Why is efficient and accurate data acquisition so important? With the use of data acquisition systems, measurements are generated and displayed. Thanks to this system, a technician can intervene in any problem and solve any potential issues and reach optimum performance in less time. Data acquisition provides greater control over an organization’s processes and faster response to failures that may occur. The procedures are optimized to the maximum to obtain products and services of a quality that maximize the result of the company and increase its efficiency.

When it comes to the process of data acquisition there are a number of problems. These include; auditing, credit control, systems integration, and manual processes that result in inaccuracies and inefficiencies. Sourcing information from various sources can result in data of uneven quality and lacking in timeliness. This means that people need to expend effort to get the data into usable shape. In addition, feeds come in a variety of formats, including comma‐separated value (CSV) and flat files, all of which must be managed. One of the biggest issues is outside field workers not understanding the system you set in place, often resulting in the incorrect data being captured, or the data not being captured at all.

 

The challenges of revenue collection in Africa

Effective and consistent revenue collection has fast become one of the most pressing issues for municipalities and utilities on the African continent. Tracking the execution of credit control operations to assure speedy collection of overdue debts, thus limiting further losses where the collection has historically proven to be difficult or impossible is one of the main issues when it comes to credit control.  Similarly, the delivery of physical pre-termination notices, coupled with the disconnection, and then reconnection of delinquent or slow-paying customers is an issue. Ensuring that the correct location and customer are being served is paramount.

One of the biggest challenges for billing in most municipalities is the delay in communication of meter installation data. Typically, engineers go to site to install a new meter or replace a broken or vandalised unit with a working one. Upon their return to the municipal office, the data about the meter installation or exchange is supposed to be provided so it can be manually captured onto the municipal or utility financial solution. The reality is that it can take a long time for this data to be properly and accurately captured. Furthermore, the data sometimes even gets lost before it can be committed to the electronic system. During this time the customer may not have been billed an estimate or billed a substantially inaccurate estimate for consumption. The arrears account then becomes very difficult to collect.

The biggest concern that companies have with these challenges is that data has a real effect on them. More and more companies are relying on data to make business decisions, plan for the future, and effectively run their operations. Organisations may have burnt unnecessary resources as a result of decisions made that were based on non-representative, error-ridden data.

Data acquisition software done right

Consolidated African Technologies (CAT) has spent the last three decades designing and perfecting workflow solutions for municipal and utility fieldwork operations, keeping in step with the latest advances in technology.

Field audit solution

The CAT Field Audit Solution offers simplistic workflows that get the best results from field workers. Choices that may seem intuitive within the business can seem alien and illogical to outsiders, so you need to enable field workers to collect and capture the right data as accurately as possible. This is at the heart of the CAT solution. We provide a questionnaire-based system that is resilient, reliable, and robust. The entire fieldwork audit workflow is meticulously and expertly handled by our solution. Each workflow is created with the fieldworker in mind, enabling you to maximise the data collection capabilities without a cumbersome user experience. The template workflows are complete enough to provide for all the basic field audit questions and can be further customised to create more detailed data collection opportunities. We make use of optimised features such as geocoding, mapping, route configuration, and photographic evidence, where necessary. The CAT Field Audit Solution makes processing new jobs, reporting on completed jobs, and providing field status information back to the organisation easy. The online nature of the product means the latest status is always available. A starting point is usually a spreadsheet input and output; however, more detailed interface layouts can be made available as per individual requirements.

Credit control solution

CAT’s latest RouteMaster ™ Credit Control Solution seeks to validate, perform and track the execution of credit control operations to assure speedy collection of overdue debts, thus limiting further losses where the collection has historically proven to be difficult or impossible. The entire credit control workflow is meticulously and expertly handled by our solution, enabling the sending of electronic warnings via SMS and/or email. We also offer the delivery of physical pre-termination notices to the site, as well as the necessary disconnection and eventual re-connection of delinquent or slow-paying consumers. The template workflows are complete enough to provide for all the basic legal requirements of a credit control process, yet flexible and easily adjustable enough to fit the credit control policy approved for the specific municipality or utility. Photos as confirmation, GIS/GPS confirmation of the correct location, and a complete track-and-trace of all fieldwork completed is entirely within your organisation. Interfacing with most financial management solutions, the CAT Credit Control Solution makes processing new jobs, reporting on completed jobs, and providing field status information back to the organisation easy.

Integration of different data acquisition software systems is a must

During our time spent in the field, we have found an increasing need for systems to be sufficiently integrated in order to allow for revenue collection to be truly efficient. By digitising the task, the installation and the data collection process that happens alongside it, and enabling direct communication with the financial solution, we achieve a few key goals. This enables the digital swop out or capturing of the meter details and the tracking of the human process relating to the maintenance event. In turn, there is a much better chance of a customer being invoiced from the date of installation. Thus, the collection becomes easier as customers are never inadvertently placed in a position of excessive arrears. Additional improvements to the meter replacement and installation schedule can be achieved by linking the physical jobs to the spares required in order to perform the tasks. This is followed by digitally checking stock as to not overcommit on the installation and/ or exchange of meters that may not actually be available in stock.

Replace paper and spreadsheets with the CAT Field App. Collect accurate, real-time, and location-based data. Increase your data capturing accuracy and exchange, enhance service provider productivity and improve your customer engagement and satisfaction, thus enabling cost-savings with real-time visibility. The CAT Field App is a smartphone workforce solution that enables field workers to collect general, rich information in the field from sources at known or unknown locations. It’s an easy to use, yet powerful, survey software designed for the collection and validation of the information that is important to your business. The source of information can be from people or objects. The solution is versatile yet specific enough to conduct any range of general fieldwork required at various levels of complexity. The solution is ready for immediate deployment, configurable, easy to use, and available to be deployed on-premise or in the cloud. Further features include a dynamic data collection process, which is versatile and configured to enable various workflows, an ability to update out-of-date, incorrect and/or unknown addresses and locations, and work in remote areas with intermittent to no internet connectivity. The app also enables field data validation supported with time, date, and GPS location stamped photos.

It is vital that organizations and municipalities are making use of data, in fact, it is impossible not to in this day-and-age. However, it is extremely important that they are making use of the correct tools to capture and analyze this data. It can be extremely costly if the challenges of data acquisition are not met. CAT offers a number of effective and easy-to-use solutions to ensure that you are collecting, receiving, and using data as efficiently as possible.