Vendor Spotlight Interview - Utility Market Connections sits down with John Baksa (Hansen Technologies President Americas).
The typical focus of these interviews is generally about serving the utility company itself. To break from the norm, I thought we could chat about the utility end user; first, let’s talk about the buzz produced at CS week. What’s going on at Hansen Technologies?
Yes, there certainly was a buzz at CS Week! I think over the years Banner has been a well-loved product, everyone knows it. I think when a trusted product gets a major overhaul, people are genuinely interested to hear about it. It’s really exciting to be upgrading our customers to benefit from this major new release of our BannerCX 5.1 and we’ve been delighted with the demand off the back of CS week.
This is a major release of Hansen’s customer information system (CIS) solution for utilities and municipalities in North America. We invested two years of significant R&D which led to a major redesign and modernization that includes an improved User Experience (UX), CSR efficiency, enhanced reporting and analytics, and a reduced technical stack that lowers the operational and implementation costs.
We’re also rebranding, focusing on the customer experience (“CX”) across all of our product lines. In addition, we’re seeing innovation in our other regulated utilities product lines where we have a live, production instance of our NirvanasoftCX complex billing module integrated with PeaceCX at a large U.S. investor-owned utility. NirvanasoftCX is delivering a sophisticated solution to support highly complex and dynamic rates structures in electric, gas, water, and steam for both C&I and residential customers. NirvanasoftCX can be a “bolt on” module to any CIS system to support complex billing, smart meters, and community solar invoicing. In the deregulated markets, we are continuing to invest in our SolutionsCX BPO platform and are working with partners to enhance the end-to-end functionality.
Finally, we are investing in APIs for all of our platforms because our systems are part of a bigger digital ecosystem that is evolving quickly. The API economy has enabled fast, seamless transactions in our everyday life. These connected ecosystems are expected to be resilient and available, making Disaster Recovery, Cloud Disaster Recovery, and Cybersecurity increasingly important.
Importantly, because the needs of customers differ, all of our solutions allow customers a choice: traditional on-premise vs. as-a-service models and Hybrid cloud deployments.
That leads me to ask, what does the average utility company client want?
I think that the average utility end user wants highly reliable service since in the U.S. we assume that our electricity, gas, water, and sewer services will be “on” 100% of the time. They want service choices (we have choices for everything else), accurate and simple to understand billing and easy ways (e.g. phone, web, mobile) of contacting the utility and resolving issues when needed. I guess I would also say that nobody really wants “average” anymore. That applies to both our clients and their customers. Everybody knows that it’s a competitive world and that we need to provide not only great reasons for them to stay but ensure that there isn’t a situation that gives someone a reason to want to change providers. Reliability is key.
"They want service choices (we have choices for everything else), accurate and simple to understand billing and easy ways (e.g. phone, web, mobile) of contacting the utility and resolving issues when needed. I guess I would also say that nobody really wants “average” anymore."
What is the direct impact on Jane and John Doe when one of your client’s upgrades their legacy CIS (Customer Information System) using one of Hansen’s solutions?
If all goes as planned, the impact is a happier client and an improved Customer Experience: e.g. quicker, first-call resolution of any questions or issues as well as new ways for a customer to interact with their utility. In the worst-case scenario, it should be business as usual, i.e. no noticeable impact.
Over the past several years, Hansen has focused on reducing the time, effort, and cost associated with upgrading to the latest Hansen Technologies solution. We have done so by deprecating legacy technology; deploying a modern and configurable framework that minimizes the need for customization; providing more run-time options; and offering deployment flexibility, including various cloud platforms and hosting options. This approach provides value to our clients and their customers, streamlining implementation and minimizing disruptions typically associated with upgrades.
With the IoT (Internet of Things) so embedded in everyday life, how does this constant access to information and services affect the consumer’s expectations of what a utility company should provide?
