Technology is changing the way we do things. We do just about everything online, from reading books to catching up with family and friends. Many people are turning to the internet to do one thing: pay their bills. With so many options available through the internet, paying bills has never been easier for the customer, especially when they can aggregate bill payments directly through their bank or other free bill pay services. From 2000-2010, the number of households utilizing online banking increased six-fold, with 80 percent of households with internet access utilizing some form of online banking. In that time, paper checks declined from 61% of all payments to only represented only 26 percent by 2010. While the ability to pay online is great for consumers, the process at the provider’s end may not change at all. When a customer chooses to pay through their bank or a service like Fiserv’s CheckFree, providers will still receive a paper check…and all the payment processing that goes along with it. “Customers probably don’t realize that if they’re paying their bill through their online banking bill pay service, that the bank is actually producing a paper check,” said Randy Schroder, Senior Product Line Manager at NISC. “These paper checks that are printed by the banks or other online bill pay services generally don’t have enough information to post to the account, so there’s more manual effort to looking up that check.” Just as technology is making it easier for customers to pay, providers can utilize an Online Bill Payment Interface solution (or OBI) to help make this payment process more efficient. With OBI, payments are made electronically directly to the provider’s account, eliminating the paper payment processing and [...]
Callaway Electric Cooperative wanted to update its fleet of analog radios before the January 2013 FCC narrowbanding deadline. As a cooperative that distributes power to more than 13,000 residential, agricultural and commercial customers across central Missouri, Callaway’s adoption and integration of MOTOTRBO radios from Motorola with NISC’s software improved workflow and communications between the office and the field. “Whether crews are working in a severe storm or on a simple meter change, MOTOTRBO allows them to do their jobs safely and efficiently and restore service to our members as quickly as possible,” said Tom Howard, CEO/General Manager, Callaway Electric Cooperative. NISC’s Mobile WorkForce enables Callaway employees to access service order scheduling information from the field, alleviating lost paperwork since tasks are managed electronically. How does it work? The streamlined process starts at the very beginning of the day when Callaway field employees boot up their radios and laptops and log on. “Service orders are transferred to the laptop in the truck via the MOTOTRBO radios. When our field employees start their day, they turn on their radios, power up their laptops and sign in,” said Lesa Akers, Operations Support at Callaway Electric. “Then they connect the Bluetooth to their MOTOTRBO radios and sign in to NISC which communicates with MOTOTRBO via Bluetooth.” The Bluetooth connection enables service orders to be pushed out to field workers, including additional requests throughout the day, which they see on their iVUE screens. “Our linemen enter their data right into the computer instead of having to write it down on a service order. Everything is sent back to the office electronically,” said Akers. “We no longer have trouble reading their writing and actually get much better information from them.” No [...]
NISC employee Jamie Wetsch was named the 2013 North Dakota Trail Worker of the Year following his work developing, creating and maintaining the “Otter Creek Trail,” an 8.9-mile bike trail located in the Harmon Lake Recreational Area outside of Mandan, N.D. “I always say my motivations were partially selfish, because being an avid mountain biker, having a trail five minutes from your house is a bonus,” Wetsch said. “So, that’s kind of what got me interested in it.” While Wetsch likes to humbly admit that the prospect of having a new trail close to home was exciting to him, it wasn’t the main motivating factor behind his work. He’d spent time on a number of trails around the area, performing maintenance, which includes everything from re-routing a trail to simply taking care of weeds. “There’s a crew of regulars that do trail maintenance on the existing trails around, so I’ve done much smaller-scale projects, but this was the first time I’ve ever started with a blank slate,” Wetsch said. For the past six years, Wetsch has spent his weekdays at NISC, serving as a programmer in end-user billing for telecom, while putting in night and weekend work developing and maintaining the Otter Creek Trail. The project began with Wetsch and his crew looking at aerial maps of the area where the Morton County Water Resource District was working on a new recreation area. After that, Wetsch mounted an ATV and, working with a partner that specialized in GIS mapping and guidelines from the International Mountain Bike Association, hit the trail to physically determine the layout. “We knew our goal was views of the lake,” Wetsch said. “It kind of ends up being a big game [...]
