The confluence of an array of forces – including renewable energy, smart meters, deregulation, social media, analytics tools, and growing customer technology sophistication and expectations – is driving electric utilities to take a more customer-centric approach across their businesses. In particular, utilities have recognized that many current legacy billing and customer information systems (CIS) are insufficient for the long term, and they are developing replacement strategies to avoid obsolescence. As a result, according to a new report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, the electric utility billing and CIS software and services market will grow from $2.3 billion in 2011 to $4.0 billion by 2017, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.5%.

“Other industries, such as banking, insurance, transportation, and telecommunications, have undergone similar IT transformations, but the challenge to utilities is the most daunting faced by any industry today,” says chief research director Bob Gohn. “Many legacy billing and CIS tools are regarded as being technically unsuited for the emerging smart grid requirements. The technical and workforce skill risks are high, and the investments required to meet the emerging standards of performance will be considerable.”

The billing and CIS replacement strategies available to utilities include wholesale IT transformation, selection of a managed service provider to outsource the function, alignment with providers of integrated software suites like Oracle and SAP, and/or more measured, modular roadmaps for instituting billing and CIS functionality to accommodate the new market realities. The latter approach can range from aggressively upgrading key capabilities to embracing cost avoidance by grafting on extensions to legacy systems in order to avoid process disruption. However, this may only delay the organizational/business operations transformation that these companies will eventually have to face.