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.
Every team at NISC is dedicated to producing the best possible software we can to meet the needs of the NISC Membership. Sometimes, though, it’s beneficial to take a step back and remember exactly which groups our software is designed to support. “We know (the software) inside and out and it makes perfect sense in our mind,” said Laura Matthews, NISC Application Design Analyst. “However, we have to keep in mind that we’re not the user. We can’t un-know what we know about how the software works.” What Matthews described is essentially the basic tenant of usability; designing a product with the user in mind to meet their needs and demands. Since the birth of NISC, the iVUE® platform has been designed to meet the needs of the NISC Membership, with input from Members through various channels like Joint Application Development (JAD) sessions and NISC Member Advisory Committees. Usability, though, takes that one step further. “Usability, in a nutshell, is user advocacy,” Matthews said. “It encompasses research, design, efficiency and effectiveness of the products. It’s taking and trying to understand the users themselves. It goes over and above what we typically use in our software processes, which are business requirements.” Understanding the business challenges of NISC’s Membership is essential to creating and building the best software possible. Add to that the ability to understand how the user interacts with the software, and it becomes even better, helping NISC Members reach business objectives through non-business means. “In a way, it’s a form of product and market research, so we’re better streamlining (our solutions) for our Member/Owners,” said Tom Pallesen, Senior Usability Analyst. “The more that (the solutions are) in tune with their objectives, the more efficient [...]
Before they launched SmartHubTM in October of 2012, the employees of Northwestern REC, Cambridge Springs, Penn., were able to take it for a test drive. CEO Mike Tirpak noticed that his bill was going up, and had no idea why. Using SmartHub, he was able to watch his usage and track it down to a broken sump pump. “He ended up with a crack in his sump pump, and it was leaking, so it was running all the time,” said Linda King, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development for Northwestern REC. “He couldn’t tell, because he wasn’t home. Within a couple weeks, he tracked it down.” Northwestern went live with SmartHub in mid-October of 2012, and since that time have been using it to help educate their Membership about their electric use and promote electronic bill payment methods and paperless billing. Between the launch of SmartHub and mid-December, King said Northwestern had seen a 200 percent increase in Members going to paperless billing and nearly 250 SmartHub app downloads. “Not everybody has the mobile device,” King said. “We were anticipating a lot of our younger members to go that route, but the electronic payments and paperless bills are what we’re excited about. We were stuck at around 300 Members participating in that, which isn’t very good. When we launched SmartHub, we turned that option on to help them turn their paper bill off, and now we have about 1000 people.” The education piece is crucial to Northwestern’s SmartHub deployment. While they’re using the tool to help Manage high bill complaints, now they’re able to show that consumer exactly what’s going on with their home’s energy. “What’s helpful is that we can either talk them through [...]