Service Connections: 10,000 | Population: 30,000 | Meter Reading System: Aclara AMI
|Case Study: City of Redmond, OR (PDF)|
Redmond is a mid-sized community nestled in Oregon’s High Desert Plateau just east of the Cascade Mountain Range. Known for its progressive and innovative leadership, Redmond enjoys a statewide reputation for its ability to undertake and implement projects and programs that benefit its residents.
The City is located in Deschutes County, one of the top ten fastest growing counties in the U.S. The water utility currently serves a population of 30,000. This is expected to grow to 46,000 by 2025.
Redmond's public works department employs 134 people and provides safe, cost-effective, high quality facilities and services for water, sewer, storm drainage, streets and parks. The City has been using Aclara's fixed base, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system since 2006. They host their own Network Control Computer (NCC) and maintain seventeen (17) Data Collector Units (DCUs).
In early 2015, Redmond deployed AquaHawk™, a user-friendly customer portal application for the purpose of:
One problem AquaHawk helped tackle related to managing the shutoff notification process for delinquent accounts. In the past, each month, the City would contact more than 300 customers who had not paid their water bills. Staff members would spend hours manually calling these individuals notifying them that non payment would lead to service suspension.
The process was laborious and employees didn't enjoy doing it. If the customer didn't pay prior to the cutoff date, the City dispatched field staff to turn off the water.
AquaHawk's Group Messaging module offered an alternative that helped automate this process. Now, utility billing provides a list of past due accounts every month and telephone contact information. AquaHawk calls each customer, speaks a utility-customized message, and outlines payment options.
What previously took hours for employees to administer, is now accomplished in minutes, automatically, by the application. Employees are also relieved they no longer have to manage this not-so-enjoyable activity.
Josh Wedding, City of Redmond's Water Operations Manager commented, "This capability has been huge for us and probably reduced the number of customers we actually have to visit, by 30%. Reducing 'truck rolls' not only saves the City money, but it allows us to utilize employees for preventative maintenance and higher value water work."
Interestingly, many customers have responded positively. "City Hall routinely receives calls from customers saying 'thanks for the notice, I simply forgot to pay,'" noted Mr. Wedding.
Finding meters that are missing reads or are running backwards is much easier in AquaHawk.
|-- Josh Wedding, Water Operations Manager, City of Redmond|
AquaHawk provides a comprehensive set of time-saving tools that improve staff members' abilities to conduct daily operations. "Finding meters that are missing reads or are running backwards is much easier in AquaHawk," said Mr. Wedding. "And prior to using the system, we had no idea how many short and long term leaks our customers were experiencing. Analytic processes in AquaHawk find problems we might otherwise miss. Through the built-in notification system, we have sent thousands of text messages and e-mails, and made automated calls alerting our users, in the communication mode they prefer."
Mr. Wedding described a very unique leak situation they recently discovered. "One of our customers operates a pizza parlor, and we alerted him to high usage. The owner wasn't able to find the problem so we made a 'house call.'
Our crew discovered a broken shutoff valve in an asphalt area near the business. The owner wouldn't have been able to locate the leak because there was no visible surface water. It was a bizarre occurrence and the owner was thankful we found it."
Another feature employees use regularly is called "QuickLinks." If a staff member is reviewing an account in AquaHawk and wants to cross check information in the Aclara NCC (headend), he simply clicks a button titled "Star" and is transferred to that customer's account.
Links to other software systems such as utility billing, meter data management (MDM), Google Maps, and work order management can be configured too.
One valuable attribute of the AquaHawk system is that it has been architected to support the addition of new features and capabilities. The Redmond team wanted to reduce the amount of time it took their field staff to notify the utility billing department when a meter had been changed, and to eliminate manual data entry errors.
AmCoBi collaborated with the City to define and develop a new Meter Change Out module. Employees can now enter data about the meter swap directly into AquaHawk, the use data is updated immediately, and utility billing is notified automatically.
One of the main reasons Redmond started exploring consumer engagement solutions was to meet community outreach requirements mandated by the State of Oregon. As part of its Water Conservation Plan, the City had committed to making water usage data available to customers.
"It's very important to get information into the hands of consumers," Mr. Wedding pointed out. "When they have access, they can see how much water they're using and they're more likely to engage in conservation and efficiency efforts. It also enables customers to benefit directly from our AMI investment."
Tracking conservation results is a simple process in AquaHawk. Mr. Wedding explained, "I can easily see who our largest water users are and trend their consumption. I can quickly view water consumption totals for all residential or commercial accounts, and a variety of subgroups. The utility dashboard closely fits how our organization manages data."
When the City considered deploying a consumer engagement solution, several characteristics were important to their organization. "Customer usability and security were big factors for us," explained Mr. Wedding. "Price was important too."
"All the vendors we reviewed offered solid products. What made AquaHawk standout is that it more closely aligned with the way we manage system data. The application was able to integrate data from: utility billing, the AMI system, and radios that store either hourly or six-hour reads."
"During our reference checks, we heard very positive feedback from AmCoBi's existing clients. We had high expectations going into this project. And our staff has been very impressed with the level of responsiveness and attentive support that the AquaHawk team has delivered…during the implementation and afterwards."
"We appreciate the way AmCoBi listens to ideas from its clients and incorporates those suggestions into the system so that all utilities can benefit," Mr. Wedding acknowledged. "As far as new features, we'd like a mapping capability where we can visually see the status of meters and data collectors in the field. If we could use this map to select a group of accounts and send them an alert when there's a main break or a service outage, that would save us a lot of time. Our staff wouldn't have to physically knock on doors and hang door hangers."
AmCoBi expects to release this capability in the next few months.
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AquaHawk™ is an affordable Web-based, customer portal solution that helps water, electric, and gas utilities improve customer service and build stronger client relationships. By presenting useful data and actionable information, providers can reduce routine support calls, easily resolve high bill complaints, and give customers more control over how they use utilities.