Finding a Few Extra Million

In mid-2005, I was moved from Business Credit to AR Management as a Supervisor. One of my teams was a four-member desk who provided information to various agencies which provided assistance for customers having trouble paying their bills. The team provided information to the agencies, who then determined whether to make a "pledge" on the account, a promise by a credentialed agency to make a payment on a customer's behalf. In 2005, about six million dollars in revenue came in from agency donations on behalf of customers who otherwise would have been unlikely to have paid their accounts, and so this reflects not only revenue on electric service for residential customers, but revenue from what would likely have been additional bad debt.

The problem is that I had four people answering calls and faxes from over 1,800 agencies across Texas. There was a real logjam at times, and if an agency could not receive sufficient information to decide on making a pledge for the customer's electric service account in a short time, they might decide to spnd their money on other bills for the customer, so increasing speed of answer was a high priority. But how to do that?

Most of the social agencies offering assistance use computers, so Grenda Monroe, one of my team suggested that we could set up internet access for agencies to find out account information. The problem there, was that our IT people considered customer account information extremely sensitive, and had set up our computers to prohibit any outside access. When I first suggested creating a portal for agencies to access selected data, they looked at me as if I were crazy.

I pursued the idea with my superiors, the Operations Vice-President, and established common ground with the IT Manager. Everyone agreed that the portal idea was necessary and a good solution. Even so, the actual portal was not operational until 2007. I stayed on top of the project with follow-up calls, e-mails and status meetings, found and addressed dozens of glitches and obstacles, persuaded teams to keep the project on the radar and moving forward, until the project was finally rolled out in 2007. The delay was frustrating, but the results were immediate. Qualified agencies were given access to the new portal, given instructions on how to use it and I stayed in contact with their contact individuals to work through getting used to the new system. Revenue from agency pledges for 2007 were three million dollars higher than in 2006, and this increase was primarily credited to the avilability of the portal to the assistance agencies. Consistent focus on the value of the web portal, coordination of effort and commitment to moving it ahead, led to about fifty percent year-to-year improvement in productivity, as measured by pledge revenue.

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