Membership Matters by CEO Brian Zelenak: November 2019
Investing in Communications Technology Upgrades
By Brian R. Zelenak
It’s been nearly a year since I began working here at St. Croix Electric Co-op as the sixth President/CEO. It’s been an exciting year of learning and adjustments not only for me, but also for your co-op’s employees and board of directors, many of whom have been in their positions for decades.
Today I am not going to look back on the past year, but instead share with you a glimpse into the future of the Cooperative. Below you will find some of the projects we are undertaking to improve the reliability of the distribution system and the quality of services we provide our member-consumers. It is our goal you as a member-consumer will not even notice when these changes take place – other than the improved service. All are designed to help make our business run more efficiently, which translates to keeping YOUR electricity affordable and reliable.
Phone system: Our existing phone system has served us well for many years, but parts and equipment are no longer being manufactured. That creates down-time and non-productive time searching for replacement parts … if we could find the parts at all.
“It’s not as simple as just replacing the phones that sit on the desks in our offices – there is support equipment and software that goes along with it,” according to Director Member Services Jeff Wahlquist, who is responsible for maintaining our facilities.
We expect to install the new system in 2020.
Mobile radios: We are also currently upgrading all the mobile radios in our trucks and in our dispatch used to communicate with our crews in the field. Most of the distribution cooperatives who are members of our generation and transmission provider, Dairyland Power Cooperative, are upgrading to the same system. So not only is this an upgrade for internal communication, the new system will have better coverage in rural areas and will allow for enhanced communication when crews respond to help other co-ops experiencing events like the storms that hit Polk and Barron counties just a few months ago. That enhances our ability to get the system restored and our members back on-line quicker when bad weather strikes.
AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location): Each truck SCEC owns has a transmitter that allows us to track exactly where the vehicle is at all times. The current transmitters utilize 3G wireless mobile telecommunications technology that is being phased out in 2020 and being upgraded to 4G. AVL helps us to quickly dispatch vehicles when outages and other incidents occur. A glance at dispatch’s computer screen can quickly tell us the nearest vehicle available to respond to a nearby outage, thus significantly reducing response time.
The switch to a 4G system will also resolve a rare event called GPS (Global Positioning System) Week Number Rollover (a phenomenon that happens every 1,024 weeks or 19.7 years) that can cause some older GPS based software to stop working properly or provide inaccurate location information.
AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure): Your meter is an electronic device that enables two-way communication between your meter and us. It records consumption of electric energy and communicates the information to SCEC for monitoring and billing. The data is currently transmitted via strategically placed 3G routers which, as noted above, are being phased out by the end of 2020. New 4G routers will be required for us to communicate with your meter and for your meter to provide the necessary data to us.
“As communications technologies are evolving at a rapid pace, we must make the necessary changes to keep pace to insure the reliably of all our communications infrastructures,” according to Operations Technician Gary Robinson, who is responsible for maintaining our communications systems in the field.
These are all smaller but necessary technology upgrade projects that will contribute to efficiency gains and improved reliability, but they will not compare to the long-term improvements that will be gained once the existing business platforms are replaced with one integrated enterprise system developed specifically for electric cooperatives.
NISC (National Information Solutions Cooperative): In use at over 800 energy and telecommunications cooperatives in the U.S., the NISC Enterprise suite of products will provide integrated accounting and cash management, customer care and billing, engineering and operations, marketing and member services, and productivity and security improvements that will ultimately yield long-term saving and improved services to our member-consumers. This transition has been in the planning phase for a number of months and will take place in 2020.
As you can see, we have a lot of improvements planned the next 18 months. We apologize in advance if we encounter a hiccup or two next year with all on our plate, but we promise you the long-term improvements will be greatly appreciated by everyone – employees and members.
You will be hearing much more about the NISC conversion over the next year, so stay tuned.
Until next month,
Until next month,