CUSTOMER SERVICE LINKED THE FIVE FINALISTS OF THE 1998 ULTRA competition, with all addressing, and improving, some aspect of serving end users.
The contest winner, Florida Power & Light Co., combined old hardware with new software and other innovations - such as using the Internet - to address a problem that plagues many utilities: how to cut the number of just-paid delinquent customers who call for power reconnects.
Second-place winner LG&E Retail Access Services, a subsidiary of LG&E Energy Corp., faced a new problem posed by deregulated markets: providing highly efficient management and electronic commerce capabilities demanded by energy service providers and industrial customers. LG&E RAS developed real-time consumption-measuring equipment for energy requirements forecasting, electronic billing and site-specific load management.
Sponsored by Public Utilities Fortnightly and IBM, the ULTRA award recognizes energy companies that develop the most innovative applications for information technology. Judging focused on how the solution addresses a corporate need, is unique, has quantifiable results, offers productivity savings, is cost-effective, integrates with existing solutions, and is flexible to adapt to growth.
First Place: FP&L's OPAL
As with many complex technological solutions, Florida Power & Light first began with a straightforward problem. Each year, FP&L's Customer Care Center receives more than 800,000 calls from customers who have made in-person payments at agent locations - kiosks at bus stations, check cashing stores, even jewelry stores and pawn shops. These outsourcers recently replaced the utility's 30 district offices, which were closed to cut costs.