NISC’s Vern Dosch was in Washington, D.C. in support of NTCA and the Foundation for Rural Service’s (FRS) Broadband 101 educational session on April 3. Sponsored in collaboration with U.S. Senators Mark Begich (AK) and Deb Fischer (NE) and Representatives Cory Gardner (CO) and Mike McIntyre (NC), the event attracted more than 70 House and Senate staff members. Attendees learned about the importance of broadband to rural America as well as the challenges and costs of bringing advanced services to these areas. Joining Dosch on the panel was Acting Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administator Paladino and Sheldon Petersen, CEO of the Rural Telephone Finance Corp. (RTFC).
Last month, a mighty roar ushered in the month of March when winter storm Rocky arrived. The storm affected many across the United States and Missouri was no exception. Several of the cooperatives who felt the wrath of Rocky were NISC Members—as a result iVUE® was put to the test in some very dangerous and treacherous conditions. A veteran lineman from Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Tipton, Mo., said this storm was as bad as an ice storm but harder to get around. “We had 17 systems that were affected across the state when this storm hit Monday night and into Tuesday. Some of them, it didn’t take very long to get all their power back onto their members, others such as Co-Mo Electric, Howard Electric, and Boone Electric have been a little longer,” said Rob Land, Emergency-Response Coordinator with Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “Co-Mo was the hardest hit due to the nature of their service territory and the terrain.” Rocky knocked out 17,000 meters, damaged 760-plus pieces of equipment and broke 66 poles in less than 48 hours in Co-Mo’s territory. More than 155 men from 20 electric utilities worked with the 30-plus Co-Mo office employees to get the power back on. “One of the things Co-Mo has that some of the other electric co-op systems don’t is the technology. The outage management system that they put in place here is very unique and does speed up the process,” said Barry Hart, CEO with Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “As we were visiting Co-Mo’s facility, we could see the outage map and see the extent of the damage, and it’s widespread. I don’t think I’ve ever seen damage over an entire co-op’s service area [...]
While his feet were planted firmly on the ground in New Orleans at the 2013 NISC Annual Meeting, NISC President and CEO Vern Dosch couldn’t keep his head out of the cloud. A major technological innovation over the past fiscal year for NISC, the NISC Cooperative Cloud© is growing faster than anyone imagined, but with good reason. “It is the most important development in IT, I believe, since we began this process more than 47 years ago,” Dosch told more than 400 NISC Members in attendance at the annual meeting. “This was just a dream. This was just an innovation, and today we have six applications - CalltoOrder, SmartHubTM, ActivTrace, Payment Gateway, Weather and the Meter Data Management System - that are resident in the cloud, and that number will continue to grow every year.” Along with the Cooperative Cloud, Dosch provided an update of NISC’s latest innovative solutions, including the iVUE® AppSuite and SmartHub mobile and tablet apps. “When we look at the numbers and see there are one billion smart phones out there - that number will double by 2015 - and the average smart phone has 41 apps on it, we're saying we better make sure that one of those apps has the logo of your co-op on it,” Dosch said. NISC Board Chairman Roger Yoder discussed NISC’s financial situation for the past fiscal year, which was one of the best in NISC history. “You may have heard Vern mention in the past, ‘we live in exciting times,’ and this past fiscal year proved that for NISC, it’s true,” Yoder said. “NISC saw increases in sales and in all business categories during the past fiscal year, and NISC’s membership grew with the [...]
