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City working kinks out of billing office software

By Staff | May 23, 2011

Additional funds are being requested for temporary services for the city’s customer billing department to keep the wait time to a minimum when residents have questions about their utility bills.
Before the city used an outsource company for customer billing services, the average wait time was 21 minutes when people called about their utility bills, which has decreased to 3 minutes 44 seconds in a month, with 989 dropped calls.
City Manager Gary King told the Cape City Council at its workshop meeting Monday that the city is between a rock and a hard place because the software they are using has not performed close to satisfactory since it was installed on June 21, 2011. He said the city holds conversations with the company, AMX, on a weekly basis to discuss details about the software, along with exploring new options.
Since the software is not widely known on the marketplace, it leaves the city in a difficult and frustrating place, King said, because it is a delicate balance of how far they can push the small company.
“I can’t give you any good news, other than we are trying to make some informed decisions of getting out of the swamp,” he said. “The system is not reliable and they have to deal with higher volume of calls.”
King said he thinks the department is still months away from fixing the problem, even though he believes the scope of the problem tends to be smaller. Due to the limited resources the company has exposure to, it is slowing down the process of fixing the problem, he said.
“It is very difficult to predict the end,” King said. “I wish I could be more definitive, but I really can’t.”
The program, which has been “nothing but a disappointment when first put into production,” King said, has yet to perform as advertised.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz showed concern about the city paying $24,800 through May 31, when it paid a total of $49,000 over a five-month period.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail stated the same concern. He said although they are looking at a $24,000 patch to fix the software, he believes the issue will not be fixed by that time.
McGrail said the city keeps putting bandages on the wounds instead of solving the problem. He said AMX told them they only have two accounts in the United States that are carrying the software right now, with the city of Cape Coral being one of them.
“It is in their best interest to support us in what we are attempting to do to put the patches in their software and fix the problem,” McGrail said.
He suggested to his fellow council members that they move forward with the issue at hand, by working at getting technical help at a discount.
McGrail said it is in the company’s best interest to make its software work or the company will not have a future. He said he understood that if the city switches horses on this right now it will cost $600,000 and he respects how far down the road they have gone so far with AMX.
The suggestion of providing a “dead date” was brought up during the discussion, so the city would not have to pay any more money for a program they have not had any success with.
Councilmember Marty McClain said the city’s a guinea pig for a program that they were not sure of from the start. He said as a council, they need to come up with a definitive time span that is fair and works in a specific time frame.
“I would prefer saying, Aug. 1, we are done,” he said about working with the current company. “I’m just throwing ideas out there. I don’t want to have this discussion six months from now. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but you have to stop throwing money at them.”
McGrail suggested that the city come up with a real number of what it is going to cost the city to use the existing company, which will give them a better idea of a specific “dead date.”