Huge Scream Utility (3.0) Re-Architecture Rollout to 2 Utilities Simultaneously – Utility Case Study
Written by: Gary Michor (CEO), Screaming Power Inc.
Introduction: This Case Study focuses on a rollout of a new Scream Utility Application (Utility-branded customer engagement tool) that greatly enhances usability, security, ease-of-use and reduces overall time of maintenance and support with the additional benefit of lower cost of ownership. For the product set to meet its goal, a year of development and architecture redesign was invested into the technology as lessons learned from the past were studied.
The technology approach Screaming Power used is not common in the Energy industry where most vendor-based solutions are so highly customized that each rollout has to be completed individually. Each system install is so unique it is impossible to provide improvements to multiple customers at once. This inherent issue requires extensive time for the vendor and the Utility to review and test. It also requires the Utility to pay an upgrade fee every time there is a new version offered. Screaming Power’s new technology approach allows for rapid review and testing while still allowing for individual Utility feature choice and unique branding. This allows Screaming Power to provide extensive updates as one “source code” release and to make the rollouts as part of our SaaS services / Maintenance costs. This also greatly reduces long term cost of ownership for the Utility and allows the overall solution to be more secure and stable. Updates such as ongoing security and operational / feature enhancements makes the solution more resilient to technology change and allows for the toolset to be used as part of a digitization strategy.
The overall redesign of the toolset focused on multi–utility SaaS delivery without compromising risk management. Why do this now? We understand the Utilities’ future is a digitized world. We believe our toolset is part of an evolutionary process. To have an effective digitization strategy (for us and our Utility partners), we needed to correct industry-wide weaknesses while providing an independent, flexible approach for Utility customer interaction.
Timeline: This Case Study covers 3 months, March to May 2022, and is reviewing the pre-rollout, rollout and post rollout of 2 electric and water Utilities that simultaneously released new, publicly available iOS and Android applications. The applications are already integrated into both Utilities’ infrastructure, as they already provide billing, metering, and outage information as well as education for items such as GHGs and conservation for Utility account holders as part of our 2.0 solution.
Goal: Rollout of the new 3.0 Scream Utility solution:
• Modularize code base so it is more flexible to unique client needs
o Review rollout and ensure it is meeting / maintaining the unique needs of each Utility
• Achieve minimal downtime while transitioning all users to a new infrastructure = superior code management and rollout processes
o Review Downtime
• Achieve minimal Utility Customer support issues while transitioning all users to a new infrastructure = minimized User support costs and frustration
o Review customer support channels and measure
• Minimize direct Utility engagement while transitioning to a new infrastructure = reduced internal utility cost and headache
o Review engagement time with the Utilities independently, as both Utilities interact with us differently
• Bring the new SaaS toolset out with minimal interruption and advanced flexibility to evolve = creation of a tool built for the future
o Review overall success of implementation in 3 phases: Pre / Rollout / Post together to better understand the true implementation costs outside our internal infrastructure.
• Enhance the User Experience to make the complete solution more user friendly and aesthetically pleasing
Background: This toolset began its first production rollout in 2017 (v1.0) with Lakefront Utilities in Ontario, Canada. See Case Study. A lot has changed since 2017 in mobility / internet, IoT, sustainability, and customer engagement. This solution has gone though many advancements over the years as Scream Utility. Portions of the Intellectual Property has also been used to build custom solutions for Utilities and large third-party end users which required separate code branching happen, requiring Screaming Power to spend more time in maintaining customized solutions.
Scream Utility has adapted to utility and end-user feedback and the Energy industry progression in policies, security risks and regulations. Scream Utility has been evolving into a complete mobile-first framework for Utilities which provides cost-effective integrated features. Each Utility can choose what they offer the end user, with a platform that is constantly advancing Customer Communications.
The road to Utility customer engagement has evolved in the last several years, as we researched and implemented new techniques to link and manage data from legacy systems (which are not well suited for system-to-system interoperability) to the digital economy that adapts every few months.
Our toolset is built to remove market and data barriers that have plagued the Utility marketplace. Scream Utility 3.0 is a huge step forward in the right direction, as it gives the Utility more flexibility to select the vendors and tools they want to work with, as Scream Utility is now a platform that technically embraces working with external up and down stream Utility Vendors with ease.
