Case Study

Utility Company: Leveraging the Public Cloud

Staff augmentation and architectural guidance allows U.S. utility to reduce customer calls through digital engagement

A HISTORY BUILT ON TECHNOLOGY

For more than a century, a U.S. Utility has been a pioneer in the energy sector. From breaking ground in hydroelectric power to contracting renewable energy, technology has driven their success in one of the country’s largest residential markets.

Continuing its history of using technology in innovative ways, the company decided it was time to digitally transform their business to meet the needs of today’s online customers.

CHANGING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

The Utility currently receives more than four million customer calls per year. Keeping up with this volume requires them to spend $15 million on contact center operations.

Looking for ways to cut contact center costs and improve customer engagement, they examined the types of calls coming in.

They discovered that nearly all calls required low-touch interaction with a customer service representative.

The percentage of calls they receive broke down to:

  • 33 percent for Explain My Bill
  • 33 percent for Service Event (such as a resident moving)
  • 11 percent for Service Interruption
  • 10 percent for Pay My Bill
  • 9 percent for Financial Assistance

The Utility believed that by building out the capabilities of its website and customer-facing applications, it could dramatically reduce the number calls it receives while providing a better customer experience.

Following its findings, the company started an initiative that aspires to provide such a high quality of service through its e-commerce site and mobile applications that customers wouldn’t need to call for assistance.

TROUBLE IN THE CLOUD

The Utility saw Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a more efficient and stable way of providing e-commerce services.

Working out of AWS would allow the company’s application developers to access VMs at speed and scale, and the company’s website would benefit from high-availability hosting.

Although AWS could deliver the Utility the platform they needed, the company didn’t have the cloud resources to design and operate an AWS architecture capable of supporting a major business initiative.

The Utility lacked process and workflow integration with enterprise systems like ServiceNow, which had led to minimal templates and no standard input forms. The cloud team frequently had to email requesters for clarification.

Also problematic was that no documentation existed for basic AWS tasks like setting up a new account or gaining access to servers.

As it stood, AWS requests were taking weeks to close.

The company needed a partner that could advise on a sophisticated AWS architecture, close the IT skills gaps and provide immediate assistance to delays in provisioning AWS resources.

AN EYE FOR DESIGN

We used our cloud expertise to help the Utility apply governance, reliability and efficiency to its AWS architecture and mature its cloud processes.

The Utility worked with another vendor and AWS to create a secure ingress and egress routing architecture for their overall enterprise cloud.

Due to our deep understanding of their networking in the cloud, and experience in AWS networking, we were pulled in to quickly troubleshoot issues related to deployment, advise on best practices and resolve ongoing concerns of cloud consumers.

We started our engagement with an audit of the Utility’s AWS security policies. During this process, we identified a potential vulnerability in an AWS S3 bucket. We also identified discrepancies between on-premise identity and access management (IAM) and those in AWS.

To address the issue of S3 security, we are working to develop a CloudWatch event that watches S3 API operations and triggers a Lambda script if certain criteria are met. For instance, if someone tries to delete an AWS S3 bucket encryption policy or make a bucket or object public that doesn’t have an exception, the Utility’s cloud staff will be notified via an SNS notification triggered by the same Lambda.

We also are unifying IAM policies by requiring that AWS IAM policies for users match their rights based on on-premise governance. The long-term goal is to sync this process through automation.

A HELPING HAND

Lastly, we have augmented the Utility’s cloud team with one of our AWS architects.

By sitting next to the Utility’s microservices and web development teams, our architect has been able to submit snap tickets, eliminating the need for cloud staff to clarify requests through email. He’s also documenting FAQs related to AWS that eventually will be migrated to a ServiceNow knowledge base for easier troubleshooting.

FROM THE CLOUD TO THE CUSTOMER

With our architect handling operations and management for cloud requests, the Utility’s developers can now be provisioned AWS resources in less than 30 minutes, whereas previously the process averaged two weeks. The cloud team is no longer seen as a bottleneck to application development but rather as an enabler of digital transformation.

After securing and improving upon the Utility’s AWS design, the company’s customer-facing website is now hosted entirely in the cloud with developers using Sitecore to customize the Utility’s e-commerce site and mobile applications based on user behavior.  Being able to personalize the web and mobile experience for its customers had led to the Utility receiving 96,000 fewer calls.

Currently application developers are working on rolling out a website feature that will allow customers who are moving to enter their new address and automatically have their utility service transferred over, which is predicted to make a sizable dent out of the number of calls the Utility receives.

Although the company will never eliminate customer calls completely, it can count on being an industry leader for customer engagement now that they have a platform for secure, efficient and fast application development.