Apr 26, 2022

Updating Oldest U.S. Water & Sewer System with Newest Software

CMS change for Boston Water & Sewer Commission improves workflow & efficiency

Updating Oldest U.S. Water & Sewer System with Newest Software

Every day, more than 1 million people in Boston rely on drinking water and sewer services provided by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. Created in 1977 by an act of the Massachusetts legislature to take over the city-operated sewer system and state-operated treatment facilities, the BWSC operates the largest retail water and wastewater utility in New England. It is responsible for maintaining 1,015 miles of water main and 1,435 miles of sewer pipe and storm drain.

The legacy Customer Information System BWSC was using was based on an Ingres Database built in the 1980s. Shortly after BWSC went live with the system, the company that designed it went out of business, leaving Boston to manage the system on its own.

“Their internally developed and supported CIS was failing and very expensive to maintain,” said Kimberly Williams, senior vice president of business strategy for Itineris. “They were operating many disparate solutions and desired a more cohesive enterprise approach to streamline their processes.”

Advertisement

Software Issues

Their old CIS was built entirely on exceptions, according to Williams, offering very little integration with BWSC’s other systems. This led to delays in integrating data.  Because the processes were designed around limited system capabilities, with information dispersed across several systems, data was out of sync. This resulted in 9,000 annual adjustments processed manually.

Being built on exceptions was also problematic because there was no documentation surrounding the business processes built into the code. Meanwhile, subject matter experts on the system were beginning to retire, leaving few resources for BWSC to consult for assistance.

Other concerns included a lack of functionality to deal with complex account/metering structures for 700 compound meters attached to 1,400 accounts. The system simply was not flexible enough to adapt to evolving needs. Customers wanted online self-service options to view their water consumption and pay their bills. They wanted e-communication for billing, submitting repair requests and notifications.

In Search of a Solution

BWSC issued an RFP in the hopes of implementing a better system. The water commission’s objectives were to:

  • Modernize business operations through efficient and affordable software;
  • Increase performance by moving data across information systems and by streamlining business procedures;
  • Provide customer service representatives and field staff with data access
  • Improve the billing and collections processes; and
  • Upgrade customer service by providing more information and options for interfacing across a wide range of platforms.

Although they received several competitive bids, Peter Hunt, chief information officer for BWSC, said the utility chose Itineris, “after careful and detailed evaluation.” The decision was based largely on each vendor’s history of customer support and whether the suggested solutions were too complex or not complex enough.

“Itineris [presented] the right-sized solution, offered out-of-the-box functionality, and had a compelling story by being developed on the Microsoft D365 platform,” Hunt said.

“Itineris and UMAX were chosen after an extensive selection process to determine the best solution across BWSC’s meter-to-cash, customer service, mobile work management, and business intelligence requirements,” Williams added.

UMAX is a cloud-based CIS/CRM solution developed on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance platform and specifically designed for the utilities sector.

She said BWSC’s selection criteria required the solution be a configurable, modern technology platform with the ability to integrate with other systems (GIS, ERP, AMR at a low cost of ownership while still providing ongoing vendor support.

Because UMAX is highly configurable, Williams said Itineris could tailor processes to BWSC’s needs and keep pace with anticipated growth. Specifically, the company was able to integrate disparate systems, such as GIS and AMR to provide up-to-date reporting.

Results

Additional results since the implementation of UMAX include increased customer engagement, with 5,000 CSS portal sign-ups within a week after the go-live announcement, enabling customers to view their consumption and bills, and make payments online.

Conversely, the total number of customer calls has decreased, thanks to e-communication options. This has reduced the amount of time CSRs spend on the phone with customers. When a CSR is on the phone with a customer, information is readily available, without a day’s delay.

BWSC leveraged the Microsoft ecosystem, with tools like Power BI for imbedded graphical analytical reporting, Task Recorder to create training guides and libraries, and AI to predict customer payment trends. This helped reduce write-offs and improve margins by providing visibility into the probability of late and at-risk payments.

In addition, Itineris configured an account structure model that supports multiple services on one account, such as master accounts, landlord accounts and consolidated billing, making it easy for a customer to view and pay multiple accounts at once.

Fahad Alamoudi, marketing director in North America for Itineris, said that by implementing UMAX, BWSC added fully integrated customer self-service and mobile functionality and was able to replace not only its aging CIS, but also seven legacy systems. Without delving into dollar figures, he said UMAX resulted in lower operating costs.

“And, through One-V methodology, they eliminated the costly, difficult-to-manage massive upgrades,” Alamoudi added.

One-Version is the Microsoft software update delivery approach Itineris adopted to provide seamless data flow within one solution.

“With One-V, all customers benefit from being on the same version, with access to the latest capabilities available,” Alamoudi said, “and no customer [or] user is stuck on less-capable older versions.”  

Advertisement

 One-version offers frequent updates and continually evolves with the utility market’s demands, Alamoudi continues. He dubs it “a modern approach to CIS solutions” in which customers receive updates eight times a year, eliminating “costly and time-consuming major big-bang upgrades every one or two years. Big upgrades are costly, require a ton of time and effort, and are very difficult to manage.” These updates are backward-compatible, so apps and customizations will continue to work.

UMAX’s automated adjustments simplify the billing process. In that same week since go-live, 65,000 reads were received, 22,000 bills were created, and $11 million in payments were received.

The new system also created 2,400 service orders within the first week and closed 820 of them. The introduction of electronic (paperless) work orders brought efficiency to BWSC’s fieldwork management, which previously operated with 80% manual paper work orders. In addition, automated scheduling and dispatching based on the location, skills, and availability of FSRs results in faster, more effective execution of work orders.

Satisfied Customer

“We felt it was very important for our software provider to be our system implementer as well, so they had vested interest in supporting us long-term, not just for the implementation,” Hunt said. “When you deal with a company that provides development, delivery, and support, they are intimate with the implementation process and familiar with customization/configurations. There is no finger pointing. They have a vested interest because they provide ongoing support."

About the author

Lori Lovely is a freelance writer for Water & Wastes Digest. Lovely can be reached at lori@montrosefarms.com.

expand_less