CSA’s Voya Annual Compliance Summit
- PlanBright goals
- Fiduciary Responsibility- “Who is a fiduciary and what are their roles and responsibilities.”
- CSA Defined Contribution Program overview
- Voya asset and participation report
- Due diligence report on fund managers
- New fund lineup
- New reduced fee structure
- Employee education and financial wellness support programs
- Employer enrollment support
Two Factor Authentication Provides Extra Security
By Joey Green
In the beginning, Al Gore created the Internet and the Web. Now the Web was formless and empty – potential was on the face of corporate America. And the Spirit of Al Gore was hovering over the face of capitalism…
Well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but the 1991 release of CERN’s World Wide Web to the public domain did drop technological progress of almost Biblical proportions on world civilization. The Web was wide open and available to anyone who had a computer, a phone line, and a dialup modem.
As an information sharing medium, restrictions were practically non-existent. Security and online privacy were things that nobody gave a second thought to, but it didn’t take long to realize the implications. Despite the advancement of Internet technology, data breaches seemingly every other day show that our personal information is at a higher risk than ever before. Many of us have multiple passwords spread across various websites, either for a free trial of some kind or for E-mail access. Avoiding data breaches when your information is stored on someone else’s computer is a challenge.
Enter two-factor authentication, often called 2FA, is one of the best and most effective ways to keep your online accounts safe. The White House even had a “#TurnOn2FA” campaign; but what is 2FA exactly?
There are three generally recognized factors to authenticate one’s identity: a password, a phone or hardware token, and a fingerprint or face ID. 2FA means that two of these options will be used to authenticate that identity instead of just one. Thanks to recent innovations like Apple’s FaceID, biometric scanners are quickly becoming one of these options. In most cases, the second authentication is nothing more than a one-time numeric code sent to one’s smartphone that is then manually keyed into a separate interface. Any malicious login attempt is thwarted since the would-be hacker requires the authentication code sent to you to fully log in. In addition, the code that is sent to the actual user’s smartphone acts as an indicator that their password has been compromised, permitting the user to change their password to avoid future problems.
2FA is an excellent technological innovation that many have not heard of. The service is typically free of added costs, and users are encouraged to take advantage of 2FA with any online accounts that offer such services.
The slide presentations from the 2021 Annual User Education Conference are available for viewing in our Members Only section of the website.
At the re-organizational meeting of the CSA Board of Directors in June, Mr. Mike Manning (Cullman Power Board) declined the nomination for president. Mr. Greg Fay (Clinton Utilities Board, 2018 Board vice president) was elected as the new president and David Crowell (Shelbyville Power) was elected vice president. Mike will continue to serve on the CSA Board of Directors. We offer our sincere thanks and appreciation to Mr. Manning for serving as president since May, 2015 and our congratulations to Mr. Fay and Mr. Crowell.
Other than the de facto change to the chair and vice chair of the executive and strategic planning committees, all other officers and committees remain in tact.
Global Supply Chain Deficiency
CSA has received notice of a global supply chain deficiency from its third-party hardware vendors. The deficiency spans the spectrum of information technology hardware items. The deficiency is not simply in the supply of the items themselves but also the raw materials used to develop these items, such as glass, plastics, and metal. As a result, the effects will be pervasive to the industry. The expectation is that most supply chains will continue to struggle throughout the remainder of 2021.
Items being negatively affected and in weak stock positions include but are not limited to:
- Docking stations
- Switches and networking equipment
- Wireless access points
We understand that some hardware needs are rather immediate, but it will certainly be helpful at this time to be as proactive as possible. If you anticipate needing specific items, orders placed sooner rather than later would help to secure these resources in a timely fashion. We cannot guarantee the availability of any items. Of course prices for these and other items are expected to increase across the board. Such increases have already begun for printers and RAM/memory.
CSA and its vendors continue to pay close attention to the current trends and will respond as best as we can to the situation as it unfolds. We apologize for any inconvenience this may afford your utility. CSA as an association of member utilities has built its reputation on service to those members, and we stick by that now as we have in the past. Thank you for your commitment to your association as we respond to these common difficulties that come our way.
