By Susan Ryba
This article appears in the May-June 2014 issue of Public Power magazine.
Tennessee’s Nashville Electric Service used to maintain a set number of telephone lines to handle outage calls. The lines worked well during normal operations, but major, storm-related outages overwhelmed the system. An aging internal interactive voice response system maintained a script for customers that differed from the script programmed within an overflow call system that was hosted offsite by an outside vendor. The overflow system worked from an off-line database that could only be updated weekly by synching with an ever-changing account database in the utility’s outage management system. There were issues with speech recognition and a limited number of licenses to support the function.
Nashville Electric Service decided to overhaul its entire interactive voice response approach to alleviate these issues and ultimately reduce the overall time for an outage call. The utility replaced its internal outage interactive voice response system and hosted overflow call taker with a comprehensive hosted IVR service from Milsoft Utility Solutions.
Milsoft provides software and support to the electric utility industry, with more than 1,000 client organizations in the United States and abroad. Its engineering and operations system combines engineering analysis, outage management, geographic information, field engineering and interactive voice response communications with comprehensive operations data management, all designed to integrate with a utility’s other applications and data to enable the efficient and effective planning, operation and management of a modern, intelligent grid.
“Moving to a single system for all of our incoming outage calls and outgoing callbacks has allowed NES to significantly increase our outage line capacity, consolidate our services, and offer one point of entry for a customer,” said Billy Draper, the utility’s chief database coordinator. “Milsoft provides NES with a true turnkey solution. We no longer worry about IVR upgrades, licenses, and phone line capacity. We consolidated two aging systems into one hosted solution and now provide a quality product to our customers and reduced our costs in the process. Milsoft is enabling NES to concentrate on keeping the lights on.”
Several years ago, Keys Energy Services in Key West, Fla., invested in outage management and interactive voice solutions from Milsoft. “We value the ease with which our customers can call in to our utility to access information,” said Dale Finigan, director of engineering and control. “We have been able to streamline our customer operations. During normal business hours, we try to answer calls live for information about customer accounts. During an outage, we are able to automatically process many calls at once via our OMS and offer our customers news about the outage situation. In addition, the customers can view our real-time online outage WebViewer of the system status with a prediction of the outage location.”
More recently, Keys Energy Sergices purchased Milsoft’s engineering analysis, field engineering and GIS tools. “The addition of FE and GIS systems that are compatible with our IVR/OMS packages has been particularly valuable,” Finigan reported. “The Crew Call Out and Assembly application enables us to better manage after hours work orders for our crews, as well as automate the process for calling in personnel during an emergency.”
Riviera Utilities in Alabama has deployed the integrated interactive voice, outage management, engineering analysis and GIS solutions from Milsoft, valuing that all of these applications access information from a shared database in real time.
“Any data keyed into one portion of the system is instantly available to all users of the Milsoft applications,” said Wes Abrams, an engineer with Riveier Utilities. “For example, the integrated mapping feature improves our response time by giving our crews access to accurate information about the location of any trouble in the system. Soon, our utility will use this common database to grant customers access to an outage map on the Internet. And we are developing ways to use Twitter and other social media tools in conjunction with the Milsoft applications to distribute alerts and utility news to our customers.”
When Jim Franklin came on board as the power engineering manager in 2008, he found that Independence Power & Light in Missouri was operating a home-grown outage management system that could only be maintained by a local consultant. He determined an upgrade was needed. After the RFP process and site visits to colleagues at neighboring public power systems, the utility found Milsoft to offer a combination of excellent pricing, products and customer service.
“Milsoft focuses on small to medium-size utilities, and the service that Milsoft offers to utilities like ours is second to none,” Franklin said. “Whenever we report a problem, Milsoft gets back to us within minutes and does whatever it takes to resolve the issue. In addition, Milsoft monitors the status of our systems on a 24/7 basis, calling us immediately if they spot anything suspicious. For example, at 7:00 am one morning, Milsoft noticed that the communication line between our office and the city’s computer system was down and called us to troubleshoot the problem. More importantly, Milsoft understands that effective communication between our utility and our customers is critical to our success. Their mission synchs up perfectly with ours.”