A utility billing and collection services perspective
Not too long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I had the responsibility of running one of the largest “meter to cash” operations in the country. I recall my boss saying many a time during a presentation when numbers related to our scale came up “this slide says we’re big!” Scale was definitely an issue to consider in running my operation and when placed within the context of a very large municipality, scale was the issue in delivering services efficiently to the customers or the citizens of the municipality. In my role, it always intrigued me, no challenged me, on how to gain efficiency on this large of scale. At a point in time the considerations of federated or distributed versus consolidated or shared services in the technical world raised a question in my mind; “can the same principles being used to assess whether to share or not to share services in the technical world be applied to utility services and for that matter municipal service as a whole?”
The answer is self-evident, right? Surely the answer is yes and like the Jedi force, efficiency will bring order to the universe; services align, work flows are seamless, and technical platforms all speak to each other. Oh my, I do believe I may have stepped into a parallel universe because experience dictates that the effort to unravel long standing, federated, distributed services is not only difficult, but most of the time organizations do not know where or how to begin the effort. Especially in municipal government where studies have memorialized principles such as policy being set by street level bureaucrats, bringing efficiency through assessment of whether to keep a delivery of service Distributed (federated) versus Shared (consolidated) requires commitment and perseverance to walk through sound methods for business process reviews (BPR) while identifying commonalities in those processes.
A deep BPR is sound but in many cases, the business process review is not a sultry behind the scenes play to secretly identify common areas but a service directly in the face of the decision maker that drives inefficiency in your operation. Call Center and Billing and Collection services were two that in my role carried duplicity across our governmental services where my operation on many occasions was negatively affected by the distributed nature of our municipal organization. So, I contemplated “Possible to consolidate these services is it, hmm (in your best Yoda voice) and the answer coming back from the wise green little fellow’s voice, “The answer depends is it!”
It does depend and the considerations I found to help me through the determination of when and how to invest time and money into developing a shared service model in Call Center and Billing and Collection services followed this straight forward outline of questions to answer:
- Is the service provided through a common service delivery point?
- Does the service require a unique set of skills to be effective?
- Are those skills transferrable/trainable and if so to what level?
- Can the workflows be integrated without an impact to the customer?
- Are policies and procedures adaptable for appropriate governance?
- Can expectations be captured and agreed upon such that service levels are met?
- Is the current technical platform scalable and configurable enough to support our decision?
The answers to these considerations will help frame your next steps. Once answered and a pursuit determined, the quantification of costs and benefits can begin and you too can potentially seek “awakening the force” of efficient utility services following similar principles to the concepts of distributed or shared services in the technical domain.