Northumbrian Water set out to enable industry-leading service for its 4.5 million customers, reduce operational costs and prepare to enter the wholesale water market.
The company selected Oracle Customer Care and Billing, which integrates with Northumbrian Water’s application landscape. The company engaged IBM Services to assist with the design and implementation of the new solution.
80%reduction in meter read-to-bill time, improving and smoothing cash flow
Increasedcustomer convenience with flexible payments and streamlined customer engagement
Boostsautomation, saving time and empowering staff to take on more value-add tasks
Business challenge story
Prioritizing the customer
Northumbrian Water supplies water and sewerage services to more than 4.5 million individuals and businesses in England, and aims to provide unrivalled service to all of its customers.
Northumbrian Water used four separate systems to manage the customer experience, causing a proliferation of data siloes, preventing it from creating a single view of the customer, which is vital for exceptional service. The company was also finding it more difficult and costly to access the resources required to maintain its aging customer engagement solution.
In 2017, the UK water market for businesses, charities and public sector bodies was deregulated, which enabled these organizations to choose their water supplier from among a range of retail providers for the first time. Providers such as Northumbrian Water would sell water and wastewater services wholesale to these retailers.
To interact efficiently with this new market segment, Northumbrian Water needed to implement modernized business processes – but found that its customer service and billing systems were unequipped for this change.
Nigel Watson, Chief Information Officer, Northumbrian Water, explains: “We wanted to improve our service and engagement to transform our customer experience, boost our internal IT efficiency, and prepare for the future wholesale water market. Our legacy systems, some of which were 20 years old, were clearly not able to support our objectives. We were looking to manage data more effectively, and build a single view of the customer that would help us operate more efficiently and enhance our service.”
Partnership to deliver real value
Northumbrian Water chose to transform its operational capabilities and create a foundation for billing efficiency, analytics and customer service, selecting Oracle Customer Care and Billing to integrate with other applications to underpin the project. To assist with solution customization, configuration and build, Northumbrian Water engaged IBM Services.
Judith Lillie, Programme Delivery Manager, Information Services, Northumbrian Water, comments: “We chose IBM Services because of its strong track record in Oracle implementations. With a deployment of this scale, we knew that it was vital to select an experienced implementation partner, to ensure that we reaped the full benefits of the Oracle technology.
“Just as importantly, early on in the selection process we knew that our corporate values aligned with IBM Services: both organizations truly believe in the power of the partnership, and the importance of working together closely and flexibly to deliver real value.”
Taking a systematic approach
Using the Oracle Applications Implementation Methodology, IBM Services managed the deployment in three phases: for the wholesale business, households, and operational contact. For each phase, IBM Services conducted a thorough review of Northumbrian Water’s current customer interaction processes, reviewed industry best practices, and custom-designed the solution, adapting it to match Northumbrian Water’s business processes, including integrating meter reading with the company’s asset management system and payments services providers.
Northumbrian Water tasked IBM Services with delivery of phase one of the implementation in time for the deregulation of the wholesale water market. To meet the deadline, IBM helped Northumbrian Water conduct ‘shadow operations’, such as practicing interactions with the market and carrying out data cleansing. When the wholesale market opened, Northumbrian Water was ready to use Oracle Customer Care and Billing with retail companies immediately.
Next, the Northumbrian Water and IBM Services teams focused on the company’s domestic customers, equating to around 1.9 million accounts. IBM Services designed and built processes to manage all billing and credit and collections processes and customer contact in relation to these processes.
To maximize efficiency and meet another tight deadline for deployment, Northumbrian Water and IBM Services moved to a capacity planning model during the testing phase, in which the team prioritized the solution components that were necessary for the go-live.
Judith Lillie explains: “IBM Services helped us to achieve an ambitious timeline by homing in on what we needed to do to go live fast, and what we could perfect post-deployment with their support.”
In the final phase of the deployment, the IBM and Northumbrian Water team transformed operational contact processes, updating all aspects of customer engagement related to operational processes and building a single view of every customer, to drive more personalized services. For this stage, the team adopted an agile delivery approach, running a series of sprints to manage the implementation.
Judith Lillie notes: “We’ve been delighted with our work with IBM Services on this project. The team’s knowledge of the Oracle solution and the water industry has been truly outstanding, and has helped us deliver this ambitious project on time. In the build phase, IBM kept a good balance between onshore and offshore staff working on the deployment. We worked very carefully to track the work taking place across both sites. We even kept clocks showing the local time in the offshore location, to make sure we kept our efforts aligned and made the best use of the extended working day.
