A Story of Integration

Laurens Electric Cooperative in South Carolina wanted a way to make information useful. Seems like a simple idea, but like most in this industry, they were confronting a multitude of issues. Data in their CIS was distinctly different and separate from the data in the FIS. Data had to be updated in batches from one system to another, consuming huge amounts of resources requiring systems to be down every night.

There were no checks and balances between the systems, so no one had any idea what was right or wrong. It was grueling to get year-end reports, much less at the end of every month. Some systems were real time, while others were not. Plus several of the applications were just not up to par. And all this was just the tip of a frustrating iceberg.

Laurens needed a system where all their data could be stored in one place, updated accurately in real-time, easily maintained and made available to anyone anywhere inside the organization. And they got it. The coop began by putting in place an Oracle relational database to store all of their data centrally. Then they started to tie in their new ArcFM GIS, ABB CADOPS OMS and Centurion Interactive Voice Response systems. As these systems became active, it was apparent that a fully integrated CIS was needed to tie it all together.

There were several CIS solutions available, but many of these systems did not offer true integration. Many claimed to be integrated, but were not built with the specific intention of seamlessly tying applications together. In reality, most of these solutions had been retrofitted to provide simple links from one to the other. This is when Laurens Electric came upon ATS’s OpenOne solution.

Laurens Electric’s discovered that the ATS OpenOne system was specifically built to integrate their CIS with the many components that made up the coop’s management systems. As one example, OpenOne was already integrated with their CADOPS application. With just this connectivity alone, the company was able to bring substantial new efficiencies. Now when a customer calls in with an outage problem, for instance, the Laurens customer service team is already aware of the outage and can immediately place an order for repair, all without passing the customer over to another group within the cooperative. Plus, the same folks responding to customer calls can easily view the outage history and be proactive on the customer’s behalf.

Throughout their organization, this kind of integration offers even greater communications between departments that rarely interact. And the cost savings have been very significant. Each of their old systems was proprietary and islands to themselves. Laurens has reduced their expense with the new integrated solution through reduction in staff and hardware. All their applications, CIS, FIS, IVR, GIS, and Outage Management can run across multiple interconnected servers, for a fraction of what it cost in the past. Plus, one hidden perk is that Laurens now has one remote and redundant server that provides real-time backup for all their information.

According to Byron Bass, Manager of Energy Distribution, their experience with ATS continually surpassed their expectations. “We’re finding that ATS wants to go where we want to go. They’ve shown it by the system they’ve created. And as our business evolves, they’re excited to grow with us, and stay ahead of the industry. That means a lot.”

Assistance with Energy Assistance

During times of hardship, many customers may seek energy assistance to help pay their electric bill. Managing and reconciling the check from the agency to the customer accounts is a tedious task. Several cooperatives using the OpenOne software suite, by ATS, asked if there could be a better way.

The customer information system, Pledge Agency Functionality, allows the assistance payments to post to the member’s account and simultaneously links it to the paying agency. Agency balances owed to the cooperative can be viewed at anytime in the system. Upon receipt of the agency check, the system displays all outstanding pledges, making light work of posting the payment and associating it back to the assisted account.

Betty Welsh, Vice President of Finance & Administration, Black River Electric Cooperative, Sumter, South Carolina says “what was once a two step and two person function is now handled by simply posting the voucher payment to the member’s account. No separate charges to add to the agency account. No forgetting to do the second step and creating reconciliation issues. Even voucher payment corrections can be handled in one step – again all at the member’s account. No adjustments needed. This is a very streamlined and time saving functionality.”

As the economy continues to struggle to rebound from the current recessive state and with the political influence that has the potential to drive the cost of electricity higher – there is the potential that more cooperative members will need assistance to pay their electric bills.

Amy Crowder, Blue Ridge EMC, Lenoir, North Carolina, states “at Blue Ridge EMC, we have 30 different agencies throughout our service territory that assist our members with electric bills. The Pledge Functionality has enabled us to more effectively manage the amounts due from the organizations. Also from the agency perspective, it is easy for us at any time to retrieve a list of which commitments that have not paid for and communicate efficiently with them. The automated procedure eliminated our employee errors and reconciliation problems. This functionality has helped us serve our members more effectively and strengthen our relationship with these vital agencies.”