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City on track to switch billing software June 10

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Elizabeth City officials say they’re still on track for switching to a new utility billing software on June 10, though they continuing to work through some “hiccups” and planning for some disruptions in customer service.

Elizabeth City City Council heard updates on the conversion during its meeting on Thursday. The meeting was held then instead of Monday so councilors could attend next week’s CityVision conference in Hickory, according to City Manager Rich Olson.

Olson and Assistant City Manager Angela Cole said the city is still on track to switch the city’s utility billing customers to new software through Tyler Technologies, of Plano, Texas. The conversion, which got underway last year, is a costly, complex effort to transfer some 13,000 customer accounts to a modern, more user-friendly software. Council approved the conversion last year, at a cost estimated at about $467,000 over three years.

Olson and Cole reported the conversion has gone well so far, and praised Tyler’s staff, its software customization for the city, and its training for the city’s customer service representatives.

However, they reported on two “hiccups” the city is still working through. First, they said Tyler still hasn’t provided a satisfactory “business process review.” It should have been done in December, but Tyler still hasn’t provided a document with the detail the city wants, they told councilors.

In a followup interview, Olson said the business process review is meant to lay out, step by step, some 20 critical processes for utility billing and related functions. Though Tyler offers software training, the city’s own business process review is needed so there’s a clear guide for the city’s customer service representatives, especially new employees.

The document’s delay isn’t slowing the conversion, Olson said, but he did tell councilors it needs to be in place before the city updates its customer service manual. Councilors asked Olson to present them a draft manual for review before September.

The second issue, Olson and Cole said, is that the city needs to reprogram some 870 “cumulative demand” electrical meters that serve commercial and industrial customers. As the name suggests, the meters keep a tally of consumption month after month, meaning they report consumption differently than other meters used by businesses. The meters will be reprogrammed so all meters report usage in the same way, they reported.

Those issues don’t directly affect most city utility customers, but residential customers will notice the conversion’s approach in other ways. For one, Olson and Cole reported city hall will be closed for customer service training from May 20-24. Customers may still call in for assistance, or visit the satellite office on Griffin Street.

Additionally, the city will soon start calculating bills in Tyler’s software, rather than its old software. The city has been testing billing calculations in both systems prior to now, Olson explained, but it’s reaching a point — June 3 — where it will stop calculating bills through its old software, Logics. Data will still be stored in Logics after June 3, but Tyler’s software will calculate the bills, he explained.

Olson also said that upcoming customer bills on billing cycle one are going through both Logics and Tyler, while cycles two, three and four will go through Tyler alone. The city will review an “exception report” on cycle one on June 1 to look for discrepancies between the systems, he noted.

From June 3-10, as the city is stepping away from one software and setting up another, Olson also said that some services, such as setting up new accounts, may be slowed. The city will have manual processes in place to accommodate customers, he explained.

Asked if customers should avoid setting up or canceling service during early June, Olson said it’s not practical for the city to expect or request that.

Notably, city officials have also reported the conversion has required them to suspend bank drafting — auto-pay — and budget billing for customers. Drafting will resume in July, Olson reported Friday, but customers will need to reestablish budget billing, which tries to average out monthly payments to avoid very costly bills during summers and winters.

City officials have also said draft customers need to pay their bills on time next month, not wait for their draft to kick back in, or they will face late penalties.

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