FORT WAYNE – City Utilities – at long last – is getting a new system to manage its customer information.
Board of Public Works members Wednesday voted unanimously on a package of measures to buy CIS Infinity software to manage the utility’s massive operation handling 100,000 customers and issuing 1 million bills a year.
The system, however, will not be simple, or inexpensive: The measures approved Wednesday include $485,000 to license the software from Advanced Utility Systems; $97,000 a year for maintenance and support; and $1.8 million for system installation, a process that will take more than a year.
There is also the approximately $700,000 the city spent to have consultant Enterprise Management Associates figure out what it needed in a customer management system, handle the search process for a vendor, and help with training and making the transition.
Because of the size of the purchase, it must also be approved by the City Council. It is expected to be introduced next week.
Len Poehler, deputy director of business services for City Utilities, said the current system was installed in 1992 and is so old, officials cannot get parts. The last time a server went down, he said, they had to find parts on eBay.
The current system is so complicated to use, it takes six months to train employees to use it, and it is shut down for 10 hours a night while it batch-processes all the transactions put in during the day.
“The system is held together with duct tape and baling wire,” Poehler said.
The new system will feature real-time processing, so someone who pays a bill at the last possible moment will no longer be in danger of getting disconnected anyway.
“This will automatically cancel the disconnect notice to the workers in the field,” Poehler said. “With the current system, you’re talking about doing it on paper and it might take hours.”
The CIS Infinity system will allow customers to do more for themselves on the Internet, if they choose, such as looking up their account information or paying bills.
It will also allow the city to geo-code accounts and integrate the system with its mapping software, so customers near a water main break can be notified automatically.
City Utilities Director Kumar Menon said an enterprise the size of City Utilities – it handles 20,000 move-in/move-out transactions a year and 150,000 phone calls – cannot function on 20-year-old software.
“We are the closest thing to a business (that) government can ever be. We sell a product – water – which is a huge responsibility, but it’s also selling a product, and our focus has to be on the customer,” Menon said.
Poehler said the new system will allow managers to spend less time compiling data and more time with customers. Menon said it will allow landlords to put all their properties under one umbrella so they can view multiple accounts at once.
Menon said the system will even allow the city to handle billing for other utilities, which would create a new source of income for the city.