Chief Executive Officer
Central Service Association
CSA Invites Members to Uncover Available Insurance Programs
By the time you retire, your accumulated wealth is probably at its height. The challenge now is to manage your assets so that they last as long as you do. Insurance still plays an important role at this stage of your life. The CSA Members Insurance Program exists solely to provide Association Members and their families with the highest quality risk management and benefit management resources available in the marketplace. Below is a list of current insurance products:
Retiree Medical Plan – Benistar
- Supplement to Medicare Part A & B
- Covers Part A Medicare Deductible for Hospitalization, Skilled Nursing Facility Care, and Part B Medical Inpatient & Outpatient Services
Rx Plan – Express Scripts
- Copay based benefit for Medicare Part D participants set to pay out at different stages
Dental Plan – Self-funded
- 100% Preventive/50% Basic/50% Major Care
- $1,500 Annual Maximum for all types of care combined
Life & Supplemental Life – UNUM
- Ability to choose employer paid, employee paid, or a combination
- 9 Plan options with Basic Benefit & Additional Benefits
- Accelerated Death Benefit: 100% one-time benefit up to $250,000 for member & their dependents
Long Term Disability – UNUM
- Ability to choose employer paid, employee paid, or a combination
- 90 Day Elimination Period
- Benefit Option: 66.67% up to %5,000 or $7,500
- Return to Work Benefits, Child Care Expense Benefit, and Survivor Benefit
Convenient Care Plus & Generic Rx Program
- Virtual & Telephonic Visits to a licensed physician at NO COST
- 24/7 Doctor Availability & Prescription Pick-Up within minutes
- Generic Prescription Coverage (specific CCP formulary, 100% covered)
Accident – UNUM
- Lump Sum Benefit for specific services following accidental injury
- Benefit for Ambulatory Services, ER Treatment, Hospital & ICU admission and confinement, Coma, Burns, etc.
- Accidental Death & Dismemberment Benefit included
Critical Illness – UNUM
- Lump Sum Benefit for services following critical illness diagnosis
- Cancer Benefit
Hospital Indemnity – UNUM
- Hospital Admission Benefit: $1,500 per insured per calendar year
- Ambulance and Daily Hospital Confinement Benefits
Short Term Disability – UNUM
- 60% up to $5,000 Maximum Benefit; $400 Minimum Benefit
- 3 Month Benefit Duration
- Standard Copay for Eye Exams, Materials, & Lenses
- Contact Lenses Coverage – fit, follow up, & materials
- Discounts on LASIK surgery
New CSA Academy Classes
Orbit DFM has scheduled several new training courses through the CSA Academy. They are:
- SmartList/Navigation List/Refreshable Excel/Jet Reports Basics
- SmartList Advanced
- General Ledger/Bank Reconciliation
- Receivables Management
- Budgeting/Fixed Assets\
- Human Resources & Integrity/Greenshades Products
- Inventory/Purchase Requisitions/Purchase Orders
- Accounts Payable
These classes, beginning June 1, will all be held online. Please visit the CSA Academy registration site for more information.
Artificial Intelligence – Integrated Voice Response
by Joey Green
When it comes to artificial intelligence, few are more progressive than tech giant Google. Ready or not, the future of advanced AI is coming. It’s likely you’ve got at least one tech product on your person with a built-in AI right this second. Whether it be an iPhone with Siri, an Amazon Echo with Alexa, or an Android with Google Assistant, our “virtual assistants” are always ready to help at any given moment. In the next few issues of Lines Magazine, we will delve into the world of artificial intelligence, how it is starting to reveal itself in daily life, and how your utility may be dealing with it on a professional level sooner than later.
Google, in its never-ending research/data collection efforts, takes its users’ daily tasks and puts it into their AI technology in hopes of making their customers’ lives a little more convenient. Earlier this year at its annual Google IO conference, Google unveiled a new technology called Duplex, which created a bit of controversy. The Duplex demo presented a scenario where an automated AI ‘bot’ telephoned a local salon to schedule an appointment for the user. Normally an automated system is conspicuous by its typical robotic, monotone, or pre-recorded voice. The conversation with Google Duplex was anything but. Some audience members were freaked out, while others were left in awe. The exchange between the two “parties” truly resembled conversation between two human acquaintances.
