Over the past two years, Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD) has made a significant strategic accomplishment that reflects both its excellence in governance and commitment to best practices in the metered utility industry. Using Cityworks as a GIS-centric asset management platform, TVWD has integrated business processes across the Automated Meter Reading (AMR) program (consumption, conservation, loss/leak control), utility billing (meter-to-cash), and GIS-centric asset management (infrastructure operations and maintenance, meeting customer service levels). The interrelationship of these processes is the core of efficient and sustainable water utility management.
TVWD’s business process now seamlessly encompasses physical meter assets and utility billing. Prior to Cityworks, TVWD’s GIS did not include meter data, and the utility billing “meter-to-cash” process involved many paper forms. This discontinuity created work processes that required spending unproductive hours organizing and re-entering information and resulted in redundancies and errors. Using Cityworks, field crews bring TVWD’s physical meter information directly to their work site. Once at the site, the field crews capture and maintain meter information for both asset management and utility billing.
Cityworks is the platform that brings together the work processes of field and billing staff so both groups contribute to the needs of the other. TVWD’s Field Customer Service crews use laptops to maintain the meter information which, in turn, is used to update the utility billing and GIS systems automatically. The enterprise GIS tracks meter location, service lateral size and location, and physical attributes of the meter for life-cycle maintenance and replacement. Revenue generation relies heavily on the utility billing system, which is the system of record for account-level meter information. It tracks register numbers, account types, consumption, and other information that directly affects the customer’s bill. Updates to the utility billing system from field edits are managed by TVWD’s Customer Service and Billing. Brenda Lennox, manager of Customer Support Services, commented, “Cityworks allows us to better monitor situations that in the past would have required more time and research.”
A custom Cityworks inspection form, developed by POWER Engineers, automatically populates the GIS meter information needed by the utility billing system. Field crews enter meter readings and new meter model numbers on the inspection form at the time of change out, and these inspections appear in a Cityworks inbox. Customer Service and Billing staff access the inbox using a custom utility billing form developed by TVWD. Each inspection is reviewed for errors and is either accepted or rejected. Once accepted, the meter information is updated in the utility billing system. All rejects appear in the Field Customer Service supervisor’s Cityworks inbox for resolution. In addition, the utility billing meter information is updated nightly into the enterprise GIS. Kathy Gannet, Customer Service and Billing supervisor, noted, “Having meter exchanges automatically uploaded to the utility billing system helps us avoid manual entry mistakes and has definitely made our process faster.” Lennox added, “New meter data entered by field crews on-site makes tracking installations significantly easier and prevents duplication of entries. ” TVWD has successfully increased its efficiency in the meter-to-cash business process.
The new Cityworks GIS-centric process allows field crews to select a service point and get customer-related information at the meter. “So far, the process has been promising,” said Chris Johnson, Field Customer Service supervisor. “And having meter install and exchange information at our fingertips has been helpful. I look forward to TVWD’s future use of Cityworks so we can automate even more of our processes to increase productivity.”
TVWD is committed to ensuring the accuracy of both the GIS and utility billing information. TVWD has established quality assurance processes for utility billing, and the new data ownership taken on by the field crews has added significantly to the utility billing data quality. The meters were mapped in GIS by matching a regional address layer to the existing utility billing addresses. Staff began with a 90% address match rate due to existing practices to correct normal addressing errors. One by-product of the implementation was the cleanup of an additional 5,000 addresses and now the District boasts a 99% match rate! Field crews benefited as well: having meters mapped enabled re-routing resulting in more efficient meter reading. TVWD also used this capability to re-route field crews when reading meters for a neighboring utility. All these gains were realized because the GIS-centric nature of Cityworks drove significant business integrations.
Industry best management practices for loss and leak control, conservation, tiered rates, and demand management can affect consumption and gross revenue. These are all part of the growing Automated Meter Reading/ Automated Meter Infrastructure trend. Looking to the future, TVWD has made a sound investment in its ability to sustainably implement these practices. The Cityworks platform allows TVWD to more efficiently and sustainably manage its meter-to-cash cycle and plan for the infrastructure needed to get water to the meter. New requirements for water quality, emergency flows, and the increasing urban footprint will drive up infrastructure operations and maintenance costs. Collectively, TVWD has put in place both business processes and technology that can be leveraged well into the future as it navigates change in the metered utility industry.
Liz Ohlmann, Tualatin Valley Water District, OregonSteve Kerr, POWER Engineers