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HCL Increasing BPaaS Emphasis to Target Debt Reduction & Smart Metering Realization in the Utilities Sector

The utilities sector is an important one for HCL. The company has worked with ~100 utilities and currently has 25 active utilities clients, with its utilities revenue primarily from the U.S., U.K., and Australia.

To focus further on this sector, HCL has enhanced its capability to offer end-to-end and BPaaS-based services through a number of partnerships and is now going to market targeting four principal pain points for utilities, namely:

  • Utility payment being a low payment priority for customers leading to ongoing high levels of debt within the utilities sector
  • The need to introduce AMI and smart metering in the water and electricity industries
  • The increasing importance of enhancing customer engagement, particularly in moving to a multi-channel environment
  • Back-office processes that are misaligned, either with the utility front-office or their roadmap for back-office transformation.

Debt Management

Starting with debt management, HCL has carried out consulting assignments around debt for a number of utilities, with the emphasis on assisting utilities in preventing their customers falling into debt, e.g. by making sure that billing is correct. In addition to consulting services, HCL offers end-to-end debt collection services and HCL’s current utilities debt management clients include:

  • Early stage to late stage debt collection for a U.K. water utility
  • Collections for an Australian utility, based on debt purchasing
  • Working with the largest electricity retailer in the U.K. to reduce their business debt by ~40%.

For the U.K. water utility, HCL:

  • Sends a soft reminder once the due date has been exceeded
  • Manages customer payment plans
  • Manages payment by charities on the customer’s behalf
  • Makes sure that the customer has good understanding of their bill.

Building on this capability, HCL has partnered with a European-based collections software and field services company in order to offer end-to-end BPaaS collections services, and HCL will increasingly seek to offer collections as a BPaaS service.

Smart Metering

Here, HCL has carried out smart metering realization for four utilities in the U.S. and has consulted in this area in the U.K., helping a utility identify what types of customer to target and how to manage campaigns to increase adoption of smart meters.

HCL’s offering for smart metering consists of an end-to-end service from planning & forecasting through data cleaning & enhancement, customer contact planning & contact, engineer scheduling & co-ordination, smart meter installation, updating supplier records & processing meter exchange, to first bill production, exceptions management, and collections and bill shock management.

To enhance its end-to-end offering for smart meter introduction & management, HCL has partnered with:

  • A field services company globally to cover utilities installation of smart meters and drive-by meter reading
  • A meter-to-cash automation software provider.

Enhancing Customer Engagement

In customer engagement, HCL offers multi-channel coverage across the customer lifecycle. In particular, HCL is assisting utilities in deflecting as much functionality as possible to web self-service, e.g. working with a U.S. utility to ensure that home moves and meter reads can be largely handled through the utility self-serve, increasing self-serve by ~7%. In support of this customer engagement offering, HCL has partnered with:

  • A global document management company to provide inbound and outbound document management services including mail room services
  • Transera, for omni-channel contact center software.

In particular, the partner software assists HCL in identifying the root cause of customer calls so that the appropriate functionality can be provided on the web site to deflect calls to self-serve. Overall, HCL aims to ensure that the customer receives a standardized and consistent response across channels, while deflecting to self-serve whenever possible.

Aligning the Back-Office and Front-Office

HCL’s final theme is aligning the back-office with the front-office. For example, HCL has, for a U.K. water utility, implemented a workflow establishing specialist queues, so that tasks are automatically queued to the right person (e.g. a home move specialist or billing exceptions specialist). For this utility, HCL guaranteed a reduction in bad debt of $8m and reduced the cost of debt collection by 40% over 5 years while reducing the number of customer disputes by 50%.

Back-office offerings from HCL for the utilities sector include exceptions processing, new account processing, sales maximization investigations, provisioning & processing of optant meter readings, property searches, and handling business utility accounts.

‘Engage’ Service Delivery Model

In addition to targeting these specific pain points, HCL also offers ‘Engage’, an integrated service delivery model for utilities, suitable for smaller utilities and start-ups that require a complete utility solution covering both services and infrastructure, and typically operating on a per subscriber pricing model. ‘Engage’ includes:

  • SAP implementation, where HCL has extensive prior implementation experience within the utilities sector in both SAP and SAP HANA
  • Data center management
  • Business process services
  • R&D services.

HCL has undertaken this complete service, using a BPaaS service based on a customer and billing platform utilizing SAP, SAP HANA, OpenText, and Genesys, for a U.S. utility using per customer account based pricing.

How HCL Differentiates BPS for Utilities

HCL differentiates its BPS services for the utilities sector around six capabilities:

  • ‘Employees First’ culture
  • Its utilities domain expertise and experience in SAP and Oracle for Utilities
  • HCL Toscana automation engine, incorporating document management, workflow, RPA, & analytics
  • Analytics capabilities
  • ‘Utili-Best’ benchmarking framework
  • ‘Wow & Waste’ framework.

For example, HCL Toscana has delivered 20% cost savings for a U.K. water utility over 5-years, by improving the accuracy and transparency of its workflow. HCL Toscana now incorporates RPA and, going forward, HCL perceives that RPA can be applied to the meter to cash cycle for utilities to assist in areas such as:

  • Identifying the most accurate reading for customers where multiple readings have been submitted based on consumption trends to generate a believable bill
  • Associating the correct meter with the correct customer where input errors have occurred
  • Correcting errors where consumption levels appear too high or too low
  • Checking that prepay customers are on the correct tariff.

Other possibilities for automation include:

  • Meter reading validation
  • Identifying which customers can’t pay and which customers won’t pay and applying appropriate collection strategies
  • Support for customer service agents
  • Resolving discrepancies in data between meter serial numbers, customers, customer address, etc.
  • Assisting in maintaining data integrity in system migrations.

In analytics, HCL carries out analytics assignments for a number of utilities and has mapped out the utilities customer journey, identifying appropriate analytics for each of the lifecycle stages of ‘sale’, ‘consume’, ‘debt’, and ‘move’.

HCL has also responded to the demand for process maturity benchmarks by developing its ‘Utili-Best’ benchmarking framework. This modelling framework is based on client data from its consulting engagements, together with third-party data including that from OFWAT, OFGEM, FERC, and AER. The framework covers benchmarking for billing, metering, customer service, and debt levels.

The ‘Utili-Best’ benchmarking framework is further complemented by HCL’s ‘Wow & Waste’ framework. This is used to identify ‘wow’ factors that utilities should aim for, identifying potential sources of competitive advantage by matching the wows to opportunities, and the ‘waste’ elements that they should aim to eliminate. Examples of ‘wow’ factors are ‘accurate bills sent to customers’ and ‘customer pays in full’. Examples of ‘waste’ factors are billing errors or late bills. These ‘wow’ and ‘waste’ factors can then be translated into KPIs such as proportion of bills collected and NPS during ‘bill to collect’.

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