Energy Central Power Perspectives: Transforming Utility Self-Service Apps to Maximize Customer Experience: Exclusive Interview with Parmarth Naswa, Program Director at Infosys
image credit: Parmarth Naswa
- Oct 17, 2019 5:45 pm GMT
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Whereas web and mobile apps from utility companies used to be cutting-edge and innovative just for being offered, today these are tools that customers expect from their energy providers. Whether these are used to pay bills, contact a utility representative, track energy usage, or any number of other options, utility self-service has become a mainstay of the industry and a top priority for all stakeholders.
That shift in mentality also means it’s no longer sufficient to just have such applications, but utilities really need to do what they can to make self-service offerings easy to use, highly functional, and value-delivering for customers. These efforts to transform the utility self-service platform are center of the presentation that Parmarth Naswa, Program Director at Infosys, and Kurt Sweetser, Director of IT at Southern California Edison, will be delivering at the upcoming SAP for Utilities Conference. In their presentation, entitled “Transforming Self-Service Apps Along with SAP CR&B Implementation for Maximizing Customer Experience,” Parmarth and Kurt will share their lessons learned on how technology and software solutions have enhanced the capabilities of these apps, how to best adjust customer behavior to take advantage of these offerings and how modern CIS systems like SAP CR&B are taking self-service to the next level.
But you don’t have to wait until the SAP for Utilities Conference next week, because Parmarth was generous enough to give a preview of some of his insights to me in the form of an interview for the Energy Central community:
Matt Chester: Before talking about the topic you’ll be covering at the SAP for Utilities Conference, I’d love if you could share a bit about your background. How did you get involved in this field and what type of projects do you work on at your current role?
Parmarth Naswa: I am a Program Director with Infosys, a global technology services company. We partner with our clients, including utilities, to deliver enterprise and customer service transformation programs. In my role, I manage such programs for our utility clients, specifically in SAP technologies. One such program is currently ongoing at Southern California Edison that Kurt and I will speak about at the conference. Having been associated with utilities for over 15 years now, I see so much transformation happening in this industry that there is always more to look forward to in the quest for continuous innovation.
My co-speaker at the conference, Kurt, is the Director of Technology Integration at the Customer Service Replatform Program that's currently ongoing at Southern California Edison. He is responsible for all the architecture and technology areas in the program. He has played multiple strategic roles over the years within Edison and outside. He was also part of the enterprise ERP transformation program at SCE that was implemented a few years back and led a key technology portfolio there.
MC: What is the importance of a self-service app to utility companies and what sort of modernization is needed to have them fulfill their maximum potential that they’re not achieving today?
PN: That's a great question. I would say customer self-service is a very important function, not just for the utility company but also for the customer. This a very fast-developing area due to the advent of digitization, social media, mobile, etc. It thus thrives on the next generation of technology. Self-service provides the ability to empower the end customer and minimize dependency on utility resources, such as the call centers and back office employees.
Today, customer self-service web and mobile apps allow users to transact with the utility 24 by 7 without any manual interaction. If I have to, for example, start an electrify service at my new home or I have to view and pay my bill or understand analytics like my energy usage, I can do it all online. At the same time, self-service is also important for the utility. Utilities can do so much with self-service technology today; from providing fundamental services to complex analytics and even influencing consumer behavior by customizing the digital presence for each customer. For example, if a certain customer has an outstanding bill, when he or she logs into the app, the first pop-up he or she will get is to make the payment. On the contrary, if another customer who has already made the payment, doesn't see that message. So it's that customization that can be delivered digitally and influence the behavior and make the customer do things that will be good for self, good for the utility and good for the energy environment eventually.
To maximize the potential of a self-service offering there is typically a twofold modernization required. The modernization of the self-service platform itself and the modernization of the CIS platform. The CIS modernization is equally important as that serves as the main backend system to enable the next generation of processes and functionality that can then be accessed via the self- service channel. In our session, you’ll also hear about how early value of self-service applications can be realized without waiting for this entire twofold transformation to complete.
MC: In addition to the technical solutions you’re discussing, how do you approach the behavioral side of these self-service apps, such as encouraging their use, educating customers on how to use them, and ensuring that they really are benefitting the customer in the end?
PN: Promoting self-service is very important for success, so building it and making it available is just one-half of the story, but if we don't promote it and if we don't encourage the usage then it’s not efficient. We have to move customers to adopt it, and there are various ways in which this is being done. For example, utilities often run marketing campaigns where they promote sign-ups for online and e-bills, use social media, bill inserts and search engine optimization techniques to improve adoption. Some utilities may even offer freebies for signing up for self-service or referring your neighbor to sign up. To keep improving the entire thing, feedback is very important. We get feedback from customers directly on the self-service channels but also on other channels like call center and emails, and all that feedback is directed to improve the usability, agility, functionality, and create the wish list of things that can be bundled into the self-service space. That's how both the utility and the customer continue to mutually benefit.
MC: As these modernization solutions continue to take hold, what sort of new opportunities do you see in the self-service app/portal side of utilities? Are there new capabilities on the horizon that are exciting you?
PN: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of new opportunities are opening up in this space; as I mentioned before, this is one of the fastest growing spaces within the utilities area. First of all, self-service platforms are often constrained by legacy CIS systems as these are not best suited for delivering integrated end to end business processes and 360-degree view of customer’s data. Moving to a modern CIS platform like a SAP CR&B will open up a wealth of new opportunities over the self-service channel including one-view of customer, channel parity, centralized management of all customer programs and preferences etc.
In addition to CIS modernization opportunity, one of the areas that I see coming up big time is in analytics. Utilities, like any other industry, are investing in big data solutions. This focus is allowing utilities to create complex trends and analysis related to energy management, and all of those complex findings can then be presented on the self-service apps, where customers can log in and see these customized trends. You will be amazed at the amount of analytics that we can put on the self-service portal all coming from backend, complex big data solutions. For example, I can see the comparison of my energy usage versus my neighbor's and even how I compare it within my city. I can even do complex rate analysis. If I switch to another rate, how much money will I save? I can do simulations on options I have and how these will influence my billing.
Another opportunity coming up very quickly is voice automation channel with Alexa and Google. Self-service is now extending to these channels where I can do everything that I can do on the web or mobile; I can do it on Alexa and Google.
MC: Aside from your presentation, what other topics do you hope to learn a lot about while at the conference? Are there any presentations at the conference that you’re particularly looking forward to?
PN: I would be particularly interested in topics on SAP's roadmap for utilities and how the product and solution footprint is getting shaped in the next 3 to 5 years. I'm also keenly looking forward to the keynote session featuring Todd Inlander, Southern California Edison’s CIO, and Michael O'Donnell, National VP of SAP.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the insights Parmarth and Kurt are bringing to utility self-service apps, be sure to catch their presentations at SAP for Utilities Conference, taking place from October 21 to 23 in San Diego, California. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.