Saturday, April 13, 2013

New Water Chief's Debut Meeting

Interim Water Utilities Director Ricky Dickson offered the following information in the February 21, 2013 City Council packet.

Neptune N Sight IQ Software
Financial Impact:  No hardware required by City
Presentation:  None

At the time I found this grossly inadequate, given vendors don't generally demo their software for free. However, Council deferred this item.  I presumed when it returned to the agenda, there would be more meat to the proposal (similar to the City's "new website" presentation). 

On March 21 Dickson lost the Interim designation, becoming San Angelo's Water Utilities Director.  Neptune N Sight IQ Software returned to Council's agenda for April 2, 2013. The information was the exact same, as was Dickson's title on screen:

Neptune N Sight IQ Software
Financial Impact:  No hardware required by City
Presentation:  None
Dickson joked that Neptune had a several hour demonstration, that could run until 2:30 pm.  After a simple demonstration of the web product's ability to show a water user's history, Ricky finally revealed the project's cost to the city, roughly $15,000 a year in perpetuity.

Councilman Dwain Morrison raised the issue of promised functionality, which can be seen in the City's press release on the new electronic water meters from October 2010:

Workers are installing an electronic register on the water meters, which sends readings to a radio interface unit in the meter box. Those readings are then transmitted through a data-collection system to the Utilities Billing Office. With the new system, meter readings are obtained daily for each account. The daily readings include the amount of water used each hour during the previous day, which will assist the City and residents in researching unusual water usage patterns that may result from leaks or malfunctioning sprinkler systems. 

It was surreal watching City Council members state the cause of the unusually high water meter readings had not been investigated, thus they don't know if the problem is solved.  Wasn't this the very purpose of the automated water meters? 

Johnny Silvas asked if Neptune was part of the contract when the city made the purchase on June 1. 2010.  Here's Ricky's response:

I believe the software was part of the program for the utility, or our usage.  I cannot speak of, if the customer portal portion was part of that agreement.

So our new Water Utilities Director, who previously had responsibility for overseeing the installation of the new water meters, has no idea if this was or wasn't included in the original contract?

As for installation, the original press release stated all meters would be fitted by 2014.   This date has been pushed back to sometime during 2015.  Dickson stated the installation was 63% complete.

There was one question I wish had been asked.  What percent of the AMR's are functioning on a daily basis, i.e. where readings are sent and received by the system?  What's the failure to connect and record rate?  What does the water department do in situations where the meter cannot deliver the promised information?

For those paying attention, City Council approved two $15,000 annual fees for citizens to get their water consumption history, one via an automated phone system and the other via the internet.  The City will spend $30,000 annually to help out the "customer service ladies," who Dickson stated answer 4,000 calls a month.  That's up from 1,750 a month as stated in the city's RFP.

Water purchasers will get an automated phone answering system that takes credit/debit cards, much like an online retailer.

A study of online retailers' phone systems revealed:
The study reveals that 71% of shoppers become extremely frustrated while waiting, and 67% will hang up without resolving their issues. People want a high touch, human experience when they’ve got problems.

It remains to be seen if water department problems are resolved or if customer service actually improves.  At least the customer service ladies will get help.

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