Utility weighs technology upgrade for better service

GREENFIELD — Residents could pay their utility bills and report outages via a smartphone app included in a technology upgrade city officials are considering.

The city’s utility billing department is currently using an outdated billing system officials say needs to be upgraded; the department is looking to switch to National Information Solutions Cooperative, a national cooperative that develops and supports software and hardware for utility and telecommunication companies.

The new software will make paying bills and tracking usage easier for residents through an app called Smart Hub. Traditional means of bill payment, including online and by mail, would remain options as well.

The Greenfield Board of Public Works and Safety on Tuesday gave the utility billing department permission to pursue a contract with the company. Utilities Director Mike Fruth and Jane Webb, an employee, presented the new software at a recent meeting.

Currently, residents can pay their bills on the city’s website, but the interface is not very user-friendly, Webb told board of works members during her presentation.

And residents paying online are required to use a credit or debit card, which results in credit card fees for the city — about $63,800 last year, Webb said; the new software will give residents the option to pay with a virtual check.

Customers also will be able to save their bank or credit card information in the app. Then they won’t have to enter it every time they make a payment, and they can set up automatic payments as well. Neither feature is currently available for residents who pay their bills online.

“That will make it much nicer for our customers,” Webb said. “It is the way customer service is going.”

The app offers residents the ability to set reminders. They’ll be able to receive a text or email alerting them when their bill is ready or payment is due.

They’ll also be able to track their daily usage and consumption down to the hour, which would show residents when they’re using the most energy or water. And residents will be able to view past bills.

“They can anticipate what their bill is going to be,” Fruth said. “The program (we have) now is really cumbersome to deal with.”

The money the city expects to save from credit card fees will offset the extra costs incurred by the new software, officials said.

The company will oversee mailing bills in addition to managing the software.

And the switch will save Greenfield money, Fruth said. In 2015, utility billing cost about $196,000 — about $16,000 each month. The new software will cost about $189,000 annually — about $15,700 each month.

But the biggest benefit is improved customer service, Fruth said.

“It’s a huge jump forward for us,” he said.

Board of works member Kathy Locke said it’s important the city make a change to the technology residents are used to using.

“It’s time for us to move into the future and accommodate residents’ lifestyles,” she said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.