utility information pipeline

Are you considering automating your field force?

Field force automation and mobile service orders are two huge buzzwords in the utility billing software arena these days. Are you considering equipping your field service technicians with mobile devices and automating your service order process?

If so, this issue takes a look at the process and examines some things you should know before moving forward.

Steps in the process

The process of automating service orders in the field involves three steps:

  • Dispatching
  • Completing in the field
  • Updating in the office

Dispatching is the process of transmitting a service order (or a group of service orders) electronically to a technician in the field. Think of it as the automated replacement of your field service staff coming into the office to pick up paper service orders and distributing them to the appropriate technician.

Completing a service order in the field is the electronic equivalent of writing the results on the paper service order. This includes any meter readings, comments, the date and time completed and who completed the service order.

Updating an electronic service order in the office is not unlike updating a paper service order. The big difference is the customer service clerk doesn’t have to read the technician’s handwriting and key everything in – it’s already in the system from what was entered in the field. All the customer service clerk needs to do is verify the readings are valid and check for anything that could cause a billing error.

Who provides the solution?

When selecting a mobile system to automate your field force, there are three sources of systems to be considered:

  • Billing software vendor
  • GIS vendor
  • Third party

If your billing software vendor offers an option for mobile service orders, it should, hopefully, be fully integrated with your billing software. This means it should be easy to implement.

A solution provided by your GIS vendor should have a strong interface to your GIS system, allowing your field staff to see maps in the field. Your billing system vendor may or may not have an interface to a system from your GIS vendor.

Third party solutions, by virtue of the fact they are designed and developed to operate by themselves, may have the best user interface of the three alternatives. However, they are also the most difficult to integrate with your billing system. Third party solutions are the best option for billing systems that offer no other way to implement field force automation.

What technology to use?

Apple, Android, Windows…? Tablet, laptop, phone…? With so many choices available, how do you know what technology to use? For starters, the hardware platform has to be compatible with the software application. Don’t go buy hardware before deciding on a software solution!

If you already provide a mobile platform for your field service technicians, and that platform is compatible with the software you choose, you’re in business! If not, you might have to purchase new mobile hardware for your field service staff.

Is your field service staff currently automated? Please take a moment to complete this quick poll indicating what technology you employ in the field.

Gift card winners

As posted in a previous issue, here are the winners of the two $50.00 Visa gift cards:

  • New subscriber – Trisha Flynn, West Knox Utility District, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Referring a new subscriber – Crystal French, Craven County Water Department, New Bern, North Carolina

Are you considering automating your field force?

Are you considering implementing a mobile service order solution and wondering how to get started? To find out, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how you could benefit from a business review.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2018 Gary Sanders

What’s it going to be…?

Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve been involved with several customers moving to automated meter reading systems. One customer is migrating to an AMI system and currently reads in thousands of gallons and applies a multiplier to their readings to bill in gallons. Another is implementing an AMR system and reads and bills in hundreds of gallons.

Both are using a contractor to replace their meters, so I asked if either would be changing to reading and billing in gallons and explained this is the ideal time to make the switch.

Why read and bill in gallons?

I’ve written before about a compelling reason for changing to reading and billing in gallons, but with an AMI system, there is an even better reason. If you plan to offer an online portal so your customers can access their daily usage, as the customer moving to AMI does, do you want them to be able to reconcile their daily usage to their billed usage? If you do, then you will have to read and bill in gallons.

What does it take to make the change?

If, like the AMI customer, you are already billing in gallons, just reading in larger units, all you need to do is drop the multiplier on your readings and start reading meters to the gallon.

On the other hand, if you are like the AMR customer and reading and billing in the larger units, you will have to make some changes to your data. These data fields would need to be changed for each account in the system:

  • Previous reading
  • Current reading (if readings have been updated)
  • Usage (if readings have been updated)
  • Any usage history used to calculate the moving average
  • Moving average
  • Number of dials

What’s it going to be…?

If you’re making the change to an automated meter reading system and you’re not already reading and billing in gallons, you have two options – make the change or fall victim to the TTWWADI syndrome. What’s it going to be…?

Holiday spending money

If you missed it in a previous issue, I’m offering two $50.00 Visa gift cards, one to a new subscriber and one to a current subscriber who refers a new subscriber.If you refer a new subscriber between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will be entered once for each referral. For referrals from outside your organization, you will be entered twice for each new subscriber. Be sure to remind the people you refer to enter your name on the Referred By line when they complete the subscription form.

Are you moving to automated meter reading?

Are you considering moving to an automated meter reading system and wondering how to get started? To find out, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how you could benefit from a business review.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2018 Gary Sanders

How do your days of exposure compare?

The last Utility Information Pipeline analyzed the possible deposit refund or bad debt write-off, based on early results from the Days of Exposure tool featured a few issues ago. If you remember, Days of Exposure is the total number of days of service a customer ends up owing for if they are disconnected for non-payment and never reinstate service.

Last week, a customer asked how their utility’s Days of Exposure compared to others who used the tool, so this issue reports those results. Thus far, 50 people have completed the Days of Exposure tool, 45 of which bill monthly, and those results are represented by the graph below.

The Days of Exposure tool doesn’t ask who is completing the page, but it does log the values for each entry. This means I don’t know which utilities are represented by the results shown here:

Days of exposure

The Days of Exposure for those utilities that bill monthly ranged from 53 days (1.77 billing periods of exposure) to 116 days (3.87 billing periods of exposure). The mean (arithmetic average) is 81.72 and the median (equal number of smaller and larger values) is 79.

