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Larry Foster: Practical Insights for Optimizing Operational Transformation in the Utility Industry [Part Eight]

Headshot of Larry Foster
Larry Foster: Practical Insights for Optimizing Operational Transformation in the Utility Industry [Part Eight]

Explore how Lean Six Sigma's Poka Yoke methodology can revolutionize utility billing processes by preventing errors and ensuring accuracy. This blog delves into user-friendly solutions, such as smartphone applications, that boost efficiency, reduce errors, and drive cost savings. It also discusses the importance of accurate meter readings, the challenges faced by both automated (AMI/AMR) and manual systems, and the benefits of deploying digital tools to improve reliability and efficiency in meter readings.

Larry Foster, President of MuniBilling, has been working with technology for over 25 years. He's experienced in different sectors of technology, from starting new projects to helping companies grow and overcome challenges.

With a focus on the software and utility industries, Larry is a leading expert specializing in the complete lifecycle management of advanced solutions. Under his leadership, MuniBilling ensures dedicated client success teams and an unwavering commitment to ongoing support and efficiency improvements in the dynamic utility and software landscapes.

Q: You've said that one goal of going digital is to get rid of the extra work and waste from using paper. Can you give an example of how digital tools help with this?

A high-impact example is giving field technicians a mobile app on their phone to handle service requests directly. This way, they can avoid a lot of manual paperwork.

Q: Can you expand on some of the improvements organizations can expect by using a mobile service request app?

Let's break down the steps of the old paper-based method to see where the waste happens.

  • A service request is submitted via either email, USPS mail, or phone call.
  • Someone needs to gather and transform the information into a service request.
  • The service request is printed and stored in a technician’s assignment area.
  • The technician periodically comes into the office to pick up work orders.
  • This is a rinse, lather, repeat cycle throughout the work week.

This could mostly be avoided by using a mobile app.

Q: What would change by using a mobile app?

Building on our previous discussions, let me outline the ideal environment in which digital technologies enable the entire lifecycle of the service request process.

  • The customer submits their service request from a mobile application with minimal data entry requirements since the system knows everything about the customer.
  • The order is automatically routed to the utility operations office to review and assign a technician.
  • The technician is notified while in the field with all the information required about the service requests.
  • The technician completes the work and updates the service request accordingly.
  • The back office is automatically notified and completes any administrative work related to post-service requests.
  • The customer is notified throughout the lifecycle through completion.

Q: How would you qualify and quantify the return on investment?

Using digital tools makes the whole process faster since everything is communicated through the app. There's no need for technicians to travel back to the office for updates, saving time and travel costs. Notifications to customers are automated, reducing the need for phone calls or emails. Field technicians can use the app to handle all their tasks, cutting down on administrative costs. All service request information is kept in the utility billing software, and notes are updated in real time. This eliminates the need for technicians to return with paperwork that office staff must review. Electronic updates are sent instantly, reducing errors and saving time. The exact savings will vary based on factors like area size, traffic, number of service requests, fuel costs, and technician wages. Overall, it makes better use of resources.

Q: So how do you put this into practice? What should utility billing organizations look for in digital tools to improve service requests?

A simple mobile app for service requests that technicians can easily install on their smartphones or other devices. It should be user-friendly and enjoyable to use. Here’s a top-ten list of key features to look for:

  1. User-friendly interface for Searching, Filtering and Sorting
  2. Offline Service Request Update Capability
  3. Attach Pictures to the Service Request
  4. Offline Data Storage and Security
  5. Real-time Insights
  6. Real-Time Data Synchronization
  7. Efficient Route Management
  8. Quick Issue Identification and Prioritization
  9. Streamline Resolution Data Entry
  10. Automated Data Validation

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Larry Foster, dedicated President of MuniBilling, is committed to delivering cutting-edge Electronic Bill Payment and Presentment services tailored for utility billing. If you're interested in learning more about our product and services, sign up for a personalized demo of the MuniBilling system. 

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