In the new world of the smart grid, security isn’t a destination. It’s a sustained effort with ongoing investments across core areas of the utility enterprise.
The ULTRA Competition: Honoring Leaders in Information Technology
NIPSCO wins top prize for customer information
system deemed state-of-the-art.
Runner-up Brooklyn Union melds Internet
technology with internal systems.To borrow a phrase, only three things matter in energy competition: technology, technology, and technology.
An exaggeration, perhaps, but not too far off for the three-dozen-plus electric and gas utilities that submitted applications for the 1996 Utility Leadership Award for Information Technology (em ULTRA for short.
Sponsored by PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY and IBM, the ULTRA competition was first held in 1993 to recognize utility companies that could engage information technology in the most innovative manner. Again this year, ULTRA spotlights those utilities that have enhanced business performance and raised standards of industry excellence with resourceful technology solutions.
Five winners (em first place, runner-up, and three honorable mentions (em were selected for 1996, judged on an array of categories: 1) how well a given technology solution addresses a corporate need, 2) uniqueness, 3) quantifiable results, 4) productivity savings, 5) cost-effectiveness, 6) integration with existing solutions, and 7) flexibility of the application to accommodate future plans and growth. As frequently occurs in a technology competition, the judging boiled down to a comparison between (a) some nominations that were truly innovative, but not quite practical or commercially applicable, versus (b) other, perhaps less innovative, applications that nonetheless stand ready to create an immediate impact on the company's bottom line.
ULTRA's 1996 first-place winner, Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), demonstrated the highest level of achievement in all judging categories for its new Customer Information System (CIS) (em developed specifically to support the utility's overall corporate strategy. The new CIS, installed in November of 1995, followed a five-year effort between NIPSCO and its vendor, IBM, to
convert the utility's previous customer-service systems, some nearly 30 years old, to a more efficient design.
NIPSCO claims that its CIS marks one of the first full-function, client/server customer information systems, serving over 1,200 NIPSCO users. Data for approximately 700,000 customers and about one million meters were converted to the new CIS communications architecture, which includes wide and local area networks and a host processor. A single database contains such customer information as account balances, contracts, billing, and service orders. Users can access the database companywide, on line and in real time. All processing is immediate.
To further automate operations, an automatic call director processes and routes incoming customer calls to the appropriate service personnel, and an interactive voice response unit allows customers to retrieve selected information directly, reducing wait time and increasing inquiry throughput.
Since its installation a year ago, the NIPSCO CIS has handled an average of 50,000 customer meter readings, bills, and payments per day. The CIS has enabled NIPSCO to streamline its business processes and trim its number of district offices from 28 to seven, and is expected to reduce customer-service personnel-training costs by up to $700,000 per year.
Brooklyn Union (BU), ULTRA's runner-up, also gained recognition for its use of information technology to help facilitate its corporate business-process engineering effort, which the company described as Business Process Improvement (BPI). An interdepartmental team, including representatives