What are the top ten vendor product concerns that one should consider when purchasing ISO/RTO shadow settlement software solutions?
1. Support Staff. Depending on the size of your company and the IT support you typically receive, one should consider the daily management of the application. By daily, we are referring to the daily ISO/RTO data downloading verification required to ensure your shadow settlement system is properly populated. Important: Look for a vendor that offers daily ISO/RTO data downloading verification services.
2. Future-Proof. How does the vendor handle future ISO/RTO market design changes? Hidden and uncertain costs can really add up when the ISO/RTO makes market changes. Suggestion: Choose a vendor that incorporates all ISO/RTO future market changes free of charge, with no exceptions.
3. Dashboards Equal Profits. Can you get all the important answers you need on a single screen? Does your current system provide Business Intelligence dashboards coupled with powerful analytics? If not, you may want to consider looking at the latest technologies that have BI and formula driven analytics built right into the application. When used proactively, BI is one of the most effective tools to achieve higher financial and operational results.
4. Performance. How fast does the software perform after years of trade, prices, settlement and meter data are loaded into the system? How does application speed impact how fast your back-office can get their work done? Typically, older legacy applications have much higher costs not only because they are slow but because they slow people down. Suggestion: Seek leading edge technologies that not only process data quickly but also allow employees to rapidly complete their work.
5. Hosted Solutions vs. Onsite-deployed solutions. We think Gmail, DropBox and Salesforce are great hosted applications but they don’t have to serve up 5 years of Settlements transactions with hundreds of generating assets and scheduling points having thousands of nodal pricing points and several Terabytes of data in under 1 second. The point is, onsite installations are still king for managing Settlements. We offer a flexible approach with both onsite and fully-managed application environments. However, we have consistently seen when all the hidden costs of hosting are added up and the limitations are fully vetted, that most organizations ultimately select onsite implementations. These decisions usually reside with your internal IT departments and their support capabilities. Suggestion: the business and IT groups need to forecast their total data storage needs for 5 years and calculate every cost consideration for expected application growth and performance needs.
6. Reporting. Does it take 3 weeks to get a new type of report published in your system? Do you feel like you need a PhD to configure a new report? Do you have to call in a business analyst, application administrator and finally, the vendor, every time you need to lay out a new report? This is an area where many energy applications fail to deliver if they are over 5 or 10 years old. Our clients love having the ease of drag-and-drop reporting at their fingertips, and with the latest technologies, we feel all software vendors should adopt this in the Utilities industry. It really makes for a great end user’s experience.
7. Who is Reading the Software Suggestion Box? We’ve found a major indicator of the future satisfaction level with any software vendor is how rapidly they respond to end user requests and product changes. We’ve instituted a direct client-to-developer communication policy where end users speak directly to our software developers. With this policy users get highly-usable features as requested, very quickly. If your software vendor says “no” to directly working with the developers…we feel you should consider your options.
8. Are Bug Fixes Guaranteed? All software systems experience bugs from time-to-time, and chances are that you are dealing with one right now. But did you see the same bug last week….last month…last quarter…and last year? Bugs that persist in the system show that the software vendor is not minding the shop. If one of our clients reports a bug, we guarantee that it will be fixed…BEFORE…the next release. Suggestion: Read the fine print of your support and maintenance agreements before making any software decision.
9. Pay Only for what You Use. Look for vendors that offer stand alone modular technology to help ensure that you only pay for the software you actually use. Smart software design involves a well thought out plan to keep interdependencies between the modules to a minimum. Have you ever bought a single module but when you deploy the application you discover just a little too late that it requires 3 additional modules to get the functionality that you saw in the demo? Suggestion: Ask your software vendor to demo only the exact modules that you plan to purchase.
10. How Happy are the End Users? Past performance is the best indicator of future results. Always ask two questions when checking a software vendor’s references: 1) How happy are your end users with XYZ software vendor and 2) would you buy their system again if given the chance? While many folks will indicate a good satisfaction level with their current solution, it’s the second question which is much more telling. Suggestion: Similar to checking employee references, ask the deeper question if they would hire the same vendor again.