To some people, mileage is a measurement that shows wear and tear – aging if you will. At NISC, we look at mileage a bit differently. In February, NISC staff packed their bags, grabbed their smart devices and embarked on a 2000 mile journey to the 2013 Rural Telecom Industry Meeting and EXPO in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The event for NISC kicked off with the 2013 Telecom Business Meeting with President and CEO Vern Dosch providing the keynote address. 2012 was another successful year as it ushered in the most Member growth NISC has ever seen, the greatest number of solutions in development and those solutions going to market at an unprecedented rate. This wasn’t accomplished by being the latest flash in the pan; it was from years of planning, working side-by-side with our Members and Customers and a strong vision leading the charge. NISC is also driven by a Board of Directors that champions us and challenges us. NISC owes great thanks to former Board members Paul Freude of Paul Bunyan Communications, Roger Geckler of Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative, Greg Starheim of Delaware County Electric Cooperative and Delbert Smith of Lamb County Electric Cooperative…all whose direction helped drive NISC to where it is today. Gary Johnson of Paul Bunyan Communications, Jim Mangum of Wake EMC, Wayne Martian of North Central Electric Cooperative and Bob Loth of Central Texas Electric Cooperative were ratified at the NISC Annual Meeting in New Orleans, La. to fill those vacancies. From all accounts, booth #311 was the place to be at the EXPO as NISC staff demoed current offerings and showcased new innovations. Members, Customers and prospects alike made a pit stop at the booth to kick the [...]
Advanced meters are becoming an essential tool for today’s utility. They provide a constant connection to the member and help each organization monitor the amount of energy being used at each location. As essential as these new meters are, implementation requires an overhaul of an entire system, which can be a bit tricky. This is where the advanced metering software can provide a leg up, which is how NISC’s Meter Data Management System (MDMS) is helping Baldwin EMC of Summerdale, Ala., with rolling out the new meters. “It’s helped us with our meter deployment,” said Alan Schott, Chief Financial Officer at Baldwin. We can determine if we’ve done exactly all of the field work that was necessary in certain cases.” Schott says Baldwin is about 15 percent complete with their deployment of the advanced meters – they selected the Gridstream RF model from Landis + Gyr - and they’ve been able to detect a few cases of unauthorized usage through the MDMS. “If a location should be disconnected, and we failed to disconnect the service when we changed the meter out, the meter will be listed as having unauthorized usage,” Schott said. “The MDMS allows us to ensure that we are accurately completing our meter deployment.” Selecting the right AMI software vendor can be a rigorous process, and Schott and Baldwin detailed a number of criteria they were looking for while evaluating potential partners. Among the key traits were ease of use, quick data access and integration with their consumer information system. “We had over 30 different criteria that we used to evaluate MDM software packages,” Schott said. “We graded all the vendors against the criteria, and NISC provided Baldwin EMC the best value, which [...]
About a year and a half ago, Ann Ellis and the staff at North Star Electric Co-op of Baudette, Minn., decided to take their board meeting books digital. Instead of creating 100-page booklets that had to be mailed out, the board members used laptops to access emailed versions of the board books. The digital transition did not meet the expectations of one board member. “It was probably a good step, because they got into the digital age, but we had one board member that turned in his laptop,” said Ellis, Finance Manager for North Star. “So, we had to continue to make one board packet and mail it.” Fast forward to January of 2013, and the North Star board members were met with something a little different upon entering the meeting, iPads loaded with NISC’s CalltoOrderTM app. Only one North Star board member had even touched an iPad, but after a training session and a little time with the CalltoOrder app, they were off and running. “The board member that turned in his laptop said ‘oh, I think I can do this.’ So that was a huge hurdle we got past,” Ellis said. The immediate benefits of CalltoOrder for the board members are fairly obvious, but there are some long-lasting effects that will make the app useful between meetings. Rather than keeping a shelf full of board books from months past, board members can consult the app for past meeting minutes. “If a member calls one of our board members and complains about the reconnect policy, he can look at the reconnect policy to see what it really says,” Ellis said. “It puts all the resources that they need in a one-stop shop, instead of [...]
NISC Member News: Congratulations to Mike Tirpak of Northwestern REC on winning the J.C. Brown Award
NISC would like to extend congraulations to Northwestern REC President and CEO Mike Tirpak for receiving the 2013 J.C. Brown CEO Communication Leadership Award. Tirpak received the award on January 14 as part of the NRECA CEO Close-Up conference. The J.C. Brown Award recognizes electric cooperative CEOs for excellence in communication and marketing. For more information on Tirpak's award, visit ECT.coop.