Near the end of last year, Global Water customers received notifications they needed to change the address where they were sending their payments and correspondence.
The message was straight-forward, but behind the scenes the company was scrambling.
FATHOM Water Systems, the company that handled much of Global Water’s customer relations – including billing and call center, announced it was closing down. FATHOM had been formed by Global Water during the recession before it was sold in 2013 to an investor group led by a private equity firm.
“FATHOM notified us Nov. 9 that they would be terminating operations as of Nov. 30,” General Manager Jon Corwin said in a presentation to Maricopa City Council Tuesday. “That’s a pretty short timeline, only about three weeks. We had to essentially take their services and find an alternative solution or bring it in-house.”
He said typically that kind of transition takes at least six months.
Across the country, FATHOM’s 16 municipal and private utility clients were left in the same boat as Fathom announced it was shutting down “due to financial difficulties.”
A statement reading, “Despite a massive effort this year, we have not been able to secure an investment or additional debt to save our business,” was about the only explanation FATHOM provided to clients. Its shutdown timeline eventually was extended into mid-December.
FATHOM, Corwin said, gave Global the opportunity to go with another vendor. However, Corwin said that would have included an eight-year contract and a 65% increase in costs. For the company and the rate-payers, he said, that would have been “unacceptable.”
“So, ultimately, we decided to go it alone and bring those services back in-house.”
Corwin said Global had a contingency plan in case Fathom stopped operating. That included hiring 12 former FATHOM employees. He said Global had expected to transition away from FATHOM to in-house serves eventually, though not anticipating it would go in “the manner that it did or as quickly as it did.”
From Covina, California, to Rutland, Vermont, municipal and private utilities rushed to find solutions as well. Some quickly found new vendors, while others chose Global Water’s path of moving the services in-house.
Reestablishing relationships with other vendors and signing new contracts were a priority. There were also delays in information being updated in the customer portal. In Cedar Hill, Texas, January bills were delayed, so a moratorium was placed on disconnects and extra fees. Menlo Park, California, too, anticipating late billing, lifted all late fees even before the transition.
Corwin said Global Water “worked intensely” with several vendors to acquire software platforms to continue services as smoothly as possible. Services needed were customer portal, billing, call center, customer information center, advanced metering data collection and work orders.
The call center, he said, had “reduced functionality for about a week and a half.”
The transition is ongoing, but some hiccups are expected. “The Process went about as smoothly as it could have gone.”
Mayor Christian Price thanked Global for the accommodation made to customers. “I know it could have been a very ugly process.”
Global Water also provided updates on completed, ongoing and new projects, including the upcoming extension of a 16-inch water main to Loma Road to serve Estrella Gin Business Park.
In response to a query from Councilman Henry Wade, Corwin said he thinks the Corporation Commission appreciates and respects the work Global Water is putting into the projects.
Councilwoman Julia Gusse publicly commended Corwin for the company’s behind-the-scenes accommodations for veterans. “I know one of the things we’ve been talking about back and forth is making sure our vets that are deployed aren’t paying the exorbitant cost of having their water on when they’re not even at home, so thank you for addressing those.”