Google Duplex converts the experience of talking to a simple, automated IVR to that of sharing a natural human conversation. Industries in the future could use such convenience to alleviate the understandable frustration many have had thus far in talking to machines. Customers themselves may also incorporate AI into their dealings with their local utilities For example, a utility customer might set their AI device to pay a bill the last week of every month. When the AI calls a utility to make the payment, the (real) person on the other end might ask, “what day would you like to pay?” With Google Duplex, the AI might check into the users’ history and see that historically the user pays their bill the day before the due date. As a result the AI might answer, “it looks like the bill is due September 3; how about on September 2?”
It’s incredible to see how far technology has advanced over the last decade. Skip Hall’s article in this edition of Lines touches a bit on what advancements in technology will be like over the next decades, and it boggles the mind. Artificial intelligence for one is here to stay and seems to advance exponentially. However, while having our own digital AI assistant certainly seems beneficial and would help take the load off everyday menial tasks, the elephant in the room is trust – do I trust tech conglomerates to use my data for good? Is my information kept private and secure? What if the information sent is incorrect? Doesn’t true “communication” involve more than just ones and zeros of mathematical logic? Have you seen the Terminator movies?
That last question was a bit tongue-in-cheek, these are all valid claims, and concerns get pretty deep-seated. People have a right to question what their data is being used for. Earlier this year, we saw Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg giving a statement to Congress over discoveries of malicious usage and collection of data. What individuals are willing to divulge to perfect strangers via the anonymity of the Web continues to grow less surprising. But that trend will likely grow given the personability of amazing AI products like Google Duplex.
Tomorrow's Technology Tuesdays (Tx3) Webinar Series
Central Service Association is proud to offer Tomorrow's Technology Tuesdays (Tx3). This free webinar series is designed to provide systems information, user tips and tricks, and a Q & A session. Held the second Tuesday of each month, the webinar begins at 11:00 am Central Time and will last approximately 1 hour.
Our first webinar was "The New UtiliGo" presented by Charles Huddleston, CSA's Senior VP of Engineering Services. UtiliGo provides an intuitive and easy-to-use mobile app for field personnel that allows them to view and update information about their utility's network infrastructure while in the field. If you missed the webinar, it is available in our Members Only section of this website.
Future Tx3 webinars are:
- June 8 – PlanBright Employee Benefits
- July 13 – Orbit One
- August 10 - Orbit BoardBusiness
- September 14 - Orbit Meter Data Management
If you are interested in attending, please register at our cvent web site. The webinar login information will be sent to your inbox the day prior to the event.
Orbit MDM User Guide
CSA has created a User Guide for the Orbit MDM system. The guide documents the reports and graphic depictions provided by the reporting of data acquired through the devices monitored by the AMI system implemented at your utility. This guide is in no means a comprehensive guide to using the Orbit MDM System but it serves as a quick reference for navigation in the use of the MDM System. To view the interactive PDF file, please login to the Members Only section and select Systems Guides.
Changes to the Board
Please welcome Douglas Ford to the CSA team! Douglas is CSA's new General Counsel, replacing Mr. Scott Hendrix who has made tremendous contributions to CSA's success over the past 17 years. Douglas practices in the litigation section of Mitchell McNutt & Sams, where he has represented numerous corporate and individual clients in the state and federal courts in Mississippi and Alabama. We congratulate Mr. Hendrix as he begins his new role as the general manager at Tombigbee Electric Power and Tombigbee Fiber, LLC effective January 1, 2021.
Our gratitude and best wishes for a happy retirement go to Mr. Bill Long for his loyal service to CSA as the general manager of Tombigbee EPA and as a long time CSA Board member.
Website Accessibility – What You Need to Know
The amount of time we spend online to conduct daily business is ever-increasing. Because utilities provide important information to their customers including outages, announcements, and the ability to pay via their website, it is important that all individuals, including the disabled, have the opportunity to access that information.
As you are probably aware, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, makes it illegal for any business (or government agency) to provide goods and services to the public that are not also accessible to people who have disabilities.
But, what you may not know, is that since the summer of 2010, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has talked about issuing ADA regulations regarding website accessibility. Many, if not most, website owners adopted a “wait and see” attitude. In December of 2017, the DOJ announced that it was withdrawing any ADA regulations about websites.
The lack of specific regulation however, has not curtailed hundreds of letters and lawsuits threatening legal action against owners of websites that are not accessible. This is particularly applicable to federal contractors that are subject to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as their sites must be accessible as of early 2018. In other words, if you receive federal grants or other federal funds you must make your site 508-compliant.
