Water department modernizes computer system
The Year 2000 computer bug threatens many public entities, but the need for solutions is particularly crucial in the utilities field. The Chicago Department of Water, aware of the vulnerability of its multiple computerized functions, has organized a consortium of companies to provide it with integrated customer information systems. The department has selected
locally based U.S. Water to lead the consortium by implementing a state-of-the-art computer system and providing ongoing customer services. The project involves components such as integrated work order and inventory systems; database management; billing; and debt collections.
Other members of the consortium include Vertex, a subsidiary of Great Britain’s United Utilities; Metromail, Lombard, Ill.; Systems and Computer Technology, Malvern, Pa.; IBM, Armonk, N.Y.; and Xerox, Stamford, Conn. Several Chicago-based companies, including System Development Integration; BSG Training Institute; Nationwide Credit and Collection; and Advance Keypunch, also are participating in the project.
During the implementation phase, the department will install a comprehensive computer system, replacing its more than 20-year-old mainframe computer architecture with an advanced Y2K-compliant client/server network. Existing customer data will be converted to resolve Y2K conflicts; water department and other city employees will be trained on the new systems; automation will be implemented for water meter work orders and meter inventory maintenance; and billing and collections capabilities will be enhanced.
Numerous services will be outsourced, including database maintenance, backup and recovery; technology upgrades; version control services; bill calculations; printing; distribution; accounts receivable management; and debt collection. “We’re building an entirely new database,” says Renee Prejean-Motanky, director of program information for the district. The ability to “age receivables” — i.e., determine the years of past due accounts that are being collected — should help improve collection revenues, she says.
Customers who call with questions regarding their water bills will be able to access current and historical billing and credit information for their accounts. They can learn when their water meter was installed, serviced or tested, and find out the rate structure and payment schedule for their account. They also can submit repair service requests and schedule repairs electronically. Eventually, the district will move toward making customer services available on the Internet, according to Prejean-Motanky.
Because much of the account information can be accessed by punching numbers on a telephone keypad, fewer employees will be needed to answer incoming calls. Most will be moved to other jobs, thus preventing layoffs, Prejean-Motanky says.