IoT and the “API Economy” have enabled fast, seamless transactions in our everyday life, e.g. instant payments, real-time inventory checks and product orders, and instant cell phone and TV programming activation. It has raised consumer expectations that a utility company provides similar services, e.g. real-time energy pricing, smarter home energy conservation, and solar arrays connected digitally (e.g. via blockchain transactions) to the utility power grid. APIs improve performance, eliminate manual processes, and reduce data errors.
As an example, the current BannerCX platform includes an enhanced Hansen Integration Framework (HIF). This framework is a catalog of APIs built around key integrations that utilities need today in a self-service world. Two of those integrations are Customer Mobile (Phone app) and Workforce Mobile (field service requests).
From a Customer Mobile perspective, these APIs allow customers to sign on to their accounts, check their balances, check their usage, communicate with the utility, make payments, create work orders, set up budgets, and send pictures and documents to the utility from the comfort of their own chair through their phone application.
From a Workforce Mobile perspective, the utility can communicate with a multitude of vendors to send auto-generated work requests to the field. Through APIs, the customers can see time slot availability, schedule the orders, and have them sent to the workforce mobile applications. The Workforce Mobile application can dispatch to the field technician immediately. A field technician drives to the location, works the order, and immediately transmits the information back through APIs to the BannerCX application. The BannerCX application will analyze the data for completeness and accuracy and automatically complete the order and perform the action. These actions can include such activities as activating service, deactivating the services, or simply changing out a bad meter. Now utilities and their customers can get real-time services based on the touch of a screen.
APIs enable experiences like this – a utility customer could have the customer mobile app on their phone and, as they walk up a driveway to their new home, they could access the utilities CIS, establish an account, pay their deposit, create an activate service request, and have their lights come on as they walk in the door.
In your opinion, how important do you believe security is to the average consumer and where do you believe most of the concern lies? The theft of personal information or utility hacking as a form of terrorism?
I believe that in the last 12-18 months, information security has leaped to the front-page news for most consumers. With so many high-profile security breaches, consumers are aware that their personal computing, cell phone, social media, and other data are at risk. Their level of concern varies from seeing it as a significant inconvenience to being very concerned about the financial implications and losing their intrinsic feeling of safety and security.
Utilities are very aware that any breaches can impact their business and brand in a very detrimental way. The actions they are taking shows us they are taking this seriously; e.g. taking prudent steps to safeguard data, including paying for security services like virus and malware protection, data backup, VPNs, firewalls, DR, etc.
We’ve put together a disaster recovery strategy for both ourselves and our clients that includes redundant environments deployed in various regions to assure critical systems remain online with minimal disruption while maintaining data integrity. There was a recent example in the U.S. Energy deregulated market where an EDI / Billing vendor was hit by a cyber-attack that interrupted their Production systems for an extended period, resulting in significant impact to the customers, energy retailers, and counterparties serving them. The fallout continues with utilities requesting counterparties to attest to security practices, for instance. We proactively shared our information security policy with clients to assure them of the processes we have in place to protect their data and to address some of the questions that arise following such events. We also had our IT department closely monitor all of their environments. Our operations department worked closely with the clients that were impacted to monitor and reprocess transactions. Our clients felt secure knowing that we had a safe environment for their data with policies in place to maintain the integrity of that data and we worked as a partner with them to closely monitor the situation to help lessen the impact on their business.
As the idea of writing a check to pay a bill dissipates with the decline of the Boomers, how will millennials anticipations for secure, virtual bill paying translate into technological advancements now and in the future?
Virtual bill paying is here today and here to stay. Millennials and others have already adopted services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Venmo; many consumers (including Boomers) use electronic bill pay services and credit cards to pay their utility bills. As more pay services come onto the markets, we will ensure that our systems can interface and support them.
We are well positioned to interface with current and future bill pay and other 3rd party services through the Hansen Integration Framework (HIF). Traditional interfaces are customized and require significant effort to deploy, maintain, and modify. HIF provides a baseline catalog of web-services to streamline integration with best of breed 3rd party applications.