|Case Study: Student Housing Solutions (PDF)|
American Conservation & Billing Solutions, Inc. (AmCoBi) helped Student Housing Solutions (SHS) improve its utility billing process by:
Student Housing Solutions is based in Tallahassee, Florida and represents a family of real estate companies that acquire, manage, and build multi-family housing, commercial, retail, and professional office projects. The company has invested more than $500 million in 18 communities and their current portfolio includes 4,000 beds--a number that has reached as high as 7,000 beds in the past. SHS specializes in serving the growing housing needs of the Southeast region.
Prior to working with AmCoBi, SHS used a different utility billing and submetering services provider. This company had worked in the industry nearly twenty years and at one time billed 80,000 units each month. In spite of the company's longevity, the utility billing process was cumbersome, time-intensive, and required a lot of involvement on the part of SHS.
For example, each month SHS managers would e-mail move-in/move-out information and the master-meter utility bills to the billing company. The company would create a pre-bill report and e-mail it back to the property managers for approval. The company would then send out bills and deliver a printed management report to SHS. At that point, SHS staff would type in the billing values for each resident, one by one.
"Hand keying in billing data into our online property management solution, AMSI eSite, was an immense chore for us," noted James Sauls, SHS' CEO. "This was a very lengthy process that resulted in higher labor costs. It also kept our team from working on other important tasks," Sauls stated. "With a manual process like this one, data entry errors are difficult to avoid."
AmCoBi has been a huge time saver for us. They have bent over backwards to help our company simplify its utility billing program.
|-- Liz Harper, Accountant, Student Housing Solutions|
In addition to the back-and-forth interactions that were required each month, the company routinely sent out bills late. They were also slow to return SHS calls and e-mails resulting in problems taking more time than necessary to resolve. SHS was frustrated and looked to improve its utility billing program through other resources.
When SHS decided to investigate other billing providers, their objectives included:
Eliminate the need to hand enter monthly billing data into the eSite system – software integration
Engage a company that would be responsive to SHS property managers and residents
Streamline the billing process and eliminate problems and experiences of the past.
AmCoBi was chosen to make the monthly utility billing process more efficient and less time consuming for SHS staff members. To accomplish this, AmCoBi performs the following tasks:
Download monthly move-in/move-out updates from eSite
Work directly with the City of Tallahassee to obtain nearly 300 master-meter bills
Calculate, print, and mail monthly bills
Provide electronic billing services (eBill)
Offer professional, responsive customer service--phone and e-mail support--to residents and property managers
Upload monthly billing data directly into eSite--eliminating manual data entry
Provide detailed management reports so that SHS can monitor the billing process at all times.
"AmCoBi has been a huge time saver for us," commented Liz Harper, an accountant at SHS. "They have bent over backwards to help our company simplify our utility billing program," she said. "It's really automated now and the less we have to do in this area, the better," she added.
The first thing AmCoBi did was to coordinate with the City of Tallahassee to get master-meter bills directly. Property managers no longer have to compile and send this billing information.
Next, AmCoBi tackled how the nearly 300 master-meter bills were processed. AmCoBi wrote a software application that automatically extracts the data needed for resident billing from the master-meter bills. This improved data accuracy and minimized the need to physically transcribe billing values.
To address the data entry issue, AmCoBi created a custom billing data file that could be automatically imported into the eSite system. This saved SHS hours of staff time and all but eliminated an error-prone and tedious task. Getting the data file to work flawlessly required a few iterations but AmCoBi and SHS worked together till the process was finalized.
SHS has since provided AmCoBi with a secure access to eSite. Each month AmCoBi downloads move-in/move-out data and uploads end-of-the-month billing information directly. Because the billing process is more controlled and reliable, bills are sent out on time. "I'm pleased to say that billing issues don't hit my desk anymore," said Mr. Sauls.
Using its UtilityHawk application, AmCoBi analyzes resident consumption data from SHS' submetered properties, on a daily basis. Spikes in usage, normally indicative of water leaks or maintenance issues, are flagged and onsite staff members are notified. AmCoBi's monitoring program has identified several leaks and protected those affected residents from costly and unnecessary losses.
AmCoBi also uncovered mistakes in the way certain sales taxes were assessed by the City of Tallahassee. SHS was able to petition successfully for a refund of the overpayments.
"If your property management team is spending a lot of time and effort on utility billing, I recommend contacting AmCoBi," commented Ms. Harper. "They've made our monthly billing process more efficient and easier to manage. Now we can focus our time on renting apartments and servicing our residents instead of dealing with billing issues."