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The 6 Vital Things for Utility Companies to Consider About Performance and Scale

We live in a digital world where the performance of customer-facing websites and mobile apps is more critical than ever. Here are the important areas for utility companies to consider when evaluating performance.

Michael Ivy, Senior Managing Quality Engineer

Utilities performance and scale

Imagine a storm has just blown through your town and you attempt to log into your utility provider’s website on your mobile phone to report the outage. Frustration is mounting within you as the mobile app just spins after logging in, not allowing you to navigate anywhere. You attempt it multiple times without any success and without any error message. You give up and resort to calling in the outage over the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system as you can’t wait any longer.

Is this the digital experience you’d want for your customers?  It’s critical to start with a holistic performance test maturity assessment to get a clear picture of where you’re at and where you need to go.

Below are the six important areas for utility companies to consider when evaluating performance:

1. Customer

We live in a digital world where the performance of customer-facing websites and mobile apps is more critical than ever. Users have no tolerance for slow-performing and sluggish sites/apps with errors or crashes.

What you need to consider:

  • Utility application sites need to be evaluated to ensure they are working as expected under varying real-world conditions (e.g., Blue-Sky, Storm, etc.) and predicting a user’s experience in those simulated real-world conditions before making it available to the customer.
  • The goal is to derive insight into an app’s aspects, such as speed, robustness, correct sizing and scalability.
  • Traffic should be simulated from all the available customer channels: web, mobile web, native mobile app and IVR.

2. Real time

As costs for providing service increase, utilities face the challenge of having to do more with less. Operational costs outpace rate increases, demanding utilities systems to operate more efficiently than ever before.

What you need to consider:

  • Outage management gives customers the ability to manage outages more effectively and efficiently. Integrations with other critical utility systems like Automated Metering, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and Billing put all the information needed for efficient outage management in one place. Whereas this is good operationally, it places a significant performance burden on the system.
  • Effective risk management requires not only asking hard questions about outage management system scalability, but also having the foresight to prepare for the worst-case scenarios with actual field and system data.
  • Investing time and resources up-front with performance testing will help meet customer expectations when the storms arrive.

3. Workforce management

Utilities invest significant amounts of money into work planning and scheduling systems. These critical resource management systems provide essential data to field service personnel for assigning crews to jobs. Given the concurrency of reads to job information and the variety of supported mobile devices, latency and access problems can arise in the field that will impede restoration efforts.

What you need to consider:

  • Organizations and companies are at risk to lose additional money due to lengthy service disruptions during large storms when the need arises to manage/pay additional foreign and contract crews that assist with the restoration efforts.
  • As stated in the Customer section above, it is imperative to run through simulated real-world conditions to ensure the performance of these systems.
  • It’s essential to run through a Storm Readiness Test to measure performance impacts to the integrated systems (including WFM) during spikes, surges, and stress.

4. Smart Meters

Smart Meters and Smart Meter Systems have seen significant growth in North America over the last several years. Due to government incentives, utility companies are continually rolling new meters out to their customers, and utilities are continuing their efforts to improve grid reliability and promote energy efficiency while providing improved services to their customers.

Utilities expect an AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) solution to provide a high percentage of data daily. This can prevent challenges in validating delivery/timeliness of the data by the AMI system, and subsequently to any downstream systems.

What you need to consider:

  • Performance testing of the software components is a critical success factor in any Smart Meter deployment.
  • The solution includes multiple components, comprising meters, communication infrastructure, and Head End system. It is critical that each of these sub-system components meets the non-functional requirements and that the end-to-end integration between these meet the performance requirements.

5. Payment systems

Payment systems have become an integral part of a variety of websites and applications, with utility sites being no exception. With the inception of additional utility payment types (deferred payment arrangements and due date extensions) and new customer service processes (Meter-To-Cash), more activity and stress will be applied to the payment systems.

In addition, with new payment technology trends emerging in the market, providing new choices for renewing or replacing legacy systems, it is imperative to test these new infrastructures.

What you need to consider:

  • Some immediate focus areas that require attention: the stability, reliability, resilience, along with the speed and performance of customer payments.
  • Whether it’s a fully functioning payment system or a payment gateway, it requires performance testing before go-live.

6. Getting started: adopting a best-practice approach

Utility companies looking to inform an integrated approach to performance testing and establish a best-practice approach, should begin with a holistic performance test maturity assessment to evaluate current performance test maturity. This process will help companies assess benchmark capabilities against industry peers and identify opportunities to build incremental capabilities within the performance test discipline.

What you need to consider:

  • It’s important to map key business functions into a value chain, allowing business units to prioritize performance requirements and protect the most critical information assets and systems that drive business value.
  • By examining the performance of those systems, companies can ensure that the performance test program is robust, and systems will perform against current day loads and account for potential growth.

As an industry-leading provider of AI-powered quality engineering solutions, Qualitest is ready to take your performance test practice to the next level. Utilizing our domain expertise along with established performance testing skills, we can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to these projects.

 

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