Gone in 60 seconds

When the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission hired Charles Madison toimprove their customer service, it was taking two or three days for fieldservice representatives to respond to customers' calls about their bills,faulty meters or property concerns. That was not good.

Madison, a systems analyst and independent consultant, found a text-onlyWeb-based application that lowered the wait time from days to about fourminutes per call, but that was still too slow. He then found a wirelessInternet option that offered responses in about 10 seconds.

That was all he needed to hear.

WSSC is the second largest water and wastewater utility in the nation,serving more than 1.5 million customers in Maryland's Prince George's andMontgomery counties. Field service representatives maintain a large collectionof paper forms relating to customer issues. They were forced to fill outthe papers in every imaginable weather condition before going back to theoffice for research. Later, they would tell customers about what was beingdone — much later — but that is now changing.

WSSC selected Venturi, a wide-area-network solution from Fourelle SystemsInc. "Now our field service representatives are able to respond faster tomore customers each day," Madison said.

WSSC employees use laptops and ruggedized handheld devices to accessthe company's intranet via routers on a Verizon Communications wirelessnetwork. The project — including hardware, software and network connections— cost about $500,000, and yearly maintenance fees are minimal due to refreshagreements built into the contracts, Madison said.

The system went live in January, and the field service representativeswere set to begin using it in March. Although representatives are recordingthe same information they used to write down on paper, it will take sometime to train them in the technology, Madison said.

WSSC added some new security to its intranet in order to cross overto the new system, including firewalls on the organization's virtual privatenetwork to secure the wireless transmissions.

Madison and a few developers "coded around" the dead zones in coverage,so field service representative won't even know when they are in an areawith poor wireless service. The system automatically stores information,and when the user moves into the next area with good coverage, the previoustransmission is made.

All of WSSC's technologies and devices are upgradable, so when Verizongoes to the next generation of transmission speeds, "it will all be transparentto us and our devices," Madison said.

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