My experience with working around the Utility industry shows that most of the utility retailers have inherent performance issues either after they have moved to new generation billing/customer service systems or after some years of operations. They had a different experience and way of working with older mainframe based architecture.

To improve customer experience and reduce complexity in contact centres, utility retailers are moving towards system transformation. However while they thrust towards customer/employee experience uplift, performance demands increases substantially. Market competition enabled by digital channels and on-going demand from the CFO organisation to reduce IT costs, provides increasing pressure backend systems to perform well.

It is also seen some companies spend a lot of budget on initial transformation – while thinking customised solutions for unique business. The time the systems reach a point of operations, companies become extremely conscious about operational expenditures. They become very reluctant to further undergo further modernization, while many components get out-dated by 5years from Go-Live.

Then the influence of digital era, where additional analytics and self-services are introduced on the cost of the backend systems, designed a few years back. The question definitely arises “Are we really ready for it”

There are few of things utilities often miss out while in design of solutions, which becomes inherent problem in the longer run:

  1. Right Size of the Hardware: The current SAP sizing tools does not properly size around the deregulated market and digital platform taken together. The hardware vendor provided tools are often too specific to the hardware models leading incorrect sizing.
  2. Benchmark performance: Contact centre performance benchmarks as defined by the concerned department with the industry, are often subjective.  Lack of performance level definition often misses out critical items during design.
  3. Growth Predictions: Scalability predictions become improper due to changing energy market rules, world economy, political stability and rapidly changing technology world. Thus predictions are inaccurate in the longer period.
  4. Retain only required data: Retailers due to sensitivity of the data and regulatory compliance often define data retention policies as “Retain all, do not archive”. This is even true of processed data carriers like IDOCS. This will lead to uncontrollable data growth.
    • I have experience installation with 14TB database size with only 500K customer running for 3 years.
  5. Customer contact volumes: Changing weather pattern across the globe sometimes results in unexpected change in customer contact volume. Social media and other digital channel integration also provide some major touch points. Providing right services at the point of need become an issue.
  6. Unique business process:  Due to large volume of data and various market/customer based rule, amount of customization (esp. in SAP IS-U solution) is very heavy. This lead to performance and stability issues in the longer run.
  7. Volume of mass data processing: With increase of smart meter data, processing more in a less timeframe become an on-going demand. Payment settlements cannot wait till end of the day, has to be posted immediate, is a typical example where its required to do more in less time.
  8. Path towards Digitization: Multi-channel initiatives mostly work on customer, billing and consumption data. There is generally there constant data handshaking between there and backend systems. Base designs do not consider these factors.
  9. Strategize Upgrades: When will we require an upgrade/uplift? What will the roadmap? When do we need to allocated budget? There are things which need to be defined upfront during design.
  10. Reduce human intervention: Too many workflows lead to backlog, causing system performance issues. Later automated program act on these to close open items. Careful design needs to be executed to ensure only important items are held.

These are some unique factors customers need concentrate along implementation partners while designing solutions. This will help companies cope with backend systems with the ever changing technology, weather conditions or business opportunities.

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4 Comments

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  1. Paul Bakker

    Hi,

    Thanks for that. An interesting article, but I’m especially intrigued by your last point:

    Too many workflows lead to backlog, causing system performance issues. Later automated program act on these to close open items.

    Could you please give an example? Working in a government FI-CA system, it’s actually my experience that workflows vastly increase the efficiency of the system. This is because vital workitems (approvals, exception handling etc) are fast-tracked to the proper users, with all the information that they require to make an on-the-spot decision.

    So how are workflows negatively impacting your system?

    cheers

    Paul

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    1. Aninda Mukherjee Post author

      Thanks Paul,

      I agree to the fact that workflow increases the efficiency of the end users. However i have come across few scenarios where business is not aware or reluctant to look into anything other than the assigned work items, leading to huge backlog:

      Example 1: Sometimes workflow steps fails due to binding Issues those occurs due to data issue from the other systems (Like other Market Participants). This kind of error can not be captured in Business exceptions (Workitems, BPEMs etc). These error needs to be captured from workflow error logs.

      Example 2: During change Change of Supplier process Retailers need to send a series of transactions (Communications) to different Market participants based on scenarios and timings which is mainly controlled by SAP Workflows. Any of these steps failing due to uncaught exceptions (from market transaactions) and the workflow goes to error state. Someone need to look this as a exception, which will not be in the worklist.

      Now workflow cannot be avoided. My intention was to mention that too many open workflows lead to processing performance issues. Unless there is effective action on work items (which sometimes is not for exception handling in utilities).

      Regards

      Aninda

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    2. William Eastman

      Paul:

      There are actually 2 pieces to this.  The efficiency you get does not come for free.  As more workflows are processed, the overall system performance degrades.  For many customers this is not an issue.  The system can handle the extra load and the efficiency derived is well received.  For others though, workflows are implemented too haphazardly to handle situations that should be addressed in a program or by users, and these extra tasks reduce the available processing for dialog users.  Of course you also have the table space required to keep everything running.

      regards,

      bill.

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