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Having the right utility billing system is crucial for your entity. Utility Billing systems directly affects your business process, backend infrastructure, operational efficiency, revenue, and - believe it or not - employee satisfaction.
But if you’re looking for a new system the task could be seriously daunting.
Your system may have been purchased by someone decades ago, or maybe it was more recent than that, but it just has not been a great fit and you’ve been dreading having to rethink business processes, learn new systems, and go through the dreaded requisition process.
To further complicate the idea, the market is so saturated with products and everyone is saying theirs in the best… But despite being such a critical part of your operation, many billing systems are not designed for the unique needs of billing of utilities. They may not be optimized for security or they don’t have a clear organizational direction, Even worse yet, they’re not empowering your employees to be the most efficient they can be.
Don’t worry though, you’re not alone in your struggles. These are incredibly common concerns and we hear them all the time.
We hear a lot of the same issues being brought up on every demo of our software that we do. Entities are concerned about all those items or are reluctant to even begin the process, because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
But that mentality can not only put you into some very serious risks but also be affecting your daily bottom line.
So where do you start? Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing the right questions to ask.
In that spirit, we wanted to share the 5 most common utility billing system challenges we noticed while showing our software to help you get an understanding of some of the utility industry’s biggest challenges.
Did you know that every second, 127 new devices are connected to the internet? (techjury) Technology is advancing fast and many utility billing systems on the market don’t hold their own compared to other software solutions outside of the utility billing industry.
When we listened to our demo attendees, their current outdated software gets brought up... A lot.
The top of the list of complaints is a lack of any new features to the system, just to keep up with not only what customers want, but also to comply with ever-changing local and national regulations.
Of all the software features requested, the most common feature is an integrated customer portal that allows the user to update their own data, but also allows them to schedule and automate payments.
But outdated software is a lot more than just a lack of new and shiny features. Many systems don’t receive regular security updates, making them not only difficult to use BUT ALSO exposed to serious security threats.
Security must constantly evolve because the threats that entities face are constantly evolving. Routine software updates are a preventative step to keep your entity safe and current on regulations.
Your utility billing software should keep pace with technology advancements while also remaining secure against new security threats that emerge.
Do you want to be in the utility or services business or the IT business? Big or small, many of the entities we speak with don’t have their own dedicated IT staff to worry about maintaining just their billing system. Not only does that leave their infrastructure vulnerable and dependent on external providers, but it can also hinder regulatory compliance.
For those we speak with that are lucky enough to have IT support for just their utility billing software, they’re typically overworked, overwhelmed, and not able to keep up with a demanding workload.
There can also be multiple other technical barriers that keep those IT teams from solving issues at hand.
For example, we hear about teams that contract with outside companies for IT support that have limited support hours or inflated charges for in-person support, especially in the case of an emergency.
When issues do arise, utility billing entities need to be able to count on a dedicated support system and software that can provide resiliency and a quick turnaround to immediate needs.
One issue that gets brought up often is the fact that there is no routine data backup within the software to ensure integrity and safety. In the software industry this is called data resiliency and redundancy.
When dealing with user data stored in a software system, your software needs to be architected in such a way that a single server failing won’t be detrimental to data access or storage. Creating redundant software systems involves setting up multiple servers that are backed up often enough not to lose the data, so that if one system fails you have a backup of all data.
A reliable data backup is absolutely critical in the instance of a network crash, systems breach, or ransomware attack… A growing concern for Utility Entities both public and private.
If you’re on the hook for maintaining all that data, both for production and for backups, those storage costs can really begin to add up and impact your bottom line.
Data resilience allows your systems to avoid catastrophic interruptions by leveraging highly orchestrated systems of availability databases and servers that keep your systems running should any one-part fail. That means that your entire system are designed in such a way that a single server failing won’t bring the whole system crashing down.
But storage redundancy isn’t the only issue when mitigating service interruptions.
When assessing a system, it’s important to know how their system creates data backups and then how the system can call upon that data not only when you need it but in the case of catastrophic failures.
This one isn’t as surprising. Even when you find a great software solution, you still need to think about how to move the data that is in your current system to a new system… Which when you’re looking at ten or more years of data can be a lot of information to move.
A lot of older systems may use propriety data solutions, or can’t export data out of the system easily, which can be a problem if you’re tackling a transfer alone. Our implementations team has found that most systems have different ways to pull out that data, but it sometimes can be more involved than just running an export.
If you have an implementation team capable of handling your changeover, migration to a different solution should be painless and your data should retain its integrity.
But data migration should go both ways as well. Your data shouldn’t be used as a hostage to keep you trapped to a single provider, no matter who that provider is. Utility Billing systems need to be able to export owned data to wherever you may want to take it.
For many utility billing entities, one of the common challenges we hear is a limitation of hardware investment to make their software work optimally.
If the billing solution is on-premise, or that the servers running your system are located in your own physical location, it can cost a lot to maintain that system to make it run optimally. The choice becomes either year over year investments in hardware, or sub-optimally performing software that can cause frustrations with your labor force or interruptions to billing for your customers.
Oddly enough, we also hear that some software companies require you to purchase specific hardware in order to have their solutions work well, both for the main hardware but also ancillary hardware such as scanners or printers.
All that means that the hardware you’re using may not be the best fit for your network infrastructure, which can cause a lot of opportunities for error.
While we may be biased, ultimately, we do want to make sure you are well setup to access many different utility billing solutions, so here are some questions you should ask when accessing utility billing systems:
With the right utility billing software, you can always have the most current version of software, you should never worry about losing your data, your customers can seamlessly access their information with a customer portal, and your entity will enjoy the benefits of a more streamlined operation.
If you are researching other solutions and have questions, contact MuniBilling to schedule a demo today to discuss your unique needs.