Case Study - Raleigh Public Utilities Department

Building a SMART System for the Future: Raleigh Utilities Redefines Customer Relationships Through S.M.A.R.T. Targets


Introduction

Water utilities must adapt constantly to a changing environment. In the face of volatile economic pressures, stricter regulations, increased environmental concerns and a shifting customer demographic, they must treat and deliver reliable, safe water at an affordable price. One southeastern water utility’s need to change how they viewed their customer relationships, and how leverage actionable, useful and impactful data continues helping them manage water management challenges now and in the future. 

In 2011, the Raleigh Public Utilities Department (Water Division) embarked on a unique optimization project with Valor Water Analytics that set about synthesizing their own customer data and making it more focused and personalized with analytics in order to provide appropriate, customer-focused programs and engagement. 

“Initially, we felt overwhelmed by what we needed compared to what we could actually do,” said Ed Buchan, Environmental Coordinator with Raleigh Public Utilities. “We had limited access to software tools and support necessary to do the kinds of advanced data work we needed to do. And it was hurting us.” 

About Raleigh Public Utilities

The City of Raleigh Public Utilities provides water and sanitary sewer service to approximately 183,000 metered water and sewer customers and a service population of approximately 500,000 in the Raleigh regional area. Their intent is to provide safe, sustainable water services for their customers while protecting public health and contributing to the economic, environmental and social vitality of their communities. 

However, like many water utilities, changing the way business is done can be a very difficult process to undertake. Realities of running a water utility - operating on shoestring budgets, few staffers, and little expertise of in-house technology solutions - often prevent them from making the kinds of business-positive decisions that improve their financial bottom line. 

“Our goals is to never run out of water or make exorbitant investments in water resources we don’t need,” added Buchan, “But at the time, we needed to take into account other developments that needed our attention, like understanding who are customers were and their water use behavior.” 

Eventually, Raleigh Public Utilities partnered with Valor Water Analytics, a San Francisco-based company specializing in subscription-based software products for water utilities to address revenue issues such as conservation, missed revenue, revenue risk, rate simulations and cutoffs through use of their billing and meter data, to establish a program that would help them utilize their customer data more effectively. 

The Challenge

Raleigh Public Utilities faced a serious dilemma in 2011: how to adjust to the changing realities of water use in their region and solve the most pressing needs of customers without tools to help them. Specifically, Raleigh needed to create a new level of water consumption management to accomplish several goals for customer engagement and improved effectiveness: 

  • Raleigh Public Utilities needed to track and analyze the impact of their conservation programs; 
  • Raleigh Public Utilities needed a robust analytics capability to gain more depth and breadth of their customer data to target high impact customer segments; 
  • Raleigh Public Utilities wanted more control over managing their revenue and the heightened ability to identify trouble spots where revenue is either hidden or missing; 

When Raleigh started its project, the utility did not have a systems approach or software solution to adequately address its most fundamental questions about how to manage change and complexity of customer water usage. 

“Our operating system was woefully outdated as was our billing software,” said Ed Buchan of Raleigh Public Utilities. “We obviously had very crude tools and would continue to encounter significant problems if we stood still. The costs of not addressing our shortcomings would be insurmountable for the utility.” 

The Solution and Results

Raleigh Public Utilities project team worked closely with Valor Water to map out the processes, organization and technological components of the project that evolved from the earliest conversations about their most important needs. These early efforts helped alleviate fears Raleigh had of undertaking such an important project and move toward a collaborative approach to implementation of technological solutions. 

Raleigh Public Utility and Valor Water partnered to coordinate and implement Customer Water Sales Profiles, a process system that included data analytics, customer relationship management and marketing tools to help a utility establish important baselines, analyze data, tailor communications to customer inquiries and development of reports on the progress of programs 

Ed Buchan added, “We had never seen anything like this before. Immediately, we saw how valuable a data system we had with Valor’s help, and what an important tool it was for us to have at our fingertips. It made everything infinitely more easier for us to understand, especially with regard to water billing, rate setting, potential cut-offs and delinquencies, and even price elasticity. It felt like an amazing transformation for us.” 

With the assistance of Valor Water, Raleigh Public Utilities was able to find “hidden irrigators” throughout their system, reflecting a savings of 20% in peak water reduction through S.M.A.R.T. Targets analytics in a very short period of time. 

“Most utilities should use this. We feel that we’re ahead of our counterparts using this solution,” shared Ed Buchan of Raleigh Public Utilities. “What’s amazing is that the concepts and applications are very pertinent and useful today. A utility can never have enough data and analytics.” 

What Can You Do? 

Contact Valor Water Analytics at (844)-80-VALOR x711 or [email protected]. We will help you determine what conservation or revenue management program is right for you and how they can complement other programs in your integrated suite of solutions. Details about Valor Water programs and solutions are available at valorwater.com. 

Key Stats

Raleigh Public Utilities Results: 

  • 20% peak water reduction via analytics & engagement 
  • Moved more than 8,000 customers from peak of > 4 to peak of < 2. 
  • Upgraded water management system to address high Apparent Loss Metrics 
  • Implemented Customer Water Sales Profiles tools to facilitate meaningful customer interactions 
  • Leveraged analytic capabilities to target high impact customer segments