United Fiber's Broadband Deployment United Fiber, a subsidiary of United Electric Cooperative located in Savannah, Mo., has been providing broadband services to their membership since 2011. United Electric serves 7,900 members and roughly 10,000 meters, covering about 2.5 meters per mile of line. After a survey to their membership, United realized that nearly 70 percent of their members didn’t have access to good broadband. So, the electric cooperative took advantage of a Rural Utilities Service (RUS) stimulus grant that allowed them to begin a broadband deployment in Northwestern Missouri. Today, United Fiber’s broadband project has grown tremendously. Providing the standard triple-play options – internet, voice and video – United Fiber now serves 5,000 members with broadband services, 40 percent of which utilize the voice service and 50 percent utilize them for video. They also have a supplementary wireless service, bringing their overall telecommunications customer base around 6,000. Not only do they serve residential customers, but more than 900 commercial businesses in Northwestern Missouri. “We originally needed to hit 2,700 connections for it to be considered a successful project,” said David Girvan, Chief Operating Officer at United Fiber. “We hit that number early and it validated what we thought. We continued to grow at a breakneck speed.” While there is a lot of physical work that needs to be done to roll out a fiber network, the software behind that network is also a very important piece of the puzzle. United has been an NISC Member for 20 years, so they turned to their technology partner for help. With 50 years of serving both the telecom and utility industries, NISC had the knowledge and the solution to help United Fiber launch their broadband product. Growth and [...]
As utilities become more automated, will customers embrace change or stick to their old ways? That was one of the questions on the mind of Mason PUD 3 staff, when one year ago, the public power utility began installing grid modernization equipment throughout its Washington state service territory. The utility wanted to leverage updated infrastructure, increase operational efficiencies and improve reliability. This included helping its 34,000 customers to embrace new, digital, and automated ways of managing their energy, and interacting with the utility. Located in a rural, retirement, and vacation community, PUD 3 has a large number of customers over age 55, a group that is less amenable to technological innovation – at least according to conventional wisdom. But experts at the PUD were surprised to discover that conventional wisdom did not hold, as many of their customers embraced the change. So where do things stand a year later? Along with new insights into how open its customers are to change, Mason PUD 3 has experienced a number of benefits from its grid modernization journey, including improved outage management, and new operational efficiencies. Those successes are tied to PUD 3 finding the right partner for its journey, National Information Solutions Cooperative, which offers a suite of fully integrated product solutions and services. History of Grid Modernization Effort What prompted Mason PUD 3 to start down this path? With aging infrastructure, PUD 3 had been monitoring the advanced meter market for many years. As the quality of products and services matured, it was decided that now was the time to upgrade. To take full advantage of the new technology, the utility also sought a replacement for its customer information system. PUD 3 had good reasons for [...]
When Easley Combined Utilities decided that it was time to optimize office and in-the-field efficiencies and improve customer service, they wanted to focus on two areas — communicating with customers during power outages and making power restoration more efficient. It was time to leave behind the old mainframe computer and vintage green-screen terminals — and their miracle-working in-house programmer was retiring. Easley is an electric, water and sewer utility in northwestern South Carolina. Founded more than 100 years ago, the public power utility provides electric and water services to approximately 14,000 customers and sewer services to about 10,000. After evaluating several vendors for their efficiency and customer service improvement venture, utility leaders decided to partner with National Information Solutions Cooperative, a member-owned information technology company. The partnership offered a cost-effective, user-friendly platform that “could do everything” including accounting, customer care and billing, and operations support, said Joel Ledbetter, the utility general manager. Outage Management with Better Reporting and Tracking Given the value the utility places on uninterrupted electric service, the priority was to establish an integrated outage management system that quickly alerts utility crews of outages, helps them assess the likely causes and remedies and lets affected customers know how soon power will be restored. Before the NISC platform was installed, utility staff used to get calls from customers who had lost power. When the outage was widespread, many customers got busy signals and the utility’s ability to assess the extent and cause of the outage was impaired and delayed. Now, said Ledbetter, incoming calls from customers with outages can be received either by utility staff or CallCapture, an interactive voice response system in the NISC suite of software solutions. Affected customers also can use [...]
As consumers demand more technology-driven tools and apps to access account information and communication channels, utilities are forced to find ways to meet these demands. Utility software providers like National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) must produce solutions that are agile and intuitive, not only to meet the needs of a changing market driven by technology savvy consumers, but also to empower the actual users of the software to improve customer service. Maximizing the User Experience While NISC offers consumer centric technology solutions, like the iOS and Android compatible SmartHub customer web portal, they also focus on the user experience by offering intuitive solutions that are fully integrated across all functional areas, including Customer Information, Accounting & Business, Engineering & Operations and Meter Data Management. These solutions are designed to leverage data across the enterprise to increase efficiency and boost productivity. Consider the apps you use today – they do not require extensive training, you just instinctively know how to use them. Compare those apps to the software you use to serve your customers. No matter how much you’ve used the software, it’s likely not as user-friendly as your favorite app. Why? Because it’s built to accomplish a multitude of tasks, not just one. And, it may not leverage current technology advancements. NISC’s latest development initiative, iVUE Connect, takes the concept of your favorite app and applies it to each role within a utility organization, all while leveraging the power of a fully-integrated, robust enterprise solution designed specifically for utility and telecommunication companies. “iVUE Connect is built on personas or roles.” said Nate Boettcher, NISC Customer Care & Billing Product Line Manager. “If you are a customer service representative, a dispatch person or someone that works [...]
