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11/12/2009
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Atmos Energy Makes Use Of Wikis And More

Natural gas utility enhances customer service with a collaboration tools. Next step is more IT tools for service techs.

Atmos Energy, a Dallas-based natural gas utility, is finding ways to improve its business beyond building a smart grid. Many IT initiatives focus on enhancing customer services, says Rich Gius, VP and CIO. The company in mid-2007 formed a customer service organization to drive process improvements in all areas that touch consumers.

For example, Atmos has created a massive wiki, based on MediaWiki technology, that includes an array of content about the utility's services and the various rules and regulations on billing and payments for each of the 12 states the company serves.

Customer contact reps can access the wiki and its search capabilities--which Atmos enhanced using open source code--to provide quick responses to customers when they call. Employees use the tool for collaboration and to keep up on the latest changes in rules and service offerings.

"The main purpose is so that our customer service interactions are more consistent and effective," Gius says. "Reps can immediately call up information about a particular state and regulation and provide the needed help to a customer."

The gas utility also uses instant messaging and electronic conference rooms, so employees in customer service and other departments in different Atmos Energy service areas can collaborate in real time.

"The next step is determining how to push these tools onto the laptops that our service technicians in the field use," Gius says. Armed with these capabilities, for instance, technicians will be able to more easily resolve disputes about bills or meter readings.

Atmos is investing in tools to help the company better manage its business. One example is an enterprise application that uses a geospatial information system to store, manage, and display data collected from geographic locations in the form of a map. Field technicians no longer have to rely on paper maps of service areas when starting repairs.

The system also enables Atmos to manage engineering projects, gas supply sources, and equipment such as meters, valves, and compressor stations. This capability, in turn, helps ensure the integrity of the gas pipelines, Gius says, and lets the company maintain the highest levels of safety.

Bob Violino is a freelance writer who has covered a variety of business and technology issues for more than 20 years, including security, enterprise applications, storage, and wireless.

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