Case Studies

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Bundling Broadband with Electricity: A Kentucky Pioneer’s Story

Murray, Ky., is known as one of the most livable and friendliest cities in Kentucky. Its unemployment rate, cost of living and commute times are lower than the national average. It has plentiful recreation. And it boasts a college — Murray State University — which consistently ranks as one of the top U.S. regional universities by the U.S. News and World Report. One other little-known fact — Murray, a public power city, is a pioneer in the bundling of electricity with cable TV and high-speed Internet services. It all began back in 1996, when city officials were unhappy with the incumbent cable TV provider and the monopolistic franchise that it enjoyed. They asked Tony Thompson, who was interviewing for the job of general manager of the city’s electric utility, Murray Electric System (MES), if he was willing to take on broadband as a new project. “Not having enough experience or good sense to know otherwise, I said ‘Well, sure, I can do whatever you want to do,’” joked Thompson. But it wasn’t always easy. Private Internet and cable service providers Bellsouth, Time Warner and others opposed the effort. They conducted legal and public opinion campaigns to try and stop the project, generally arguing that since they spend hundreds of millions of dollars to provide internet services — all the while needing to pay taxes and make a profit — quasi-governmental bodies such as utilities shouldn’t compete with them. Their argument didn’t hold up under Kentucky law. Plus, an independent telecommunications feasibility report identified several advantages of the project, among them the advantage to several anchor institutions in the city, including Murray State University, the local hospital as well as industrial customers, of immediate access to [...]

By | June 25th, 2018|Case Studies|Comments Off on Bundling Broadband with Electricity: A Kentucky Pioneer’s Story

Utilities Partnering with NISC to Offer Telecommunications Services

To meet community demand and provide more competitive solutions to end-consumers, utilities are expanding their traditional utility-specific operations to include broadband, cable and phone services. End-consumers want a one-stop-shop to simplify the signing up, payment and ongoing management of their home-related services. However, providing these additional services requires not just infrastructure expansion for a utility, but also utilizing software solutions to manage resulting daily tasks and operational needs. In January of 2018, National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), a fifty-year-old technology leader in both utility and telecom markets, launched phase one of iVUE Connect™ Service. iVUE Connect™ Service leverages NISC’s existing utility-based Customer Care & Billing solutions that today effectively manages electric, water, gas and more traditional utility services, to also now include management and provisioning of broadband and cable solutions, all on a single platform. Phase two will enable regulated phone billing and management. “In response to the market, NISC recognized the opportunity to bring decades of our telecom experience into our utility software,” said David Bonnett, NISC Vice President of Product Management. “We are able to support the needs of community-owned utilities that have limited resources and need efficient and affordable solutions that unify customer care and billing across all services.” With over fifty years of experience in providing solutions for telecommunications and utility companies, NISC’s development of iVUE Connect™ Service to merge these industry-specific software solutions is a natural evolution. The result is a powerful, single platform to manage customer requests, seamlessly provision broadband and cable services, while also leveraging existing integrated solutions like outage, trouble ticket management and mapping, to provide a complete enterprise solution to meet expanding utility service needs. Recently, Murray Electric Systems (MES) located in Murray, Kentucky, a pioneer [...]

By | May 8th, 2018|Case Studies|Comments Off on Utilities Partnering with NISC to Offer Telecommunications Services

Cass County Electric Cooperative

Prior to deploying NISC Operations Analytics (OA), Cass County Electric Cooperative in Fargo, N.D., was feeling inundated with time-series data, unsure of how to turn that data into something manageable and helpful. “We deployed Operations Analytics because we wanted to improve system efficiencies,” said Bryce Johanneck, meter data management technician for Cass County Electric. “Our previous way of managing our distribution system relied on a lot of time-series data. You’re giving it a monthly reading and another monthly reading, and you’re doing some time series analysis on that. Operations Analytics is a great way to utilize a very robust AMI system to make pertinent engineering calculations on your system.” One major feature of NISC Operations Analytics that has proven crucial for Cass County is the transformer loading module. The functionality has allowed them to easily identify transformer issues and move them around to make better use of oversized transformers at existing services. “Using OA has definitely saved us money and prevented us from having major issues,” Johanneck said. “We’ve upgraded transformers prior to outages which would have otherwise been very difficult or next to impossible because you had to aggregate all of that Member data at one location. It’s proven very beneficial.” Johanneck also stressed the importance of having clean source data and paying attention to your AMI system and how it is modeled. Having good, usable data along with OA will provide a very accurate and reliable engineering model. “Today, a lot of us aren’t very good at keeping our source data clean,” Johnneck said. “You have plant changes, additions, removals and your engineering model is now quickly out of date, especially if you’re in an area where there are a lot of changes. [...]

By | March 8th, 2018|Case Studies|Comments Off on Cass County Electric Cooperative

Verendrye Electric Cooperative

For years, engineers at Verendrye Electric Cooperative, with offices in Minot and Velva, N.D., were using seasonal models to make predictions on energy usage and consumption. The models were simply estimations, and they often found themselves over or underestimating equipment sizes, having to redo installations in the field. They were seeking a way to achieve greater accuracy; that’s when they deployed NISC Operations Analytics (OA). “Before, we would typically have two models, a winter and a summer model,” said Brad Doll, P.E., Electrical Engineer at Verendrye. “It was a worst-case scenario. Now, in using NISC Operations Analytics, we basically have a model for every hour of the day and it’s much more accurate. The data we get through OA is actual meter data. There’s no allocation and there’s no estimating. So, we’re looking at a true system load on the system when we do our analysis.” NISC Operations Analytics harnesses the granularity of time-series data, enabling users to look beyond peak system analysis to better grasp real system performance. OA seamlessly pulls together data from a multitude of sources, including NISC’s Meter Data Management System (MDMS), the Member’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system and GIS in two ways - the first is via an automated web solution that displays transformer loading and line losses (as well as SCADA and consumer voltage readings, when available). Users can adjust the report criteria to meet their specific needs. The second is through EDD’s Distributed Engineering Workstation (DEW). This engineering analysis software, along with NISC’s Cooperative Cloud, calculates the values displayed in OA and allows large quantities of data to be easily processed and reviewed. When DEW is installed on a user’s desktop, it becomes even more [...]

By | March 1st, 2018|Case Studies|Comments Off on Verendrye Electric Cooperative

United Fiber

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 [...]

By | January 3rd, 2018|Case Studies|Comments Off on United Fiber

Grid Modernization Journey in the Pacific Northwest Yields Multitude of Benefits

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 [...]

By | October 30th, 2017|Case Studies|Comments Off on Grid Modernization Journey in the Pacific Northwest Yields Multitude of Benefits

Integrating Outage Management, Bill Pay and Customer Care

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 [...]

By | May 1st, 2017|Case Studies|Comments Off on Integrating Outage Management, Bill Pay and Customer Care

NISC iVUE Connect: Empowering Users Through Intuitive Software Design

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 [...]

By | March 13th, 2017|Case Studies|Comments Off on NISC iVUE Connect: Empowering Users Through Intuitive Software Design

Empowering Customers Through Knowledge and Technology

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. [...]

By | October 1st, 2016|Case Studies|Comments Off on Empowering Customers Through Knowledge and Technology

Improving Customer Service Through Technology and Integration

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 [...]

By | July 13th, 2016|Case Studies|Comments Off on Improving Customer Service Through Technology and Integration