“We’re proud of the relationship that we built on this project: the IBM Services team partnered exceptionally well with our in-house IT team and other partners – so much so that on a recent visit, our auditor couldn’t tell which members of the implementation group were from Northumbrian Water and which were from IBM!”
IBM Services helped Northumbrian Water successfully launch its Oracle Customer Care and Billing solution on time for all three implementation phases.
Judith Lillie recalls: “IBM Services’ supported the decision-making process and we worked together to ensure the right balance between just enough and perfection for go-live and, coupled with our strict go/no-go criteria, this helped us remain disciplined regarding our prospective go-live dates.
“We know from our research and benchmarking that it is common for companies to rush out billing systems before they’ve ironed out all of the flaws in the system, which can be damaging for customer relations. The experienced IBM Services team helped us select the right launch date, and we only went live in each phase when we were sure that we were ready.
“What was really pleasing was that we were back up and running with normal billing activities on the next working day following each go live – a timeframe that’s almost unheard of for an implementation of this kind.
“Everyone at Northumbrian Water has been very pleased with the value that IBM Services has delivered for us on this project – to such an extent the IBM team won the ‘Programme of the Year Enabler’ prize at Northumbrian Water’s in-house supplier awards.”
Ensuring convenient customer services
With Oracle Customer Care and Billing implemented by IBM Services, Northumbrian Water is well-positioned to improve customer experience, drive efficiency and cut associated operational costs by consolidating its view of the customer into a single view. The new system has made interacting with Northumbrian Water considerably simpler and more convenient for customers, and the company is confident that the extra control this provides customers over their accounts will drive satisfaction.
Billing is now much more flexible: whereas previously, Northumbrian Water customers could pay their bills via direct debit on two dates per month, the company enabled direct debit payments on any day of the month with Oracle Customer Care and Billing implemented by IBM Services. As well as making payment options more convenient for customers, this stabilizes cash flow, and Northumbrian Water gained a significant one-off cash benefit thanks to this change.
Claire Sharp, Customer Services Director at Northumbrian Water, highlights typical enhancements: “With Oracle Customer Care and Billing implemented by IBM Services, non-direct debit account customers can now make payments much more flexibly, and decide at which intervals they pay their bill: weekly, monthly, or however they choose, and our systems can now accommodate these arrangements.
“And by having integrated customer records, we are now using 60 percent more multimedia messaging in our credit and collections activities, which is cost-efficient for Northumbrian Water and far more convenient for customers.”
IBM Services and Northumbrian Water also improved call routing by integrating the company’s customer experience platform with the Oracle solution.
Today, when a customer calls, Oracle Customer Care and Billing recognizes the number and enables the customer advisor to begin conversations without time-consuming identity validation checks. Additionally, the solutions can detect customers that have issues with affordability and route their call to a credit and collections advisor, ensuring that the customer gets to the right team quickly.
The implementation of Oracle Customer Care and Billing by IBM Services enabled Northumbrian Water to build more automation into key business processes. This will help drive operational efficiency and empower employees to devote more time to value-add tasks. The average time from reading a customer’s meter to the customer receiving their bill used to be five days. Since the new solution processes meter reading data through the billing process automatically, Northumbrian Water reduced the read-to-bill time to an average of 24 hours, a time saving of 80 percent.
Oracle Customer Care and Billing implemented by IBM Services has also helped Northumbrian Water automate a range of processes to support customers with Priority Services, including affordability issues, which helps ensure excellent customer service.
Northumbrian Water’s new system has reduced the level of risk inherent in the billing process. Previously, to complete the unmetered annual billing operation for around 800,000 customers, the company had to close down the legacy system over two weekends. With Oracle Customer Care and Billing, Northumbrian Water bills around 30,000 customers each night, which ensures a much smoother and manageable process.
In future, Northumbrian Water will review the ways in which customer service advisors use Oracle Customer Care and Billing, to identify opportunities to further enhance efficiency by automating further processes as appropriate.
Nigel Watson concludes: “Working with IBM Services to configure and implement Oracle Customer Care and Billing has proved transformational for Northumbrian Water, enabling us to improve customer service, cut operational costs and reduce business risk – and this is only the beginning!”
About Northumbrian Water
NWG (Northumbrian Water Group) provides water and sewerage services to 2.7 million people in the North East of England under its Northumbrian Water brand, and water services to 1.8 million people in the South East of England under its Essex & Suffolk Water brand.