$5.2 million computer upgrade coming to PUD customer service

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EPHRATA — Grant County PUD will spend about $5.2 million to upgrade its billing and customer service computer systems. The proposal was discussed at the regular commission meeting May 14, and will be on the agenda for approval at the May 28 meeting.

“That’s a lot of money,” said commissioner Larry Schaapman. “Mind-boggling,” said commissioner Judy Wilson. But “we knew there was a need,” said general manager Kevin Nordt, and the system was scheduled for an upgrade. Chief technology officer Derin Bluhm said PUD officials negotiated with the supplier, Oracle, to lower the price.

In addition, “this is the last time you’re going to spend this money,” he said. “We no longer have to do these big version upgrades or (platform) migrations.”

Utility district officials have been in negotiations with the company. “It’s a lot of money when you hear it, but we took 30 percent, 35 percent out of the already-discounted price during the negotiation process,” Bluhm said.

Terry McKenzie, manager of customer solutions, said upgrades to the existing system (also by Oracle) will stop being produced in October 2020. Faced with the need to make a change, she said, PUD employees considered three options. The utility could replace the existing system, upgrade to the next version of the existing system, or contract with Oracle to provide a new system.

Utility district officials are recommending contracting with Oracle for “customer cloud services,” McKenzie said. That prompted a question from Schaapman.

“What happens when they have all our information in the cloud, and we want to change 10, 12 years down the road?” Schaapman asked.

Bluhm said the PUD owns its own information, not the company hosting the servers. “As part of our agreement they have the obligation to return it to us in a form we can use it somewhere else.”

“With no cost,” Nordt said.

“So can you ever lose data?” asked commissioner Nelson Cox. Bluhm said the new system would provide more reliability.

The upgrades would make the whole system more reliable, he said, and would put the responsibility for maintenance, emergency repairs and upgrades on Oracle.

The new system will be able to tie into the PUDs existing remote meter system, McKenzie said. That will make monitoring the system easier and quicker, she said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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