There are multiple implementation elements to be looked at in this Case Study that are presented in this list:
• Future Proof the Scream Utility toolset – deliver a branded mobile-first toolset that is also capable of delivering web-based tools for a public website and a single sign-on capability for the Scream Utility web-based customer portal (delivery Summer 2022).
• Advance security, system administration and tracing at all levels to make data integration, communications and presentment layers more adaptable to the Utilities’ business needs
• Improve the flexibility of data management, analysis, auditing and speed at which information is delivered to the user, independent of the user engagement front end used
• Ensure delivery of all existing features remain intact while improving the customer experience and look-and-feel.
Case Study Overview
Screaming Power rolled out 3 new applications / toolsets to 2 Utilities at the same time at the end of April 2022: 2 AWS cloud infrastructures with advanced communications, 2 separate Utility Android Applications and 2 separate Utility iOS Applications (tested / released in the app stores). This production rollout activity was all completed in 2 days, which is unheard of in the Utility Industry. Screaming Power implemented a delivery process that manages expedited changes and reduces the involvement of others, so the company can independently take on the burden of the rollout.
This change management process took extensive planning and controlled automation to manage the differences between 2 Utility implementations, as each Utility uses different meter / ODS providers, internal utility processes, and features within the Scream Utility Branded toolset, along with independent data connectivity approaches with the same CIS system.
Since the rollout of Scream Utility 3.0, Screaming Power has rolled out several changes to production in a synchronized multi-Utility approach that further tested the adaptability of providing changes on-the-fly which will be discussed in our results.
Due to extensive and ongoing testing and review requirements, Screaming Power solidified processes to use depersonalized data that heavily relied on internal technology redundant processes (same as used in our disaster recovery) to allow for a synchronization of solution technology while we are in a continuous development process.
With our seamless update process, customers experienced zero down time. By using a combination of legacy APIs and new updated APIs, our v2 application was able to co-exist with the new v3.0 application simultaneously while the update was in progress. Customers still running the v2 versions of our application could continue to use all functionality until the update was available to them through the app stores.
Measuring the Customer support channels (Activity through the rollout process):
Screaming Power handles front line support for one Utility and has visibility into the other Utility’s support for the mobile application. During the upgrade process, our team closely monitored both support channels as well error logs on our back-end servers in order to pre-empt any possible issues. In the weeks after the rollout, we did not receive any support requests relating to the new version. This exceeded our original expectations.
Engagement time with the Utilities independently, and as one rollout process:
Throughout the development cycle, our Utility partners were kept informed of our progress. Early in the process, screenshots were shared with Utilities and as the app progressed, live demos were possible. Feedback including improvements as well as brand new feature requests from the Utilities were incorporated into development. Just prior to rollout, a full top-to-bottom demo of the app was shown to the Utilities together allowing for a more cooperative approach for our customers and Screaming Power was able to answer any questions and concerns with pre and post rollout expectations.
The implementation was successful from all sides – to the customer, Screaming Power and the Utilities.
Our AWS Cloud – May 19, 2022 Screaming Power achieved a third-party certification that Screaming Power completed the Well-Architected Review process in accordance with guidelines put in place by Amazon Web Services (AWS). This process, led by an independent Certified Professional Solutions Architect review, acknowledged that our Scream Utility Cloud infrastructure is certified to be aligned with AWS best practices and is considered “Well-Architected (Operational Excellence, Security, Reliability, Performance, efficiency, Cost Optimization, and Sustainability)”. See here for more info on AWS’s Well-Architected Approach.
About Screaming Power Inc.
Screaming Power is revolutionizing customer engagement by providing a mobile platform that connects the energy user, allowing for effective and secure two-way communications to educate, change behaviour and encourage sustainability. Our extensible Intellectual Property provides a low-cost, digital infrastructure for a self-sustaining Eco-System. Our Scream Utility & Scream Enterprise mobile solutions focus on reducing ‘cost-to-service’ for utilities while driving satisfaction and facilitating the delivery of innovation (e.g., connectivity to the IoTs).