Avertra Uses Low-Code to Drive Customer Satisfaction

“I’ve been hearing complaints from the utility customers since I was literally in the womb,” jokes Matt Daniels, Director of Engineering and R&D at Avertra, a global service, software, and consulting group focused on companies within the energy and utility industry. While his clients always chuckle at the joke, they soon recognize Matt’s passion for helping utility companies solve one of the hardest challenges they face: meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations from their utility providers.

Daniels entered the utility industry following in the footsteps of his mother, who worked as a customer service rep, and later, in the IT department at a large electric company. The two would often commiserate over the challenges they faced at work and think of ways to solve them. Their brainstorming sessions fueled Daniels’s desire to pursue a career in utilities and solve the problems faced by the utility industry.

So, when Avertra wanted to develop a new approach to improve the utility customer experience, Daniels leveraged low-code to not only build a platform that changes the way customers interact with their utility providers but also transformed the way his team develops solutions.

What do utility customers want?

With access to rich experiences like chatbots, wearable devices, kiosks, mobile, augmented reality (to name a few), today’s consumers live in an age of instant gratification. The bar is now set incredibly high for how a customer expects to interact with companies and applications. While a utility customer may never expect to pay their bill on an app through a HoloLens, they still have very demanding expectations for responsiveness, convenience, time to resolution, and overall experience.

But many utility companies are still working incredibly hard just to keep the lights on, let alone focus on better customer experience. The utility industry has a lot to catch up on in terms of modernizing internal business processes and technology to create smooth customer experiences. On any given customer support call, an agent scrambles through multiple systems, applications, data points, and sometimes even physical guidebooks — often encountering many data quality issues — as they try to resolve the customer’s concern. The result is a disjointed process that makes for an extremely frustrating experience – far from what the customers want.

A challenging time

Avertra’s mission is to provide safe, secure, and innovative solutions that help energy and utility companies to deliver superior service to their consumers. That’s why Avertra decided to build MiCustomer, an operational and customer lifecycle engagement platform that has a customer self-service portal for billing and payments and digitizes other operational requirements for the utility companies.

While Avertra had a clear vision for helping the utility companies with MiCustomer, turning this vision into a reality was a challenge.

Complex architecture, long onboarding, and reduced collaboration

Daniels and his team spent years trying to get MiCustomer live and in production using traditional coding languages and experimenting with multiple architecture patterns. This led to a lot of bug fixing and uncertainty around MiCustomer’s platform architecture. The complexity meant that new engineers assigned to the project often took three to six months to ramp up and contribute to the team. Multiple coding languages and complex architecture also affected the collaboration between IT and business.

It would take us somewhere between three to six months to onboard a new engineer and this, for us, was not scalable at all

Accounting for local regulations

The utility industry, while generally the same at the aggregate level, is very different at the atomic level. Each utility has specific needs and requirements to adhere to local regulations. This means Avertra needs to deliver solutions that can be customized in a scalable, repeatable manner.

Avertra soon realized they needed to look at different options that would let them build a bigger, more productive team and deliver products that meet their customers’ requirements.

Enabling transformation with low-code

After much research and analysis, Daniels found the answer to his challenges in Mendix’s low-code technology.

Daniels knew it was going to be an uphill task to deliver on the expectations customers have from the utility providers. Relying on technology alone wasn’t going to help, but that’s where low-code fits well. Using low-code, Daniels was able to change the way his developers think about a complex problem and deliver solutions that create engaging experiences for the utility customers.

With Mendix, Daniels reshaped his team and Avertra’s development process, as well as transformed how utility companies use technology to support their customers. Here are the three ways low-code helped.

Faster developer onboarding: From 3-6 months to 4 weeks

It’s difficult for any new developer to join a team and get to know a complicated product, but the issue is further compounded when you introduce multiple programming languages. Because Mendix offers a visual development approach, Daniels and his team were able to build MiCustomer by essentially speaking the same programming language, that is, by communicating technical algorithms through, visual model-based development. Daniels and his team also used low-code to leverage microservices and simplify the overall platform architecture. These two changes led to faster developer onboarding and time to contribution.

Efficient customizations

The team at Avertra used microservices to create re-usable components that allowed them to build and release more products in a faster, more standardized release cadence. Microservices also gave Avertra the flexibility to upgrade the platform features and applications to handle all the customizations requests from their customers. Additionally, with microservices, Avertra could efficiently modify their solutions to take in the specific requirements of each utility and adhere to the local regulations.

Improved collaboration

The visual modeling tools and the collaborative nature of the low-code platform allowed the business and IT teams to focus better on the platform requirements and maintain the right level of transparency throughout the development of MiCustomer.

With low-code the team at Avertra was able to launch products that deliver maximum value, starting with two applications within the MiCustomer platform – MiAgent and MiPortal. MiAgent simplifies and optimizes an agent’s interaction with customers by reducing call handle time and promoting the first-call resolution. MiPortal allows utility customers to view and pay bills online, submit meter readings, and have the level of functionality they’ve come to expect from their online utility experience.

There was just a buzz about the engineering team, it was like the hot topic. We were solving problems faster; the communication was really positive, and we were always taking steps forward.

Daniels’ developers initially had their doubts about embracing low-code, but Daniels encouraged this healthy skepticism and embraced it. Getting experienced developers to champion the notion that instead of reviewing lines of code from their peers, they could be working on more interesting and challenging customizations that required their skill and expertise with traditional coding languages was integral in adopting low-code.

Growing a team of these developers allowed Daniels to realize his vision for the MiCustomer platform – allowing the utility companies to provide better solutions and experience to their customers. Moreover, he has tackled the issues he and his mom would commiserate over, at a scale far beyond what a mother and son duo of service rep turned IT professionals could ever accomplish on their own.

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