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Tracking a half million calls a month.


Can any company respect a utility bill as much as a public utility company?

Like other businesses, utility companies are confronted with steadily increasing costs for telecommunications as usage expands and rates rise.

But unlike most, before a utility firm can raise prices to offset its rising costs, it must provide detailed justification to a government agency--the same public utilities commission (PUC) that sets the telephone rates.

And that means demonstrating to the satisfaction of PUC members that everything has been done to control operating costs and that a reasonable return on investment can only be achieved through approval of relief in the form of higher rates.

Southern California Edison (SCE) maintains its watch on telecomm costs by using Account-A-Call's Telephone Usage Management System (TUMS) service bureau, a relationship which began in 1982 with a single installation in Long Beach.

TUMS is now used to track an average of 450,000 outside calls made each month from 26 company locations, including the Rosemead headquarters office, where there are 5200 employees and at least that many telephones.

Whopper Phone Bill

SCE provides electrical power to a large segment of the Southern California population in a territory that extends from Santa Barbara to San Clemente and from the Ocean to the Colorado River.

With some 17,000 employees and nearly as many telephone stations, the company has a collective telephone bill between $4 million and $5 million per year.

Even so, says Communications System Specialist Tom Hoffman, the bill may be only half what it might have been had not SCE taken two major cost containment steps.

Seven years ago, the company installed the first of its sophisticated Rolm switches with least cost routing (LCR), the initial step in the formation of a company network.

A second major reason for selecting electronic switching was its ability to generate station message detail recording (SMDR) data.

This is processed into reports on how the telephone system was being used and how much calls were costing, to the individual station level.

TUMS reports support four basic functions for the Network Engineering Group in Telecommunications, of which Hoffman is a member.

* control of telephone abuse and misuse.

* traffic analysis,

* monthly check of trunks for volume of use and functionality.

* monitoring of costs by specific site or department.

"Of the total of all SCE locations, 26 major facilities currently have sufficient call volume to require monitoring through the TUMS service bureau," Hoffman says.

"Of these--which together have about 1400 trunk lines and account for about half of the company's total call volume--14 are on the least cost routing network."

Monthly Reports

Calls made on- or off-net are tracked and reported on a monthly basis.

Locations on the LCR network include the headquarters office, certain generating plants, division offices, and certain district offices.

Criteria are call volume and a consistent need to communicate with geographically removed non-company locations.

Most of the locations now under call accounting are equipped with Rolm CBX switches, which in turn are connected to AAC's Tadpoll remote data collection devices.

Account-A-Call's computers poll each Tadpoll on a daily basis. The processed results are reviewed at the service bureau by SCE's customer account service representative to detect any anomalies.

If any are found, Hoffman is notified immediately.

Otherwise the data continues to accumulate, and printed reports are produced once each month.

"While all of the data is captured, not all of it is printed unless we have a specific reason to ask for it," Hoffman says. "Normally, we want only the information on outside calls that use the network or are direct distance dialings, so that we can determine if stations are being used appropriately as well as check on call volumes.

"If we find that a given location is making enough outside calls that we could achieve a payback within 18 months to two years, we would probably install additional equipment to facilitate the least cost routing network.

"The network itself is comprised of a variety of telco trunk groups, including SCE's own microwave, fiber, and cable facilities."

Making Sure

When he receives his TUMS reports each month, Hoffman spot-checks pricing by comparing the "real" phone bill with the charges reported by Account-A-Call.

"If we get a $150,000 phone bill from the telco, we want the same from Account-A-Call, and normally we get it within 2 or 3 percent--which we regard as excellent."

When satisfied, Hoffman circulates their respective parts of the complete report to 150 cost centers, where they are further broken down for circulation to about 250 department or division representatives with direct responsibility for employee activities and tracking the budgets for their specific functions.

Meanwhile, he continues to review the traffic reports and trunk reports in order to spot sectors of the network which possibly need modification or upgrade.

Periodically, he also calls for a printout of the normally suppressed data on dial-8 calls, to check total call volume on the LCR network.

"Because our service area is stable, we trunk for above-average traffic, but not for specific problem conditions," Hoffman says.

"If emergencies arise, we deal with them successfully on an ad hoc basis. We don't expect the trunking to change very much, and if change is indicated, we continue to accumulate additional traffic information for 90 days before we act on increases or decreases in trunking.

"Rather than place additional burden on another department within Edison, rather than create complications for ourselves we were not equipped to address, we returned the responsibility to Account-A-Call. We're pleased we did so."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Account-A-Call's Telephone Usage Management System service bureau
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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