Guest Column | March 12, 2024

Outgrowing Legacy Utility Payment Systems: How To Disrupt The Status Quo Without Disruption

By John Tang


Legacy organizations are those that stand the test of time. Some are able to do so through allegiance to traditional systems. Many others, however, do so by adopting positive innovations that improve operations while staying true to their values. In my 20 years of working to supply the San Jose area with life-sustaining, high-quality water and exceptional customer service through my work with San Jose Water, a subsidiary of SJW Group (NYSE: SJW) and an investor-owned public utility, I have seen the latter philosophy at its finest.

San Jose Water, founded in 1866, is the definition of a legacy organization. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, it is one of the largest and most technically advanced urban water systems in the United States. Our company serves approximately one million people over 139-square-miles in the greater San Jose metropolitan area. What we do can seem workaday — unless it stops working. Simply put, water is essential for life. That’s why it’s crucial to inspire and continually foster confidence and trust with our community, by providing simple, accessible user experiences at our most frequent customer touchpoints. In San Jose Water’s case, the most critical and common interaction we have with our customers is easily our bill payment experience. Unfortunately, until last year, the system that had long facilitated this touchpoint was outdated and no longer served the needs of our staff or our community.

The legacy payment platform was riddled with obstacles that negatively impacted customer satisfaction and created labor-intensive collections tasks that drained staff resources. It also offered limited, siloed payment channels, and caused difficult reconciliations due to a lack of real-time data exchange. Although the system had served as our means of payment collection for years, this difficult experience was in no way aligned with the impact San Jose Water strives to make on our community. For more than 150 years, we’ve endeavored to improve the quality of life for our customers. But our frustrating, time-consuming bill payment process was proving to be the antithesis of that mission. We needed an intuitive, easy-to-navigate system that encouraged self-service and discouraged delinquency. We considered this an imperative step to continue providing the superior service our customers deserved from San Jose Water.

Realistically, our team needed more than a payment solution that could offer an effective user-friendly experience. We needed a provider that could integrate seamlessly into our Oracle Utilities Customer Information System (CIS) so there would be no major disruption to our daily operations. System downtime is costly and tends to stoke customer frustration, which we were looking to avoid at all costs.

After months of searching, we knew we had finally found the right payments solution when InvoiceCloud promised to deliver a seamless integration with our existing tech stack. True to their word, they delivered a smooth implementation process with the support of a dedicated project manager who upheld established schedules and objectives and provided hands-on training with instructional classes, robust platform testing, and a learning resource center to ensure a successful kickoff.

Best of all, the new provider had a strong existing relationship with Oracle, leading to the seamless integration with our Oracle Utilities CIS that we had hoped for. The two teams worked cross-functionally to eliminate the bulk of the implementation workload for our internal staff. They even provided ongoing customer service and marketing support to maximize outreach efforts to our community. After this fully supported joint implementation, my team enjoyed a straightforward, successful launch of the new digital payment solution without any delays or disruption to our existing systems.

Since going live with Oracle’s payment partner, the electronic payment adoption rate has increased to 70% within the very first month. This boost in adoption created immediately noticeable efficiencies for our staff, allowing the team to focus on other priorities — namely, serving San Jose and the surrounding communities to the best of our abilities.

The decision to move away from our legacy payment system wasn’t an easy one. Change is such a daunting prospect it often locks utility organizations into an indefinite, strained relationship with “the devil they know,” even if the old way of doing things no longer serves them. Embracing change with the right payment solution has fundamentally transformed our billing and payment processes. It has ensured a convenient, enhanced customer experience that has significantly reduced staff workloads and increased our team’s morale. For San Jose Water, it was time to embrace a new legacy, and it has been nothing short of thrilling to see the impact of our choice.

For fellow Oracle users that might be interested in hearing more about our story, we’ll be presenting live at Oracle Edge 2024 on Tuesday, March 26 from 3:30-4 PM CST.

John Tang is the VP of Regulatory Affairs and Government Relations at San Jose Water.