Five years ago, Blue Stingray (unwittingly) helped a water utility cooperative prepare for COVID-19. Here’s how the investment is paying off.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large segments of the economy, thousands of businesses were forced to adapt, implementing work-at-home policies and reforming their IT infrastructure to handle remote workers.
For some businesses, that process was extraordinarily difficult — and for one large water utility cooperative, it was virtually pain free.
“Thanks to our-cloud based billing software developed by Blue Stingray, along with our other cloud based solutions, our IT department was able to smoothly transition our entire office to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stephanie Westendorf, VP of Operations at EJ Water Cooperative, Inc., a multi-regional water system and utility cooperative that serves more than 10,000 members. “Not only did this provide our staff with flexibility, but it also allowed us to keep our members, employees and communities safe while providing the same quality service.”
EJ Water had already prepared for the remote-work revolution back in 2015 — somewhat accidentally — while replacing legacy software tools. Their story highlights one of the noteworthy lessons of the pandemic: When disaster strikes, flexibility is crucial.
For many businesses, remote work seemed plausible…at first.
According to an April 2020 opinion poll, 20 percent of American adult respondents were able to work from home and were doing so; a separate Gallup poll found that 57 percent of workers said that their employers offered flex time or remote work options.
But as many businesses quickly discovered, legacy software isn’t well suited for remote work. Many organizations still rely on decades-old desktops for day-to-day tasks. For the most part, these legacy systems are functional; they’ve stood the test of time and employees know how to use them. Why invest in state-of-the-art software if an old program from the ‘90s gets the job done?
The pandemic quickly exposed the limitations of this “old-school” approach. When employees want to work from home, they need to use remote desktop sharing software to access their work computers. Should those computers freeze up, the employee can’t do much to regain control. Even when remote desktop software works, it’s often clunky and limited. That’s a minor issue if a single employee needs to check in on something over the weekend, but when an entire workforce needs to access computers remotely on a regular basis, productivity suffers.
In 2015, EJ Water recognized the need for efficient remote solutions.
For the utility cooperative, remote software was essential. Employees frequently needed to access software from the field to generate reports, check meter data, and process invoices.
The cooperative faced an unpleasant choice: Keep relying on their legacy system or pay thousands of dollars per year to license cloud software that wasn’t designed for their business. Add in upgrade fees and training expenses, and licensed software seemed like an expensive headache.
EJ Water chose a third option: Create a custom cloud solution that could work with any water utility company in the United States. That program, Flow, integrated all of the legacy system’s data, added new reporting and billing features, and implemented a modern user interface to allow workers to stay focused.
During the pandemic, EJ Water’s investment allowed them to adapt quickly and maintain most of their day-to-day operations. Thanks to Flow, the move to remote work was fairly straightforward. Workers could perform essential work from anywhere in the world, provided that they had internet access — without relying on outdated tools. Flow is 100 percent in the cloud and fully accessible on any mobile device via a web browser and internet access. It’s customizable, scalable, and easy to use with minimal training.
Most importantly, it’s built for EJ Water’s workflow, without unnecessary additions to bog down productivity. Flow handles secure online payments, provides simple visual utility usage breakdowns for customers, and presents administrators with detailed info about service responses, outages, and more. The reporting features give administrators the information they actually need at the exact moment they need it.
We created Flow by working closely with EJ Water’s team (read more about the process here). Our objective was to create a solution that streamlined every task and allowed administrators, customers, and workers to access the information that they needed without learning a complex new system. Obviously, we never predicted the sudden rise of remote work — but custom cloud software solutions help every business adapt to these types of dramatic changes.
While legacy systems might be serviceable when everything goes perfectly, the businesses that take steps to keep their systems flexible can weather extraordinary times. To learn more about custom cloud solutions, contact us today or schedule a demo.