In 2017 there were over 800 lawsuits filed in federal courts concerning website Accessibility. These were typically ADA Title III lawsuits alleging that public accommodations’ websites are not accessible to individuals with disabilities. There were a variety of outcomes with one court in the linked article dismissing the claim “because requiring the defendant to comply with a set of web accessibility guidelines that are not yet law would violate due process principles”.
A website that is accessible has been designed and developed so that it can be accessed by any user, particularly those with disabilities.
People who are blind or have vision difficulties face unique challenges using websites and need alternatives for perceiving words or images on a website. This may be addressed by developing the site such that a screen reader can be used which will read aloud text on the website in a logical manner.
Someone who is physically disabled may need to use a keyboard in lieu of navigating with a mouse. Those who are hearing impaired need text or captioning for the content of audio or video recordings. An accessible website has features which address these barriers.
WCAG 2.0 – The New Accessibility Standard
The most accepted website accessibility standards for the U.S. (and internationally as well) are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are the accessibility standards established by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). You can learn more about WCAG by visiting their website: https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag. Previously, there were different, sometimes conflicting guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. These bodies have normalized to use WCAG 2.0 as the base standard for web, non-web electronic content, and software effective January 18, 2018.
There are three levels of compliance – A, AA, and AAA with A being the less difficult and AAA being the most difficult to achieve. It appears at this point that WCAG 2.0 level AA will be the standard when actual regulations are written.
Making Your Website Accessible
There are a variety of tools and resources available that will help you evaluate your site to see if it is WCAG 2.0 compliant. These range from free to very expensive. You may check your site’s compliance using in house staff and one of the free or paid tools, or you may choose to hire an outside firm to evaluate your site. Some of the resources are companies that will only evaluate your site, or there are those that will evaluate your site and remediate errors.
Website accessibility is not a “one and done” for sites that are not static. If your site has frequent content changes, your site editors must be aware of steps they need to take to make new or updated content accessible.
It is also a good idea to communicate with your site visitors the steps you have taken to make your website compliant, your ongoing efforts for accessibility, and alternatives a visitor may have to get access to information on your site if those are needed.
Regardless of the lack of any legal requirement to comply with ADA Title III or similar acts, you may, for customer relations want to ensure that your website is accessible to individuals with disabilities. Also, providing an alternative method of accessing the same information which is on your website, such as a telephone number to call, may limit your legal risks and be of benefit to your customers. You should certainly discuss this with your counsel to understand your potential legal risks of non-compliance.
Donald Moore - President
CSA's New End-of-Month Balancing Tool
By Barbara Bragg
Each month, utilities balance end-of-month (EOM) statistic reports to the general ledger for all services. For some utilities, this can be a large task. Our goal was to lighten the load and automate the manual research part.
From this, the new EOM Balancing Tool (EOM BT or BT) emerged. The EOM BT pulls the statistical data by tarriff ID and compares it to corresponding general ledgers. When a difference is found, the outage amount is exported to Excel and formatted so that it may be used in the monthly spreadsheets. This format will seem familiar to some, since it was based on a worksheet used by our balancing group. The EOM BT tool is ready for use once the email from the stat team containing the stat reports has been received.
We strive to make the EOM BT user-friendly. The process will be to choose the revenue month and year and select “Generate for the EOM” report. This may take a few minutes depending on size. Also, the report will be blank if the month chosen has not been completed or stats created.
Dawn Smith, CFO at the Electric Board of Guntersville said, “I have been using it ever since you installed it. It has worked great, and I do love it. That last stage will make it an excellent and time-saving tool.“ Kelley Fields, accounting manager at Humboldt Utilities, added, “We used the tool, and it went great! We’re actually able to look at more now than we look at with our manual version.”
The example report below shown in the latest edition of LINES Magazine shows how easy it is to see outages/differences. Miscellaneous charge types will display in italics when there is a different charge type using the same general ledger account as a rate. For an instance of this, please see the line item “Regular-SA” in the example report screenshot. Although the revenue shows on the stat side of the report, it was not in stats. This prevents some outages and investigations.
Coming Soon! The next phase of this project will look at finding the outages for the user. For example, Large Lighting and Power Sales is out over $3,000? The EOM BT will soon find that for you, making end-of-month balancing a snap!
