The Utilities Industry
From TEC’s perspective and based on our understanding of the industry, the utilities industry consists primarily of the following service providers: electric power generators, network operators, customer power retailers, natural gas, steam supply, water supply, and sewage removal. All of these business segments have common criteria such as a mass customer service department and billing process, remote service supply or power generation, and high cost of asset owning and maintenance. Also, a big part of the utility business is project based as well. Below are some challenges the industry faces:
• Traditional challenges: geographical spread and remote subdivisions and office lots; mass customer service that requires specific and unique business processes; global fuel price increases leading to the need to optimize transportation processes; and constant cost-cutting issues.
• Government regulatory challenges: electric power suppliers’ fragmentation to avoid monopolies and encourage competition in the utilities market; low emission and other green initiatives that have a high impact on current situations, future investments, and development trends; new local, country-wide, and international compliance requirements; elevated degree of competition.
• New challenges that divert huge amounts of resources and attract significant human efforts: new business technology and information technology that often work together; and a higher level of demand on customer service, correlated with higher customer expectations because of demographics and educational changes and advanced e-commerce service capabilities.
Despite the global and long-term trend of energy consumption, which is supposed to be higher during the next 10 to 15 years, the current economic situation is not helping the majority of businesses within this segment. With time, the industry will becomes less predictable and more risky, but information technology (e.g., a new generation of enterprise resource planning [ERP] systems that are seamlessly capable of facilitating and serving the growing requirements of utilities companies) will continue to play a significant and increasing role in the utilities companies’ businesses.
The Utilities Knowledge Base
The utilities industry ERP knowledge bases (list of criteria used to evaluate business software) is probably the largest knowledge base created by TEC. When building it, we started with the criteria for customer care and billing (CCB), which is the core activity of any utilities company. Then, we added functionality specific to the industry, such as vehicle fleet management, and electricity generation and supply. We also added project management, quality management, etc., which are also important for a utilities company, as well as and some modules that are common to all our ERP knowledge bases such as financials, human resources (HR), analytics, and product technology.
As mentioned above, the core of the system is based on CCB functionality. Our model of CCB covers mediation, provisioning and activation, rating, customer billing and customer care, electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP), etc. To better address the needs of the customers without necessarily using a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, utilities companies can take advantage of the sales and marketing functionality, which helps them manage packages, discounts and promotions. Finally, meter reading or automated meter reading system (AMRS), service contract and entitlement management, automatic service activation, and service order management are important functionality that a utilities company can look for when selecting business software.
Among the functionality specific to the industry, electricity generation and supply is the most important. It contains criteria concerning generation operations and management, transmission, distribution and dispatching, and energy data management. Vehicle fleet management is the other module specific to the utilities industry, allowing companies to maintain vehicle master, monitor vehicle performance, track fleet availability and use, manage warranties and vehicle documentation, perform vehicle refueling, etc.
Though it can overlap with vehicle fleet management, asset management is another important software feature for the utilities industry, since utility companies usually need to manage a wide range of equipment, machinery, tools, etc. This includes lease management, resource scheduling, decommissioning (for phased-out equipment), and mobile requirements (for field service). Scheduling can also be found in project management, which monitors cost and work schedules for all projects. Using project analyzer, project budgeting, timekeeping and workflow management, utilities companies can easily track complex activities.
The Utilities Evaluation Center
Even though the Utilities Evaluation Center has not been officially launched, you can still preview it here. TEC also offers a list of certified software and services for utilities, grouped by software type: ERP for discrete manufacturing, CRM, supply chain management (SCM), etc. Also, our online decision support engine ebestmatch™ allows you to compare systems side-by-side.
Keep following our newsletter and blog posts to be the first to compare ERP solutions for the utilities industry. We welcome your feedback on the structure of the Evaluation Center and any other comments you might have.
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