Moving to the cloud can save utilities major upfront hardware and software purchasing costs, offer improved efficiency and security, and enable the creation of new applications which enhance business functions. Despite the convenience and affordability of cloud solutions, the actual migration process presents several hurdles that require a clear strategy and dedicated oversight to overcome.
More and more utilities are recognising the benefits of cloud computing, which include increased efficiency, ease of access, simpler administration and management, and overall lower costs.
Cloud-based applications and data are accessible from virtually any internet-connected device, making cloud computing ideal for collaboration and file-sharing.
Organisations that don’t have to build and operate a data centre don’t have to spend significant money on hardware, facilities and other aspects of operations.
Cloud computing encourages innovation by ensuring organisations have access to the latest technology, and can easily be scaled up and down according to the needs of the business.
Data stored in the cloud is available anywhere on-demand, mitigating local risks such as fire, flood, theft and power failure by offering a convenient backup in the event that a server is damaged or the information unable to be accessed.
But in order to reap the benefits of cloud technology, organisations first have to successfully move there – a process often fraught with various challenges.
Overcoming security concerns
Some organisations are hesitant to move to the cloud because it means entrusting their data to a third party, which raises security concerns and results in companies preferring to keep their data on local servers.
Morgan Duncan, co-founder of Utilibill, a cloud-based utility billing software provider, said the reality today is it’s easier to gain access to data if it’s stored in an office cupboard than in a purpose-built cloud-based platform.
“These days, all businesses are connected to the internet. If you have a $100 router in your office it’s likely someone wanting to gain access to your platform could do so in under an hour.
“By migrating to the cloud, you are making a decision to move to a provider who takes security very seriously and invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in firewalls, anti-virus software and threat mitigation strategies.”
Deciding who manages the migration process
Before migrating to a cloud environment, organisations must thoroughly plan, discuss, and decide on a clear strategy. Part of that strategy should determine if the transition should be completed internally, externally by a vendor or in combination with a system integrator.
Regardless of who carries the migration, utilities must also ensure that the processes needed for the move have been planned and adapted for the organisation’s specific IT environments. If the migration is being completed externally, it is important to select the right partner to engage.
Utilibill’s platform provides flexibility and adaptability by offering utilities the choice of self-migration or managed migration. Managed migration offers utilities the chance to work with with an experienced team of cloud professionals, who are well-placed to neutralise many common migration challenges.
“Our team have built a set of implementation tools, a toolkit if you like, which we use internally to conduct billing platform transitions. We strive to self-enable, both because we are a lean organisation, but also because these days utilities need to be fast and nimble if they want to enact change directly,” Mr Duncan said.
“As a result, we have published our toolkit which enables our system integration partners and our utility clients to conduct the onboarding process themselves. These tools differentiate us from the crowd, who in general prefer to slug big upfront and ongoing project fees for the service run and managed by them.
“In addition to our toolkit, we offer the traditional implementation and transition services to those looking for vendor driven transformation to the cloud. We provide the flexibility to mix and match the level of service offered by us and our system integration partners.”
Ensuring people and processes can adapt to the change
Any change in a system or procedure can be difficult for employees within the organisation to adapt to.
Additional capital may have to be spent on training staff how to handle the new the cloud platform, or there may have to be a temporary shuffle of resources and funding to get the new cloud environment going.
Setting up a ‘sandbox’ or play area where employees can get comfortable and experiment with the cloud environment without impacting the migration planning and strategy can be a good way to ensure team cohesiveness and comfort, and prevent resistance to the change.
For times when a problem may need an outside perspective, Utilibill prides itself on providing its customers with high-quality support at no extra cost, using Australia-based Account Managers.
“We measure the success of our platform by how few support items and consulting requirements our customers have, whereas most providers measure their success by the number of consulting hours they bill their customer over and above their annual subscription charges,” Mr Duncan said.
“On average, our customers can anticipate less than 10 per cent uplift over and above subscription fees. This is market leading, predictable and easy to forecast, and it’s what customers want.
“Regardless of the model deployed, clients work to a timeline and any time they require support a milestone is at risk. Meaningful and timely customer support is critical to ensure these projects are delivered on time and on budget.”
Mr Duncan believes that in ten years time, few if any utilities will be running on premise solutions.
“The benefits retailers will enjoy may include an immediate return on investment. This is driven from the reduced need for support and technical staff, reduction of disparate systems and their associated absorbed costs, and in many instances, moving from resource-intensive manual processes to highly automated ones,” Mr Duncan said.