Contact me if you have any questions:
Barbara Bragg, VP - Quality Control
CSA Benefits Program 2019
The CSA benefits program has been in existence for over 60 years. During that time, our continued commitment has always been to provide essential products and services that provide our members with "unsurpassed service, choice, at a value." We have provided a presentation of the CSA Benefits Guide listing available medical, dental, and vision insurance, disability and life insurance options, 401(k), 457, 401(a) and 529 savings plans, and pension plans in apdf format for your review. All service partners and products listed have been carefully vetted to insure industry standards and benchmarks are being met, and, more importantly, our members benefit needs are covered. The presentation is available in pdf format for online viewing or download: CSA Benefits Guide.
Orbit Meter Data Management and UtiliSuite Users Conferences Go Virtual
Central Service Association and Professional Computer Solutions LLC are hosting the 2021 Orbit Meter Data Management Conference and the UtiliSuite Users Conference on a virtual platform. These FREE events are designed for current users of the systems as well as those simply interested in learning more about them.
MDM Overview Demo
Monday, January 25, 2021 / 1-3 p.m. (CST)
Whether you are new to Orbit MDM or an experienced user, this demo will provide an overview of the product and how it can be used throughout your utility system to streamline operations. New users will learn how easy MDM is to use, and experienced users can get a refresher on features to make their jobs easier.
Who should attend: Customer Service, Engineering, and Operations Staff
What we will cover:
- Maximizing your AMI investment with MDM
- Using MDM to make customer calls easier for CSRs
- Utilizing robust query options to troubleshoot meter data issues and potential theft
- Evaluating system configurations for efficiency
MDM Users Group Meeting
Tuesday, January 26, 2021 / 1–3 p.m. (CST)
If you want to take a deeper dive into Orbit MDM and learn about the mostly recent improvements, you want to attend this virtual meeting.
Who should attend: Customer Service, Engineering, and Operations Staff
What we will cover:
- System improvements and features that have been added in the last year
- What's in the MDM Improvement Pipeline?
- User Input – We want to hear from you. What do you need from MDM?
- Mini User Meetings
The UtiliSuite Users Conference will be held over the ensuing two days. UtiliSuite is a suite of GIS-related apps developed specifically for utility systems and gives utilities access to today's leading-edge technology.
- UtiliTrak maps and models your system's electric, gas, water and wastewater infrastructure
- UtiliCom maps your system's fiber network and manages connectivity on the fiber level
- UtiliStake integrates your staking process within UtiliTrak and helps eliminate the backlog of system changes
- UtiliGo makes it easy to view and edit your maps on mobile devices
UtiliSuite Overview Demo
Wednesday, January 27, 2021 / 1-3 p.m. (CST)
Whether you are investigating UtiliSuite, are new to the system, or an experienced user, this demo will provide an overview of the products and how they can be used at your utility system to streamline operations. New users will learn how each product functions, and experienced users can get a refresher on features to make their jobs easier.
Who should attend: Engineering, and Operations Staff
What we will cover:
- UtiliTrak functionality
- UtiliStake functionality
- UtiliCom functionality
- UtiliGo functionality
UtiliSuite Users Group Meeting
Thursday, January 28, 2021 / 1–3 p.m. (CST)
If you want to take a deeper dive into UtiliSuite and learn about recent improvements, you want to attend this virtual meeting.
Who should attend: Engineering, and Operations Staff
What we will cover:
- UtiliTrak Export Tool
- UtiliGo Update and Demo
- UtiliTrak Quality Manager
- UtiliSuite Update – Various topics including subtotal and import tools
Increased Efficiency with Digital Document/Workflow Management
By Keith McPeak
Roughly twenty years ago CSA introduced member utilities to the world of digital document archival through its Electronic Document Management System. Avoiding the natural deterioration of paper and ink, along with a complete indexing system for quick and easy access to stored reports, digital document archival held much promise.
Today’s digital archival technology far exceeds that of 20 years ago, and document management now also charts workflows of which a document is only the end product. A few years back CSA member utility Alcorn County Electric (ACE) introduced CSA and its members to Midsouth Imaging’s DeltaDOCK, a simple-to-use, cost-effective way to store and retrieve documents. We caught up with Sean McGrath, chief financial officer at ACE, to see how things were going with DeltaDOCK, having recently changed its name to Paperstore.