Brazoria Telephone (BTEL), headquartered in Brazoria, Texas, has selected National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) as its primary software solutions provider to support its operational and customer service efforts.
This holiday season, we take time to reflect on the many blessings we’ve received and our gratitude to our Members for another exciting year of learning and growth.
I answer the phone with a simple question every day: “Hi, how can I help you?” The responses I receive to this question are not so simple, however, and sometimes many unique and unexpected discussions ensue. In my world as a customer service manager, knowledge is power, and given today’s technology advancements, communicating this knowledge to customers via multiple channels is not only paramount but absolutely expected. I need to quickly and accurately answer questions, but I also need to proactively notify customers of key events, account status changes, and more. Most importantly, I need integrated tools that provide customers access to their data, so they can review their account details anytime, at their convenience, and communicate with me through channels of their choice. We use National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) iVUE® utility enterprise software and service solutions for customer care and billing, accounting and business, and engineering and operations. Along with these core solutions, we also use a variety of NISC’s fully integrated solutions, like SmartHub® and Messenger that offer us enhanced customer engagement functionality. SmartHub is a customer-facing web portal that provides customers with convenient account access and two-way communications online or through mobile devices. SmartHub is a great tool. Customers can not only view their consumption and billing history, but also manage payments, notify the utility of account and service issues, and view their AMI interval or AMR usage. SmartHub provides our customers with details they need to make smart energy savings and account management decisions. For example, SmartHub graphically displays historical temperature days against historical consumption over a rolling pre-defined period of time. This type of data presentment empowers our customers and greatly reduces our call volumes while increasing our transparency. [...]
For years, Pascoag Utility District, a public power utility serving 5,000 electric customers and 1,200 water customers in northwestern Rhode Island, wrestled with aging and fragmented software systems for billing and helping customers manage their electric and water use. Today, by converting to National Information Solutions Cooperative’s enterprise software solutions, Pascoag increased their credit card payments by forty-two percent over one year, while reducing their customer disconnects by an impressive thirty-four percent in only one year. How? Through leveraging technology and integration. Pascoag’s General Manager, Mike Kirkwood, said that the old systems were very cumbersome and staff had to perform all kinds of gyrations to make them work. That was frustrating and challenged the utility in reaching their high level of customer service aspirations. Kirkwood and other Pascoag staff noted that the old systems made it time consuming to complete daily billing and other administrative tasks. It was also difficult to gather data and to communicate with customers. In early 2013, the utility initiated an effort to replace the various systems with a single, integrated software solution that would provide customers with easy access to online information about their accounts and make it easier for them to pay their bills online. The new software would also help Pascoag automate communications to customers about outages, past-due bills and the like. Desarae Dolan, Pascoag’s supervisor of administration, said that after considering a half-dozen potential service providers, the utility zeroed in on the flexible, integrated package offered by NISC, which is owned by its electric cooperatives and other members. Having a single point of contact at NISC to answer questions and address concerns significantly eased the implementation process, said Dolan. She added that NISC’s customer service has been [...]
National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), a leading provider of technology solutions to utility and telecommunications organizations worldwide, officially dedicated the Lake Saint Louis campus’ newest building annex. This expansion accommodates the current and projected growth of the IT cooperative as well as connect all buildings on the campus.
When Washington state’s Mason County Public Utility District 3 decided to upgrade their decades-old utility infrastructure to leverage modern grid technologies, staff knew this required two major elements: the installation of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure solution and the implementation of a robust and fully integrated enterprise-wide software solution to not just instantaneously manage available AMI data, but to also streamline their operations. PUD 3 is one of 28 not-for-profit public utility districts formed in the Evergreen State since the 1930s to provide power to mostly rural communities. PUD 3 started off small –– in 1939 it had only eight customers –– but it has grown exponentially over the past 77 years, and now serves about 33,000 customers across a 600-square-mile area in the southeast corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. For PUD 3, an integrated approach to its grid modernization project made sense, but they needed a partner who could help them successfully execute their plans. They found that partner in National Information Solutions Cooperative, with its suite of fully integrated product solutions and services. “We started looking at the need for grid modernization a few years ago,” said PUD 3’s General Manager, Annette Creekpaum. An important element, she said, was the installation of advanced meters to allow two-way communication between the utility and its customers. After an extensive review and discussions with their counterparts at other utilities, PUD 3 management decided to use their own staff to install advanced meters across the utility’s service area, and turn to a single vendor –– NISC –– to provide a complete smart-grid software solution package. Several factors led to the decision, said Creekpaum. Most important, NISC provided PUD 3 with the integration for complete infrastructure and systems management [...]