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 [...]