“We have definitely not stopped using it,” said Sean. “It’s tough to sort through 10-20 years of cabinet paperwork, and you’d be surprised how often we have to reference information that far back. Instead of running down the hall to a file cabinet, I just pull the document from Paperstore and get what I need. That really saves a lot of time, and the indexing really helps with our organizational efforts and ensures the results are easy to sift through and are readily available.”
Paperstore functionality can also include workflow processes, OCR/barcode recognition, E-forms, Web access, and other functions incident to digital archival. While it archives and indexes paper documents, Paperstore can also archive and index non-document file types, including audio and video files. “Of course, this will take up more hard drive space,” said Sean, “but if you had a WAV or MP3 voice message that was deemed important enough, you could archive and index it with Paperstore. Same thing with video data such as security camera footage.”
Through the years CSA member utilities also adopted other document management and workflow solutions, such as Image Director by Milner Technologies and the relatively new SearchExpress by Executive Technologies, the makers of CSA’s legacy EDMS. Clinton Utilities Board chose Milner’s Image Director. Dudley Fagan, director of accounting and finance for Clinton, explained to us how they use Milner for items from check processing to newly developed electronic customer forms. “If a tornado comes through,” said Dudley, “I know my documents are safe on the Milner server being hosted at CSA. Milner scans customer applications and IDs, indexes them to CMB’s customer locations, and a hotlink to CMB pulls all documents for that customer without digging through cards. Milner’s Kurt Thayer did a good job of taking it to the accounts payable side too, getting rid of all the paper invoices.”
Clinton also uses Milner’s workflow processes, which are automated and assigned to certain people for process fulfilment, approval, and execution. “Having all the workflow steps built into the process helps the user ensure that no required step is left out,” Dudley said. “Image Director will even ‘learn’ these processes and preferences based on previous experiences. This has also helped in our purchasing from general requisitions,” said Dudley.
After careful consideration, CSA member Hartselle Utilities selected the new SearchExpress product. “We are still using it in a limited capacity with respect to all it will do,” said Tim Mitchell, Finance and Accounting Manager for Hartselle, “but we are very satisfied with the ease of use and how easy it was to learn. For Hartselle Utilities, it is a very low-cost solution to a high-cost storage problem. Searches are very easy to do and appear to work very efficiently, and the support staff and management of Executive Technologies have been very good to work with.” Tim said that Hartselle plans to expand SearchExpress’s role with online forms and approvals in the future.
Once the digital archiving system is in place, getting rid of paper documents may be against one’s gut instinct, but for Dudley Fagan, the decision was fairly easy: “It does feel good to hold paper documents in your hand, and there are some documents you do hang on to, but digital imaging is so much more streamlined, especially with the workflow piece, and all of this passes regulations and requirements for auditing, too.” Alcorn County Electric also elects to keep important paper documents, especially if financial, legal, or insurance related. “There are just some originals you like to be able to put your hands on,” said Sean McGrath. “But it is extremely valuable to be able to go into an indexed digital archive and pull what I need in a moment’s notice.”
“There is an extra cost to digital archival, of course,” said Dudley, “but the return on investment, increases in efficiency, and time saved are well worth it.” Sean at ACE agreed. “Even after all these years, Paperstore is still very competitive pricewise, and I have to say that working with Brad Davis from MidSouth Imaging and Terry Buckler from Delta Systems is always a pleasure.”
Orbit CMB+Fiber billing and OSS solution success
Booneville, Miss. – Prentiss County Electric Power Association (PCEPA) is showing great success in the first four months of broadband service delivery thanks in part to Central Service Association's Orbit CMB+Fiber billing and OSS solution. PCEPA chose CSA's fiber solution based on its 77-year partnership of successful power billing coupled with the commitment of CSA's Board and Management team in the recent addition of operations support and automation for fiber management and provisioning.
"We know that providing broadband to our community is a long term investment, but it was very important to be able to connect large numbers of customers quickly to meet our coop goals and to meet our customer expectations," said Ronny Rowland, GM of PCEPA. "With the CSA solution, we have been able to ramp customer installations rapidly and have already connected more than 15% of the number of members our feasibility study indicated. The excitement is building within our membership as they see large numbers being connected, and many members are learning that they own this broadband system and that they will enjoy long term benefits when the loans are repaid."
