Happy New Year PEC Members! When I last updated you in September about the status of your electric cooperative, I foretold that I would have several more impending posts coming soon. My plan was to take a few months at the end of 2015 to cover in-depth a host of PEC topics affecting the membership. You may have been wondering what happened to those posts, as this is the first time I’ve written since. Well, as things turned out, not more than a few days after my last post my husband and I discovered that our third child was on the way! And thus, Fall 2015 became a little more complicated, and I did not have the amount of energy to devote to my blogs as I formerly did. My apologies for the absence, but as I am feeling well and have regained my energy, I hope to now fill you in on many of the things that have transpired at PEC in the last few months.
Today’s topic will be PEC’s recent transition to a new software platform. In October 2015, we launched our new operating software from NISC (National Information Solutions Cooperative). This enterprise software system – also known as iVUE – replaces the prior platform built by SAP that has been causing us heartache since its launch in 2012. To be frank, SAP was a bad fit for PEC from the get go. While SAP is a world-renowned software solutions company that has built great platforms in other industries, the electric cooperative business model and its processes have proven difficult to manage under SAP. To give you an idea of how irregular it was for PEC to operate on an SAP platform, one can easily take note of how few electric cooperatives use such a system. Currently only two US Electric Co-ops operate on SAP – and one has announced plans to switch to the same NISC platform that PEC is now using. Moving away from SAP and onto the new NISC platform was the right decision. However, it remains a tough pill to swallow for many members that a software system we only had running for about three years has now been replaced by a new one (especially since the SAP system cost upwards of $47 million dollars to implement and operate). Regardless of the lost expense and time, it would have been far more costly to continue running on SAP than to switch to NISC. Even though I was not on the Board when it decided to adopt the SAP system, nor when it decided to make the switch to our new iVUE platform, I fully acknowledge any discontent that might still exist over this mishap. We cannot go back and change history to avoid the mistake, but we can focus now on ensuring that our new software system lives up to the high expectations that have been set for it.
And how have we at PEC performed for our members during and after the initial transition from SAP to iVUE?
While no software transition is ever painless, I am very proud of where we stand today in our systems, largely due to the gargantuan effort put forth by the entire PEC employee team. We turned iVUE on in October, and for months leading up to that moment, our staff spent countless hours in training to prepare for the switchover. We went through about six weeks of growing pains initially that included very high customer call volume and inevitable system kinks that had to be resolved. During that period you may have experienced increased call wait time, and if you previously paid your bills through AutoPay, you had to reload your payment information, as we were not able to carry over any historical payment information during the changeover. I wish these things could go off perfectly with no inconvenience to our members, but our committed member services staff worked overtime to reload member data and get everyone squared away quickly. It would not have been possible to make the transition without their commitment and dedication to the process and to serving the membership.
Now that PEC has been operating on the iVUE platform for a few months, you have likely noticed some changes. Most noticeably from a user perspective, we have a new online portal for members. This new portal, called SmartHub, replaces the previous PEC member portal and offers many new perks for users. Here members can pay their bills, track their energy usage, report outages, and sign up for things like paperless billing. Members can also access PEC’s social media pages to get the latest updates and connect with other members in their area. One of the PEC Board’s goals during our Phase 1 launch of iVUE has been to match the online account enrollees and Autopay subscribers that we had in SAP. I am happy to report that to date we have hit almost 120,000 members registered on SmartHub, surpassing the numbers we previously had on our old member platform. Prior to the NISC launch, we had less than 19,000 members signed up for paperless billing. After only a few months with NISC, we are closing in on 65,000 members that have opted to go paperless – this saves money for the co-op as a whole and will eventually mean individual savings to members that opt for this route as well. Autopay enrollee numbers have also increased, with close to 90,000 members now enrolled over the 74,000 we had in SAP. These improved efficiencies should not be underestimated. Whether we are the payer or the payee, we all save money by not having to pay for postage and/or physical bill materials. With automatic payments, members also decrease chances for late fees by not having to risk postal service delays or missed bills due to travel. With bank drafting, PEC avoids credit card processing fees, and the hope is that this savings, as well as those associated with autopay and paperless billing can be passed onto our members in the very near term.
The bottom line is that despite some initial inconveniences and the unfortunate miscue of SAP in the first place, the iVUE platform has proven to be a success and a necessary improvement at PEC. Our employees can more efficiently serve you. Your options and accessibility to your accounts have increased. And there are noticeable savings ahead in 2016 as a result. None of this could have been accomplished with out the hard work and commitment of our excellent employee base – they have truly outdone themselves in ensuring we can deliver the best possible service to our members in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible.
Please stay tuned for more updates on other topics in the coming months. It’s a pleasure to serve you as your District 2 Board Director.