SEDC innovations a unifying force for change at Missouri utility
By 2014, Southwest Electric Cooperative had outgrown its homegrown computer system. The needs of more than 40,000 members in eleven counties in southwest Missouri (including Springfield, the third-largest city in the state), kept them struggling to keep up. Their assorted brands of purchased software — for CIS, mapping and staking, automated meter reading and more — were time-consuming and unwieldy to coordinate. How could they keep pace and prepare for an increasingly data-driven future?
CEO James Ashworth described the dilemma. “As upgrades came about on all these services we were finding we just couldn’t get things done during this process. Fingers were being pointed and people were saying ‘It’s not my problem, it’s theirs.’”
In the SEDC software community, Southwest EC found the breadth of solutions to address all their needs and unify data management across and within departmental silos. They found innovative new approaches like mobile apps and meter data management. They also found a resource to unify utility teams and clarify responsibilities. “Making the switch to SEDC/Futura made the most sense,” Ashworth said. “It let us consolidate all our software solutions under one umbrella to achieve better integration — and eliminated the blaming and conflict that reduce productivity.”
First, Southwest EC migrated its core business systems to utilityPOWERnet™ (UPN), SEDC’s easy-to-use suite of integrated billing (CIS), accounting (BIS), and capital credit (CC) utility software. The utility has added extra value with other SEDC products as they moved along and have plans to add even more products in the future.
SEDC was a partner in bringing about change. Ashworth described the process: “There was a certain amount of fear and intimidation, especially during the initial conversion phase, but we had personnel from SEDC and Futura on-site here for days and even weeks at a time working side-by-side with our employees to help walk them through the training.
“That is where SEDC really stepped up because their product training is what really separates them from everyone else in the industry,” said Ashworth. “SEDC and Futura make the training aspect of the process very appealing when implementing a new module or product because they send their own people to us to give us on-site training at our facilities. It makes the process very affordable and helps our employees get comfortable with the products up front.”
The improvement has been significant. Southwest can now take e-commerce payments from customers via utility-branded mobile apps from SEDC, share their outage map so customers can look on their website to see real-time outage information from Futura OMS and give linemen exact outage locations using Futura GIS/Mapping.
“Our particular co-op is very lean on employees, which is why SEDC and Futura is such a great fit for us,” Ashworth said. “Their software and products are so well-integrated — which helps utilities like us do more with less. I can’t tell you the amount of money we saved with the switch, but the amount of services and the efficiency we gained all-around from switching to SEDC and Futura is substantial.”
Ashworth cited several examples. “Prior to working with SEDC and Futura, we weren’t able to take any form of e-commerce payment, but now that is a service we can easily supply to our customers. The Futura GIS/mapping software is just one example of the money we save. This software saves our linemen hours in the field driving around looking for outage locations because of the efficiency the software provides by pinpointing and directing linemen to exactly where they need to go using GPS technology.”
“Even though a lot of the benefits received from us switching over to SEDC is behind the scenes, our customers have been very complimentary of the improvements they have seen especially with the member portal app,” Ashworth said. With the portal, members can see their usage hourly and daily and overlay weather data. They are using the mobile apps to make bill payments. Other tools, such as the pre-paid metering solution, are getting great feedback, too, Ashworth said. “We now have so many tools that our customers can use to make payments 24/7 even if we aren’t open.”
As part of the SEDC community, Southwest today is better equipped for the challenges of the future. “SEDC does a good job of looking down the road and trying to be prepared for the technology and products we are going to need when we need them,” said Ashworth. “Just because we don’t need them today doesn’t mean that there won’t be a need for them down the line.”
“Obviously, there will always be growing pains, but in the big picture the experience we have had switching to the SEDC family for most of our products and software has been better than we ever could have imagined. SEDC definitely has their eye on the ball and are heading in the right direction because this is an ever-changing industry and SEDC always has its ears to the ground looking and asking for ways to get better.”