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High Speed Data Transmission Improves Customer Service and Boosts Productivity.

Keeping costs down is always important, but during these recessionary times it is particularly vital. One weapon against rising costs, of course, is improved productivity. That is a major goal for the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and, undoubtedly, is a vitally important one to many other utilities across the nation.

PNM is a New Mexico electric utility company that presently serves the western half of the state, an area the size of New England. We are perhaps best known for our San Juan Generating Station, a large coal-fired generating plant in the Four Corners area near Farmington, New Mexico. This plant has operational pollution-control devices that are aimed at meeting or exceeding government guidelines. Our rates for electrical power are now decreasing, relative to the region, because of our investment in coal. In 1983, coal provided 97 percent of our fuel.

We are always looking for ways of raising productivity and lowering costs. In addition to conversion to coal, we install operational economies wherever feasible. At our company we identified several areas in which new technologies could give us a handle on operating expenses and office productivity. We found two distinct areas where the single application of telecommunications technology could significantly help boost our bottom line--customer service and data transmission.

We realized that when our customers' needs or questions aren't answered quickly, PNM loses in two ways. First, our customers are dissatisfied and this creates a hostile environment in which we must accomplish our business goals. Second, our customer service efficiency is reduced and the cost per call increases.

We also recognized the need for more efficient and reliable data transmission across our widely scattered service area. Faster, more reliable transmission relates to lower operational costs.

At PNM we were particularly fortunate in that solving one problem could help solve the other. For example, when the company recently upgraded its data transmission system, primarily to improve customer service response times, it also realized a significant increase in productivity, as well as major cost savings and improved reliability of our data transmission. Logistics Require Reliable Systems

Because of the logistics of operating in a state as spread out and thinly populated as New Mexico (population: about 1.3 million), reliable data transmission systems that can be readily maintained are an absolute necessity. For instance, the San Juan Generating Station is near the city of Farmington, 200 miles away from our data control center. Another office in Deming, New Mexico, is 300 miles in the opposite direction. If data transmission were disconnected for any reason and we had to send one of our personnel to one of these offices to remedy the situation, we could be "out of commission" for some eight hours, since travel by car over these distances is obviously time consuming.

We had already achieved a reliable data transmission system with Bell equipment, but now we needed faster transmission so that our customer representatives in outlying offices could respond more quickly to customer inquiries regarding bills and requests for installation or removal of service. The representatives and customers were frustrated because it took four to six seconds on average to call up the essential data on a video terminal. When a representative had a customer on the phone or a line of customers waiting at a service counter, such delays were not only frustrating but poor public relations.

We now have the solution and it has yielded far-reaching benefits in other areas as well. Recently we had AT&T Information Systems (AT&T-IS) install a new data transmission modem they have developed. Their Dataphone II 2096C modem doubles our transmission speed (to 9,600 b/s) and cuts our data response times by one-third to one-half--to three or four seconds per transaction. Naturally this has increased the efficiency of our customer service representatives and has visibly pleased our customers as well.

In addition, by coupling the new modems with a sophisticated Bell diagnostic network controller we were already using, we have gained reliable transmission capability. And since the new modems permit multiple offices to be connected on the same data transmission line, we are saving considerably on line charges.

Another important consideration in a 50,000 square mile service area is that we have been able to continue to count on fast, dependable maintenance, which not only has assured us of minimal downtime so that we can serve our customers effectively, but also saves countless man-hours that would otherwise be spent on troubleshooting.

It's too soon to have the figures on what our savings will be, but a rough estimate is on the order of well over $80,000 to $100,000 per year.

Since we can't simply hire a messenger to manually deliver reports if the data transmission is "down," it's understandable that we were eager to try the new Dataphone II 2096 modems. But speed wasn't the only factor . . . price performance and service were also important. When we originally compared the Dataphone modems with the offerings of the two largest competitors in our region, we found the Bell could not only give us the same features for lower cost, but could also provide better service.

In data processing, whenever we install new equipment, we test it before we finally accept it. So we put the modem through the "ringer" so to speak.

On the day scheduled for the trial installation, a major snowstorm had begun, yet the installation went on without a hitch. Starting out a 5 am, we and the AT&T-IS personnel drove 250 miles that day to install the modems linking the office in Las Vegas, New Mexico and two offices in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the data center in Albuquerque. The system was up and running and passing data by 3 pm.

By design, we subjected the 2096C modem to a rigorous test on what had been our worst circuit; one that had a record of "hits" or outages. Ordinarily, increasing the transmission speed would increase the possibility of downtime, yet even though the new system was transmitting data twice as fast as the old one, during a trial lasting one month, we experienced a total of no more than eight minutes of downtime.

PNM's customer service representatives let us know rather emphatically that they wanted the installation to become permanent which it did in the first week of January 1983.

We have since installed a second Dataphone II modem that links seven of our offices at our San Juan Generating Station with our data control center in Albuquerque . . . all on a single circuit. We previously were paying $700 to $800 a month to lease separate data lines to each of these offices, so our savings in this area are considerable. The new Dataphone II modem can actually link as many as 15 offices on one circuit.

Maintenance was a prime consideration too. Since Bell basically has installers in any city where it has an office, we could be assured of prompt service when we needed it.

Another advantage of the Dataphone II 2096C modem is that it can also operate at lower speeds of 7.2 kb/s and 4.8 kb/s. This provides a good temporary solution when circuits are bad, because we can drop to a lower speed until the situation is improved. Three Levels of Diagnostics

Three levels of diagnostics are available with the Dataphone II service: the diagnostic mdoem; a diagnostic console; and the network controller. The "Level III" network conroller provides diagnostic capability and for us it has been useful because it can coordinate automatic diagnostic reporting. Anytime there is a problem with a modem, the controller automatically reports the problem to the AT&T-IS maintenance service center and pinpoints the location.

For example, if a problem has come up overnight, by the time we come to work in the morning, there's a good chance the problem has already been solved. Thus, we have been assured of having service on our lines during working hours when we need it. Since the installations of our new modems, we have had no problems on those circuits at all. In fact, the circuit that previously was our least reliable is now one of the most dependable we have.

The diagnostic capabilities of the Level III controller also lets us remotely diagnose problems from our data center in Albuquerque as though we were at the site of the problems. Dataphone II services thus can not only reduce the need for testing equipment at the central control center, they can also reduce the need for technical personnel to spend time at remote sites.

The network controller provides full system diagnostic capability from a data terminal, which serves as a control station. Simple English language commands and user prompting make it easy for the user to operate.

The Dataphone II 2096C modem, in conjunction with diagnostics, helps us to keep up with the latest in DP technology. Technically speaking, the Dataphone II 2096C modem is designed for the synchronous environment and allows users to send from one data processor to two others at 9.6 kb/s over a data conditioned line. Its assured diagnostics in the nondigital environment permit high-volume data transmitters to send at the higher speed continually, with a low error rate. The unit uses four-wire, full-duplex 3002 facilities and all diagnostics are performed at the control stations.

Overall, the new modem has provided a solution to our goal of decreasing our customer response times. Our customers are satisfied now because they can pay their bills faster, get their questions answered more easily, and wait in lines less.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Downey, R.; Painter, G.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1984
Words:1603
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