT companies have showcased their ability to build such systems by leveraging cloud based modules. Dalkia, a utility company form Ireland, has recently started using cloud based GentrackNOW suite. This suite comprises billing, customer management and collection capabilities. Virtusa has used Force.com and surveyForce.com to develop a collection tool for a telecom company. The cloud platforms such as Salesforce.com and NetSuite offer billing modules that can be integrated to form a complete utility billing system.

In conclusion, new billing systems that can process smart meter data is imperative for companies operating in the UK. Smart meters are expected to transform the way utility companies operate. Towards this, deploying secure billing systems with best-in-class user experience design, data security, and analytics capabilities will provide an edge!

Rama Rao Poludasu

Associate Consultant - Strategic Research Group, Business Consulting, Virtusa. Rama Rao is responsible for Telecom industry practice within the Strategic Research Group (SRG) of Virtusa. SRG aims to be the think-tank within the business consulting practice, producing thought-leaderships directed towards evolving business practices. Rama Rao has more than three years of experience in the research space and has previously worked with The Smart Cube and Deloitte. He is an Electronics and Communication graduate, a MBA with Marketing and Finance specialization, and is Six Sigma Green Belt certified. Apart from work, he holds interest in photography.

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