Just over a decade ago, The United Illuminating Company saw an opportunity to advance to the cutting edge by deploying “Smart Systems” to meet the ever-changing customer and energy market expectations.
The New Haven, CT-based public-service electric utility launched a project to upgrade its metering infrastructure, rolling out what at the time were state-of-the-art meters capable of remotely reporting daily — and even hourly — usage data while automating a variety of other process tasks that once required technician field visits.
At the time, UI was in the process of a company-wide review of all business process, with the goal of meeting the challenges of new market dynamics in advance of statewide deregulation in 2000. It was immediately clear that the fixed Network Meter Reading project, as it was known, would touch systems and processes at all levels of the company.
As a pure delivery and customer-service utility serving 325,000 customers in southwestern Connecticut, UI took a fresh look at meter-to-cash processes and its customer-service support systems. In line with the Hammer and Company model and philosophy, UI now refers to these processes as “fulfill service-related requests” and “acquire revenue” — core processes within UI’s Client Fulfillment business unit.
UI considered the internal and external stakeholders that Network Meter Reading would affect. Customers, UI call center representatives, and other internal support staff would now have access to near-real-time information about their electricity usage. Move-ins and move-outs could now be arranged without a technician visit. Meters could be remotely reprogrammed to accommodate new rate structures. The outage management process would be enhanced by the ability to “ping” meters to determine whether they’re in service. And theft of service could more readily be detected. Most importantly was the ability to transform data into information to help reduce operating costs while providing customers with the information to better manage their energy use and create more value out of their energy dollar.
“This was one example of how different parts of a company can work together to achieve multiple process improvements through the use of technology, employee engagement, and continuous process reviews that provide a benefit for all of the stakeholders involved,” said Joe Thomas, UI’s Vice President for Client Fulfillment.
“Our focus now is to ensure that employees understand the role they play
within the overall process, so that they’re in a position to drive
For example, he said, improved detection of theft of energy services alone has saved more than $25 million since 1999 — costs that otherwise would have been passed to UI’s customers and other stakeholders. In 2007, this Network Meter Reading program led to UI winning the Automatic Meter Reading Association’s award in the Revenue Assurance Initiative category because it set a revenue assurance record with a 240 percent return on expenses and $2.1 million recovered in a year.
With help from Hammer and Company, UI has achieved a significant transformation of its culture and organization through process. As it undertakes the next big upgrade of its meter network and infrastructure — creating “Smart Systems” that will empower customers to better manage their electricity costs and usage — UI will continue this process-based approach to transformation.
“We’ve had some short-term ‘big-bang’ initiatives — where we turned everything upside-down — called ‘process reengineering’,” said Edward Drew, Associate Vice President for Corporate Services, the UI business unit that includes process improvement. “Our focus now is to ensure that employees understand the role they play within the overall process, so that they’re in a position to drive change. In a process-based organization, every employee plays an essential role. We tell our employees that whatever they do — no matter what their role — they contribute to the success of the company. The slogan we use here is, ‘Every piece counts’.”