Analysis of results

As described in the last issue, 53 Days of Exposure is impressive! I consider anything under 60 to be excellent (in order to complete the delinquent process before billing again). Anything over 70 is generally indicative of areas that can be improved or policies that need to be changed.

Of the 45 responses shown above, three were under 60 days, 11 were between 60 and 70, and 31 were greater than 70, as shown below:

Reasons for a high number of days of exposure can include excessive time between reading meters and mailing bills, the number of days between the due date and when bills are actually delinquent, long periods between the delinquent date and a final notice, and extended time before finally disconnecting for non-payment.

If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to take a minute and click here to calculate your utility’s Days of Exposure to see how your utility performs and determine if you are at risk for a potential bad debt write-off.

Holiday spending money

If you missed it in a previous issue, I’m offering two $50.00 Visa gift cards, one to a new subscriber and one to a current subscriber who refers a new subscriber.If you refer a new subscriber between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will be entered once for each referral. For referrals from outside your organization, you will be entered twice for each new subscriber. Be sure to remind the people you refer to enter your name on the Referred By line when they complete the subscription form.

Are your days of exposure as low as they could be?

Are your days of exposure as low as they could be? To find out, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how you could benefit from a business review.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2018 Gary Sanders

Why isn’t your security deposit enough?

I’m intrigued by the early results from the Days of Exposure tool that was featured two issues ago. If you remember, Days of Exposure is the total number of days of service a customer ends up owing for if they are disconnected for non-payment and never reinstate service.

I had a suspicion most utilities don’t charge a sufficient security deposit, and the early results have confirmed that. Thus far, 40 people have used the Days of Exposure tool. Of those 40, seven don’t charge a security deposit, so this analysis is based on the remaining 33.

The Days of Exposure tool doesn’t ask who is completing the page, but it does log the values for each entry. This means I don’t know which utilities are represented by the results shown here:

Days of exposure

The Days of Exposure for those utilities that bill monthly ranged from 53 days (1.77 billing periods of exposure) to 116 days (3.87 billing periods of exposure). 53 Days of Exposure might be the lowest I’ve seen over the course of several years of using this calculation. In case you’re wondering, here’s how they arrived at 53 Days of Exposure:

Refunds vs. potential write-offs

As shown in the graph above, seven of the 33 responses (21.2%) charge a security deposit sufficient to cover their potential liability, based on their Days of Exposure. The remaining 26 responses (78.8%) risk potential write-offs ranging from a paltry fifty cents to a whopping $308.33!

Five of the 33 responses are within $10.00 of charging a security deposit that exactly covers their potential liability. Of these, two are refunds – $2.00 and $8.33 – and the other three are potential write-offs of $.50, $1.49, and $6.00. Kudos to these five utilities for doing a stellar job of determining their security deposit!

If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to take a minute and click here to calculate your utility’s Days of Exposure and determine if you are at risk for a potential bad debt write-off.

Holiday spending money

If you missed the last issue, I’m offering two $50.00 Visa gift cards, one to a new subscriber and one to a current subscriber who refers a new subscriber. If you refer a new subscriber between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will be entered once for each referral. For referrals from outside your organization, you will be entered twice for each new subscriber. Be sure to remind the people you refer to enter your name on the Referred By line when they complete the subscription form.

Are your days of exposure as low as they could be?

Are your days of exposure as low as they could be? To find out, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how you could benefit from a business review.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2018 Gary Sanders

Want some extra holiday spending money?

Would you like a little extra spending money this holiday season?

As a way of encouraging more people to subscribe to the Utility Information Pipeline, I’m offering two $50.00 Visa gift cards, one to a new subscriber and one to a current subscriber who refers a new subscriber.

I will draw the winning entries on Friday, November 16 (in time to get the gift cards to the winners before Black Friday!) and will announce the winners in the November 20 Utility Information Pipeline.

New subscribers

If you subscribe between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will automatically be entered in a drawing for one of the gift cards. If you are referred by someone, be sure to enter their name on the Referred By line of the subscription form.

Referrals

If you refer a new subscriber between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will be entered once for each referral. For referrals from outside your organization, you will be entered twice for each new subscriber. Be sure to remind the people you refer to enter your name on the Referred By line when they complete the subscription form.

Days of exposure

If you missed the last issue, it included a link to a new Days of Exposure tool I’ve created. Days of Exposure is the total number of days of service a customer ends up owing for if they are cut off for non-payment and never reinstate service.

If you haven’t already done so, please take a minute and click here to calculate your utility’s Days of Exposure and determine if you are at risk for a potential bad debt write-off.

Webinar this morning

If you’re reading this first thing on Tuesday morning, you still have time to register for a webinar from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC this morning at 10:00 am EST. The webinar is entitled “Setting Financial Targets for Water Utilities – Beyond the Budget”. You can learn more about the webinar and register to attend by clicking here.

Do you have an idea for a future Utility Information Pipeline?

Do you have an idea for a future Utility Information Pipeline newsletter? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to let me know.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2018 Gary Sanders

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Gary Sanders

I am the Senior Consultant with Logics, LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina. I have over 35 years experience developing and implementing utility billing and financial software and consulting with utilities and municipalities. My bi-weekly email newsletter draws from my experience in working with over 200 utilities and local governments to offer insight into how utilities can improve operations and better serve their customers. If you have a comment or a suggestion for a future email, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or sending an email to gsanders@logicssolutions.com



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