CSA was among the first billing system providers to recognize the importance of the electric cooperative in broadband delivery and the need for a comprehensive fiber management and provisioning solution fully integrated with billing. "It became apparent that broadband and fiber would be an essential part of the rural infrastructure, and the electric cooperatives are assuming a leadership role in establishing these networks," said Tom Underwood, CEO of CSA, headquartered in Tupelo, Miss. "We made an investment in R&D early on to address this need, and we are pleased to have the support and trust of partners like PCEPA."
About Prentiss County EPA:
Prentiss County Electric Power Association exist to serve our members with safe, reliable, and convenient electricity at the lowest possible cost. We are more than just a power provider. The employees, management, and board members are committed to helping the communities we serve in other ways as well. We are actively involved in projects that help improve the quality of life for our members. Service as civic leaders, in our local churches, as coaches and referees for youth sports, and as volunteers for parent-teacher organizations and other school activities are just a few ways our people care for this community. We are committed to our communities because we live here, too.
In 1937, Central Service Association (CSA) was born of a cooperative effort by new utility distributors to create a method of using centralized expertise to perform utility customer billing and other joint services that were determined as useful to the efficient operation of these new utilities. Today, CSA has a very strong heritage that is rooted in a reputation for dedicated efforts to provide accurate and reliable services. CSA's OrbitTM customer, financial and work management systems represent the latest technology and the greatest value in the utility IT arena. In addition, the Association offers UtiliTrakTM GIS/mapping software, meter data management, mobile solutions, electronic payment solutions, professional and consulting services, networking, Internet services, hardware and software sales, related supplies and printed forms, employee benefit plans, and other assistance incident to the provision of support to public utilities.
CSA Electronic Payment Services
Orbit One is a customer engagement platform designed specifically for utilities that provides customers with the self-service capabilities that today’s consumers expect. This complete payment processing platform is thoroughly integrated with CSA’s Orbit Suite of products and encompasses payments via Web, mobile, IVR, kiosk and over the counter, as well as multiple payment methods including credit and debit cards, electronic checks and cash. Through Orbit One’s web portal and mobile app, customers can access usage and billing information, initiate service requests and receive notifications right from their phones or other devices. The enhanced reporting and administration dashboard provides tools for customer research and problem resolution as well as operational and trend insight.
- Improves your cash flow with next day funding for all payment sources
- Improves your cash flow with next day funding for all payment sources
- Makes balancing and reconciliation faster and easier with enhanced reporting
- Offers convenient, accessible payment channels for your customers and a variety of payment options
- Works within a Payment Card Industry (PCI)-certified payment environment to ensure that account information is securely stored according to standards set forth by the major card associations
- Provides English and Spanish options
- Requires only one entry for each payment that updates multiple systems automatically, which saves time and reduces errors
Please let your regional manager know if you would like to discuss Orbit One in more detail to see how it can benefit your utility.
For several years, many of our members have requested that we develop an in-house solution for prepay. Recent developments, like CSA’s new Orbit One electronic payment and customer engagement product, make this the right time to add a prepay option to our portfolio. The comprehensive product is currently under development, but an initial beta version has been installed and is working at a member utility pilot site. We are currently developing this new product under the name Orbit PrePay+. So, the question is, what is CSA doing to make this product a better prepay option for our members? Here are a few examples:
Seamless integration into Orbit CMB and Orbit One
There are no external systems required for setting up a customer. Customers are also able to pay through the new OrbitONE customer portal that shows their Orbit PrePay+ balance. Additionally, because Orbit PrePay+ is fully integrated into Orbit CMB, very accurate daily billing will be achieved.
Orbit PrePay+ works with non-AMI services
While it is always a “best practice” to deploy prepay where AMI for metered services is installed, Orbit PrePay+ allows metered services without AMI, or individual accounts without AMI, to be added and calculated using our estimation engine.
Orbit PrePay+ doesn’t require a “special bill” for mid-month customer enrollment
Utilities can set a customer up at any time, and the software is smartenough to know how to bill a customer without any additional steps.
Bad debt recovery options
Orbit PrePay+ allows the utility to recover bad debts on a definedtimetable when using agreements. This allows the utility to project howmuch bad debt will be recovered over a given time.
