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The Road to Digital Transformation for Public Utilities
By John Sudduth, CIO, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
John Sudduth has more than 20 years of information technology experience and is skilled in defining organizational structure, resource requirements and mission/vision alignment. His information technology experience includes professional services, legal, retail, healthcare and Government. Prior to joining the MWRD, John served as Chief Information Officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
John graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Organization Behavior; he also has a Master’s of Science in Information Systems Security from Northwestern University. John holds several technical and professional certifications including Project Management Professional (PMP), Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional (MCITP) and Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP).
The mission of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago is to treat wastewater from homes and businesses in Cook County, one of the largest counties in the United States, along with over 100 suburban communities. Our mission is to support the health of the more than 10 million citizens that we serve by protecting the waterways and drinking water that they depend on. My role as Director of Information Technology at MWRD is to efficiently leverage technology to help the budget-conscious public utility achieve that mission. I’m responsible for everything technology related from end-user computing, to email, to storage, and everything in between.
Public utilities face a unique set of IT challenges. In addition to the pain points experienced in any IT organization – not enough time to innovate, skills gaps, and budget constraints –public utilities also face the added challenges of scaling services and systems for population growth, meeting rapidly changing constituent expectations, and regulatory obligations. With the added strain of the COVID-19 crisis further stretching municipal budgets, creating remote workforces overnight, and introducing a new level of uncertainty, it’s imperative that IT leaders of public utilities take a hard look at systems and processes to begin the process of digital transformation now. It’s no longer a question of if you’ll undergo digital transformation; it’s now a question of when. And the “when” is usually because of outside pressure. According to an article in one of the premium publications, only one in ten pursue digital transformation outside of pressure from regulators, customers, or competition.
The article also states that only a quarter of major U.S. public utilities have “made meaningful progress in developing future-oriented business models.” The goal shouldn’t be a forced transformation to adhere to outside forces, but a thoughtful and measured business-driven approach.
It’s no longer a question of if you’ll undergo digital transformation; it’s now a question of when. And the “when” is usually because of outside pressure
Further, my team wasn’t happy with the quality of vendor support they were getting. Concurrently, we were facing the loss of veteran SAP expertise. With a brain trust of company familiarity built over 20 years of service and hard-to-find SAP know-how, these retiring team members would be difficult to replace.
The Road to Digital Transformation
I determined that switching to third-party support approach would address both issues – improve the quality and responsiveness of support for our SAP applications, and provide the expertise needed to run a modernized IT environment. We sought a support provider with a great track record and after careful consideration; we selected Rimini Street Support for our SAP suite of applications including SAP Business Suite 7/SAP ECC 6.0, Business Warehouse, and Business Objects.
A key element of success was focusing on the people factor. Often digital transformation projects stall, not because of technology, but because of people’s unwillingness to embrace change. Throughout the process, our team maintained constant communication with key stakeholders to establish and reinforce strategic partnerships. By applying a full-fledged change methodology, people were better prepared for the upcoming changes.
Independent, third-party support for SAP helped us access ultra-responsive, premium-level support, exit SAP’s upgrade cycle, and avoid a potentially costly and risky upgrade to S/4HANA – SAP’s cloud architecture, which involves a complete “rip and replace” of your current ERP system. We had a lot of pent-up demand for support fixes that we didn’t have the skill sets to complete, and it was just too expensive to contract it out to SAP. Working with our new support provider, we quickly cleared a 17-year backlog of IT requests delivering critical, long-awaited functionality to our users.
Achieving Tangible Digital Transformation Results
In addition to completely transforming the technology landscape and impact of IT across the organization, we instantly cut our annual maintenance fees in half. The savings funded a new IT service management solution (ITSM), ITIL certification for the whole team, and investments in end user computing modernization. The cloud based, ITSM application formalizes the design, delivery and monitoring of the organization’s complete portfolio of IT services for more structure around service and support.
And the organization recognizes the shift. Once implemented, managed services quickly began delivering value not only from an IT perspective, but also from a customer support and end user support perspective. Only 60 percent of users were satisfied with IT service before the transition. After the transition, our scores are now consistently above 93 percent of users who are satisfied with our IT team’s service. Our primary goal was to completely transform the IT landscape of the institution. By adding more responsive support and cutting maintenance costs for our SAP applications, we were able to undertake this IT transformation much more quickly than we had anticipated. I’m proud that we’ve been able to achieve this. Beyond the organization, the industry has also taken note of the strides that we’ve made. Our approach and results have helped position MWRD as a role model for digital transformation in the utilities sector.