by: Roger Warehime, Director, Operations & Public Relations
Shown in the picture to the left is the special phone booth that was on the boiler floor of our power plant. Up until the early 1980s, if you called OPU after business hours your call was answered by a boiler operator standing in this booth. The boiler operator’s first priority was the operation of the plant, so if there were problems with the plant when you called, your call might go unanswered.
In 1982, the power plant went from operating 24×7 to operating intermittently. About that same time our first SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system was installed. The SCADA system allowed operators to monitor and control our electric and water distribution systems throughout the city from a control booth located inside the power plant. Several of the power plant operators transitioned from operating the power plant to monitoring and operating the SCADA system. These operators worked shifts to monitor the SCADA system around the clock and also answer customer calls after hours.
Advances in technology have made it so that it is no longer necessary for a human operator to monitor the SCADA system 24 hours per day. The system will be able to monitor itself and send out notifications to appropriate personnel if a problem or abnormal situation occurs. As of March 31, 2017 we will discontinue our practice of having an operator monitoring the system 24 hours per day. With this change, our current SCADA operators will transition to new positions within the company. These new positions align with our current business needs and will help us to improve how we identify, prioritize, schedule, and complete work throughout the organization.
Still, the utility business is a 24 hour a day affair, and we must respond to our customers when they need us. That is where the Cooperative Response Center (CRC) comes in. CRC is located in Austin, MN and was founded in 1992 by 19 rural electric cooperatives who determined they could provide better service to their customers by consolidating after-hours call handling and crew dispatching at one location. Since then, CRC has grown to 375 utilities in 43 states. In addition to Austin, MN they now have call centers in Dunlap, TN and Abilene, TX.
We first began using CRC for “over-flow” calls. When a major event (such as the May 2012 snowstorm) occurred which affected a large number of our customers, we simply were not able to handle the large volume of calls that would come in by ourselves. Unfortunately, before CRC, there were times when our operators were so overwhelmed with calls that some customers could not get through to us. With CRC, those calls roll over to CRC who answers them using information provided by us and logs them into a software system which we at OPU have access to in real time.
Although we will continue to have 24×7 SCADA operators on staff until March 31, 2017, we have already begun transferring after-hours calls (6 pm to 6 am weekdays and 24 hours on weekends) to CRC. This allows them to become experienced with our way of doing things and allows us to work through the inevitable glitches that occur whenever a large change like this is made.
Our goal is to continue to provide excellent customer service at all hours of the day. If, for some reason, we fail to do so, please let us know. We love to receive customer feedback. You can call us at 451-2480, email us at email@example.com, or take our online survey at www.owatonnautilities.com/customersurvey.