Orbit PrePay+ can also auto-create agreements while truing up billing estimations
This means that any shortages (differences between an actual bill and what was estimated) can automatically be put on a 30-day agreement so there is minimal impact to the prepay user.
Full integration with the customer portal and electronic payment solution
Orbit PrePay+ is being built to fully utilize the functionality of CSA’s Orbit One payment and customer engagement product (CustomerPortal). This will mean that pre-pay and post-pay customers will have the same user experience through a single application.
And finally, a lower price
Intrusion Detection: Securing Your Data and Critical Systems
New system from CSA helps to quickly identify network breaches -
We see it on the news with regularity: another data breach discovered with thousands of victims private information being exposed and their identities stolen. What we often don’t see is the business aftermath of such an event. Data breaches such as these can bring a business to a standstill, unable to accept payments or access important business documents while costing the organization untold amounts of lost productivity and dollars.
A data breach can take on many forms, often highly technical in nature such as a misconfigured computer system. In other cases, it comes down to the human element. Someone clicks a link on a malicious website or a seemingly legitimate e-mail disguised as an important request from the CEO and ends up infecting their computer. Oftentimes an attacker only need gain a tiny foothold on one computer to begin causing havoc for the business.
The faster a data breach can be identified, the lower the cost to recover, both directly and indirectly. Those costs from a computer incident can be staggering. Legal fees, victim notification costs, forensic analysis, remediation costs and regulatory fines are just a few of the hurdles an organization faces when a data breach occurs. A study by the Ponemon Institute entitled “2018 Cost of a Data Breach” found that the detection time between when an attacker successfully gains access and when they are detected was 197 days. While this statistic has been slowly dropping, it is still entirely too long.How do we protect our business without breaking the bank? Having a strong IT foundation is a great first step to prevention. Anti-virus software helps protect individual computers, while firewalls help protect the network from external attacks coming into the organization from the internet. Both technologies are likely deployed in your organization and help form the base for a defense against these attacks. But they are not a complete solution, and both have their blind spots.
When a computer is infected, the malicious software installed can subvert the computer, in some cases hiding itself from anti-virus and creating a sort of backdoor into the system. These can go undetected for some time. A key part of the solution to this is an Intrusion Detection System (IDS).
How does an IDS help protect your network? An IDS has visibility into and analyzes everything going across your network, searching for indications of malicious activity and compromise. These systems have been used in enterprises for many years now, but for small to midsize businesses it has traditionally been very difficult to justify the steep costs to purchase, deploy and maintain such a system in an ongoing basis.
At CSA, we have integrated several technologies into an IDS sensor that can be deployed at a single office or across multiple locations. Our security team initially spends several weeks collecting and analyzing data from your network. We then apply that data to the IDS system, tuning it specifically to your environment. Updates are regularly installed on the sensors from several CSA-vetted sources including the Department of Homeland Security.
A real-time web dashboard displays what the system is detecting and allows for correlation and analysis. Reports are sent out by the system on a weekly basis and provide a detailed summary of the items it has identified. Additionally, a prioritized list of CSA’s recommendations is assembled by our team and provided on the report. Advanced data reporting and analysis is available via our enhanced collector option for those who wish to delve deep into their networks themselves. For everyone else, our staff can also routinely monitor and issue recommendations.
The best part of all? CSA has worked hard to make this product an economical option for our members to use.
IDS is installed behind your firewall and monitors your network for any sign of unusual activity that might indicate a security related event. IDS software is available pre-loaded on a hardened, industrial, fan-less solid-state computer, or the IDS software can run on a hardened computer you provide.
Event notifications may be sent to your network administrator(s), or CSA can provide 24/7/365 monitoring. Notifications initially classify unusual events as “no threat,” “medium threat,” or “severe threat.” Multiple sessions of IDS can run concurrently in different network nodes with all events aggregated by optional IDS Collector software, which provides a dashboard view of your entire network.
IDS is available on a monthly subscription basis, with quarterly or annual billing options. There is no up-front cost, and the modest monthly charge makes IDS affordable for any utility.
CSA-provided hardware carries a 3-year warranty.
IDS may be implemented with NO upfront costs
IDS may be monitored by your staff or by CSA’s IT professionals
Need to go deeper? Try Orbit Collector – The collector aggregates data from multiple sensors, or enhances a single sensor’s analysis into a dashboard that you can use to further expand your intelligence gathering.
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