Life is beginning to return to normal for the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities’ staff after the county’s go-live date for its new enterprise resource planning software. This new software was launched on July 1, 2018 and included a new utility billing program which created a flurry of customer billing concerns. The majority of grievances were related to delayed bills and incorrect consumption graphs, service periods, multipliers and at times, incorrect totals on the printed bills.
According to Utilities Manager Tim Glasco, most of these issues are resolved. While the number of phone calls and walk-ins have returned to almost normal, Glasco indicates that the customer care center is still a lean operation. “It became clear that we needed a minimum of two employees who could focus 100 percent of their time without interruption on learning the new billing process and quality checking bills for anomalies.” As a result, DPU management moved two employees to the back office leaving the number of employees up front to field customer questions scaled down from five to three.
Still on the department’s radar of issues to resolve are the budget billing program, estimated reads and the smart mobile app. Some of these complications are due to insufficient consumption history in the new billing software. As the billing software went live nine months ago, it is not able to calculate a reasonable, levelized monthly payment spread out over 11 months for customers who are on the budget billing program.
Additionally, in January and February when meter readers were not able to access some customers’ water and gas meters buried in snow, the billing software estimated the reads based on very high water use and very low gas use from the summer months. “Once we have 12 months of data, in August, the software should produce better monthly budget billing amounts, and better estimated meter reads,” reported Glasco.
Expectation as to when the smart mobile app issue will be resolved is less definitive. While most features are working on the website https://lacdpu.smartcmobile.com/portal, such as obtaining account balances, retrieving bills and making payments, the phone apps for Apple and Android devices are still being modified. Glasco explained that the process involves coordination between multiple vendors. “Furthermore, release of application updates to be available for download in the Apple and Google Play Stores requires approval by Apple and Google.”
Another challenge that the customer care staff encountered was how to apply funds from the Utilities Assistance Program (UAP) to qualifying customers in the new billing software. The UAP is for low-income customers who need assistance with utility charges during the colder months of October through March, or year-round for senior citizens over the age of 65. After many months of trouble shooting the problem, staff finally discovered a coding problem that they corrected and retroactively provided aid to various customers.
The department is in much better shape for the upcoming fiscal year which begins in July. Glasco warns, however, that the county will upgrade the enterprise resource planning software in fiscal year 2020 and DPU is deploying advanced metering infrastructure, which will involve some additional integration. “We are already incorporating proactive procedures from the lessons we learned from the past nine months to try and avoid some of the same pitfalls.”
In the meantime, Glasco thanks customers for their patience and reminds them to bring any issues or concerns with utility bills to the department’s attention. Customers can contact the Customer Care Center, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 505 662 8333 or CustomerCare@lacnm.us.
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) operates the county-owned electric, gas, water & wastewater systems under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Utilities. The Board meets in Council Chambers at 1000 Central Ave., Los Alamos, NM every third Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. The DPU is funded by rates paid for electric, gas, water and wastewater services and auxiliary fees, and has provided the community with these services for more than 50 years. CustomerCare@lacnm.us | 505.662.8333 | www.losalamosnm.us/government/departments/UTILITIES