energycioinsights

Driving Energy Innovation for Affordable Electricity

By Kenny Coleman, SVP & CIO, Southern Company

Kenny Coleman, SVP & CIO, Southern Company

Our business model is built around our customers. Everything we do is to benefit our customers and my organization has a critical role. One new way we are meeting the needs of our customers is through our revamped bill payment plan. Through subsidiary Georgia Power, we have identified three “personalized service” payment options. Georgia Power has implemented a new prepay product and has also authorized payment locations (APL) and enhanced payment card options.

‘Pay as you go' Electricity

The prepay option is our newest product and is targeted to meet the needs of our customers who have issues paying their bill. This feature allows customers to pay for the electricity they use in advance and gives them more control to ‘pay as they go’ – avoiding deposit fees, payment arrangements and reconnect fees, while helping reduce the volume of outreach to call centers and local offices.

Our APL option provides over 2,500 third-party payment locations across the state, including grocery stores, drug stores and super-centers. This is a low-cost, walk-in payment channel that is convenient for the customer. Our no-fee payment cards can be used in multiple payment channels including online, at designated APLs and in local offices. This provides customer convenience by way of additional forms of payment and greater flexibility.

This initiative leverages, integrates and extends several of the company’s existing core technologies in a creative and innovative way to meet the needs of customers. The technologies used to implement this initiative included the company’s automated meter infrastructure (AMI), automated resource management system (ARMS), Customer Service System (CSS), Online Customer Care (OCC) system and a web-enabled mobile platform with email and text notifications.

While the technology was critical to the initiative’s success, equally as important was staging three payment components in the correct sequence and adjusting business processes to support prepay in the most customer-friendly manner.

For example, Georgia Power implemented the authorized payment locations and no-fee debit and credit card payment initiatives as part of the overall payment strategy prior to rolling out the prepay product. This allowed customers to prepay for the electricity at locations convenient to them and in the payment form of their choosing.

Another example was ensuring those who enrolled in prepay had the appropriate meter and communication setup at their location to participate and to promptly transmit service requests. For those capable of accepting prepay, it was critical that electronic orders were transmitted in a timely manner and real-time feedback was received on connect status.

These options offer a new level of customer convenience with more payment locations, extended business and weekend hours, additional flexibility and greater personal control. The feedback we have received has been extremely positive, and we expect to use these programs as a baseline for further growth of our customer-focused initiatives.

As a CIO, I recognize the importance of strengthening our involvement in business partner planning to best link the technology strategy with the business strategy. In a changing business landscape, the focus must remain on providing the best solutions to meet customers’ needs.

IT: At The Forefront of Planning

Information technology is uniquely involved in all areas of the business and provides a much-needed perspective in developing real-time solutions. The direct involvement of CIOs in integrated planning has become increasingly important. In recent years, we have seen IT leadership move to the forefront of planning discussions. As technology continues to drive business decisions, IT professionals will provide great value in helping determine the needs of internal and external stakeholders.

My focus as CIO is on managing risk and providing strategies and policies to best serve Southern Company’s employees and customers. Information technology professionals have a deep understanding of business needs and have rightly been called upon to offer guidance and deliver company-wide solutions. As IT leadership continues to have a seat at the table in the decision-making process, we are increasingly taking ownership as thought leaders across the enterprise. Our ability to effectively communicate how technology supports an overall strategy has set a new trend.

Putting New Technologies to Work

Technology is a vibrant tool that sets the industry pace. Information technology organizations must be faster and more flexible in the solutions we deliver to meet the needs of our customers. Harnessing emerging trends and turning complex technological developments into real-world applications of great importance will continue to drive our momentum. Southern Company’s focus on innovation, and engagement in emerging trends, is a necessary step to continue bolstering service options for our customers.

By building relationships with key decision makers, we have created a platform to speak on the importance of technology throughout a company. As businesses continue to evolve, so does the need to have a technology plan allowing CIOs to drive strategy and offer solutions. One of the most effective techniques in meeting our goals is to hire and develop employees from backgrounds that offer expertise in various technology-based areas. By organizing teams comprised of diverse and talented IT professionals, we can develop a well-reasoned and refined plan that offers technical and strategic components.

Building a Diverse Workforce

Southern Company has a long-standing commitment to recruiting and retaining individuals with diverse backgrounds. In January 2015, Southern Company was recognized as one of the 40 Best Companies for Diversity by Black Enterprise magazine. For the last eight years, Southern Company has been named to Computerworld’s list of 100 Best Places to Work in IT and as the highest-ranked utility on G.I. Jobs’ Top 100 Military Friendly employers list. These accolades are a result of Southern Company’s pursuit to build an employee base as diverse and unique as the customers we serve.

Harnessing Innovation

Collaborating within your organization is another avenue that Southern Company has pursued to foster innovation. In May 2014, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning announced a groundbreaking competition, SO Prize, which rewarded employees for proposing solutions to address future energy challenges. Nearly 1,000 ideas were submitted, and the six winners were eligible for a “proof of concept” that would move their idea into the development stage with an eye toward possible implementation. As we have seen at Southern Company, by encouraging and rewarding innovative thinking in every facet of the company, you maximize the creativity and potential of your employees.

The bottom line is that we must embrace our new level of involvement. No longer are businesses developing strategic plans without the counsel of IT leadership. Technical competency and an understanding of emerging trends, the needs of the business and how to best manage risk are of profound importance in managing an IT organization and ensuring the company is best represented.

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