Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
If You Had an Unlimited Budget and Regulatory Approval, What Would You Do?

A few weeks ago I attended the Billing for Utilities event in Orlando, FL hosted by the Orlando Utilities Commission and orchestrated by EUCI. At the event I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of utilities focused on practices and issues in utility billing specifically in the U.S. utility industry. Represented on the panel was Portland General Electric, Peoples Natural Gas, Georgia Power (Southern Company), and TECO Energy. The panel addressed questions from myself and the audience, made up mainly of utility attendees.


This event was the 12th annual focused on utility billing for EUCI and as such, the topics and issues discussed centered on the customer information system (CIS) and the billing function at the utility. EUCI has recently split this event into a Canadian event (held in Toronto this last January) and a U.S. event held in Orlando. Hence the issues were coming from a U.S. perspective. I kicked off the session by asking the panelists what the biggest challenge they currently face is. The panelists agreed on two major concerns. Those being the aging workforce and a lack of IT support. Mind you there are no IT resources on the panel or even in the audience for that matter. So this concern is coming from the business, more specifically the customer service department of the utility. The aging workforce worried the utilities not only because of their own departments losing skilled and seasoned resources, but also because the IT departments in their respective utilities were losing key resources.


For years the aging workforce has been an issue in all industries, not just utilities. The U.S. is not alone in this predicament. In fact, even with dire warnings and statistics pointing to the decrease in the workforce aged 15-64, Europe and parts of Asia actually appear to have it worse than the U.S. Now the effects of the aging workforce is impacting the business. And to bring this back to the Billing topic, many utilities have been successful in the last 5-10 years extending the life of the CIS. However, the day of reckoning is arriving as the skilled resources required to maintain the CIS and build interfaces to new applications and fill new requirements begin to retire. Some of these resources are business-based but most are IT resources.


The audience asked many follow-on questions related to the utility CIS/Billing application including pre-pay services, consumer engagement, and credit/collections. But the last question was the most telling. If you had an unlimited budget and guaranteed regulatory approval, what would you do? Acknowledging the obvious “dream world” background scenario, the grinning panelists took the answer straight back to their two main concerns. They would replace their aging CIS with plenty of knowledgeable and skilled IT resources. They heard earlier in the day how that project could run anywhere from $55-$125 per customer based on jurisdictional complexity, number of applications, and number of customers. Most in the industry are well aware that CIS replacement projects are large risky multi-year endeavors that sometimes claim careers and require plenty of up-front planning and integration expertise. For most that comes in the form of integrators in the industry but also requires plenty of business and IT staff internal to the utility. I am coming to the conclusion that based on the aging workforce beginning to move from talk to reality via retirements and the lack of available IT resources, utilities are going to have a challenge when the duct-taped (successfully mind you) CIS needs replacing.


Granted the nature of the event (Utility Billing) dictated the answer. I am sure at a distribution event I would have heard “underground the entire distribution network with the latest smart grid technology” or at a generation event “replace my coal generation with the latest hydro, nuclear, natural gas, or even renewable facilities.” But when you are focused on utility billing, business and IT resources are key elements for success. And they are aging just as fast as the distribution, generation, or construction engineers.


Jon Brock is President of Denver-based utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC.  He can be reached at

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