At the Town of Apex Finance Department, the billing utility specialists were waiting for the meter technicians to bring in their yellow sheets. It was going to be another tight deadline to get billing data submitted, and they needed the reading verifications that had been requested earlier in the week. In the meantime, they were also creating service orders to be printed for new customer meter reads requested that same day.
Scattered across town, the meter technicians were out finishing the billing rechecks. They had hurried out that morning with their stacks of yellow sheets, sorting them by address in whatever way made sense to them. That afternoon, they would do the same process again with a different stack of yellow sheets, sometimes driving past meters they had checked earlier that day.
Upstairs in the IT department, the billing manager and IT director were discussing the unprecedented growth happening in Apex and how these current workflows were not going to keep up. The town was changing, and their systems needed to change, too.
AMERICA’S FASTEST GROWING SUBURB
The Town of Apex motto is “The Peak of Good Living”—in part because it began as a railroad town on the highest point of the old Chatham Railroad. Thanks to its close proximity to North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Apex has experienced significant growth. The town’s population grew by 54 percent between 2010 and 2019, reaching 53,852 residents and earning Apex the title of “America’s fastest growing suburb” according to a recent realtor.com study.
Apex first implemented Cityworks in 2013 to help manage the growing demand on their infrastructure. With the addition of Cityworks to each new department, communication improved and work flowed easier among town staff. Asset data and work history were more accessible. Paper work orders were a thing of the past and account information was more secure. Additional benefits came when field users switched to the Cityworks mobile native app, enabling real-time data and the ability to attach field pictures to work activities.
With more than 50 years of combined experience collecting meter data, the town’s four meter technicians were accustomed to doing things the way they had always been done. Tasks were assigned and completed with paper service orders and sometimes only phone calls. These service orders would sometimes get lost between departments, and the technicians were working overtime almost every day. It was time to consider a more accountable, secure, real-time mobile solution. It was time to consider Cityworks.
CONFIGURING THE WORKFLOWS
The team decided to implement Cityworks in phases, starting with the disconnect/connect nonpayment process, then the move-in and move-out workflows, and finally ending with meter read rechecks.
The town partnered with True North Geographic Technologies to configure Cityworks for the meter services team. True North built an additional data table in Cityworks to house active meter information such as serial number and service start date. IT was already pushing customer account data from the billing software into the existing Cityworks customer account table, so this additional meter data was easily added to the automatic push.
True North also built a new service request “account data” panel to display all active meter information for the specific account entered in the caller search field. The information needed for the meter is then copied from the panel and pasted into the service request comment field, making it easily accessible to the meter technician on the Cityworks mobile native app.
The implementation team considered all aspects of the division’s operations. They went on ride-alongs to understand the full workflow. They reconfigured new and existing Cityworks user accounts to meet end user requirements. They upgraded the town mobile devices to to support ease of use. They conducted extensive field and office training, and they created reference cards for the technicians to keep in their trucks as they learned to use the Cityworks mobile native app.
Now that the solution is live, the meter services supervisor uses event layers to assign work and track progress. The team also uses Esri’s Operations Dashboard to display daily work orders and monitor the requests coming in from billing.
SUCCESS IN THREES
The team immediately saw savings in time and cost. For example, Cityworks allows the technicians to start work requested by the utility billing staff about three hours earlier each day. So far, the division has maintained its monthly average of 1,400 completed work orders—but now this is achieved without costly overtime. Meter read results are also immediately available to the billing staff, and each read is validated by an attached photograph.
On the utility billing side, read rechecks are now completed three days ahead of the billing cycle, easing pressure on staff and improving customer service. Utility billing staff can easily find mistakes entered in their billing software by viewing the pictures attached to the work orders. The amount of phone calls from office staff to meter technicians has also dropped significantly. Office staff simply use Cityworks to cancel a work order if a customer pays before disconnection or to enter any last-minute work orders to be completed.
The meter technicians needed a customizable tool to track their workload, help them operate more efficiently, and enhance communication with the utility billing division. Together, Cityworks and ArcGIS provided them with a complete solution that reduced costs, improved employee productivity, and enhanced customer service for the entire community.
Melissa Stuart is a data operations specialist at the Town of Apex, North Carolina.