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A Conversation on Utility Billing: Meet The Experts with Larry Foster

MuniBilling_And_HowTo.Agency_JVI Mobile

Our president, Larry Foster, was invited to speak on the Meet the Experts Podcast, hosted by Jay Vics from JVI Mobile, a local digital marketing agency.

Below is the transcription of the conversation between Larry and Jay:

Jay: Good afternoon, everyone. It is a happy Thursday to everyone. Uh, welcome to March. And if you're in the triad area today, it is absolutely fantastic outside. Uh, the weather has been great. It's it's warm. It's nice. Uh, I'm Jay Vicks. I'm the host of meet the experts. I, I run a small digital marketing agency in the Greensboro North Carolina area.

For those that don't know, uh, called JVI mobile marketing and, uh, meet the experts as a podcast where. We like to talk to other small business owners, mid-sized business owners and subject matter experts. So you don't have to own a business, but even if you're a subject matter experts, we want to find out about what you do, what, what products and services you have and, and really just put a spotlight, uh, on your businesses.

So today we have a really, really cool guest. I didn't really know this company existed until a few months ago. We were doing some recent. Um, and I can't wait to tell you all about, uh, Larry and his company, muni billing. So let me go ahead and bring Larry up here right now.

Hey, Larry, how are you?

Larry: Hey Hello Jay, are you doing?

Jay: Wonderful. Wonderful. Are you enjoying this weather in Greensboro today?

Larry: Look at the weather! I can't believe it's early March, not even a spring yet. 

Jay: I know it's absolutely incredible today. And I heard it. It's kind of seasonal, like all around the country. People are raving about the weather today. I think it's, I think it's just good weather across the country.

So, um, well, well, thanks for joining us today and let's dive into MuniBilling. So tell me a little bit about how long you've been in business here in the triad and, uh, and, and a little bit about what you do.

Larry: Well, it's a little bit of a winding journey for a. Technology story. So let me start a gentleman named John Yergi started the company in 2007 in Pennsylvania.

He started write some software for some utility companies and realized, Hey, there's a, there's a pattern here. You know, this is people really could help automation. Um, he saw the cloud coming on board about 2011. So. he headed out west found some engineers in Silicon valley and they built this cloud-based platform called MuniBilling.

But one of the customers actually resided here in Greensboro ,EEA companies. This is the building we live in right now and they liked the product so much. They decide to buy it. So they bought the company and then John moved the headquarters in 2016 here to Greensboro. And we've been residing here at a 3300 Stonebrook on battleground avenue since then.

Jay: Awesome. So it's, it's, it's a fascinating, uh, product and a career, you know, the, the taking care of, uh, municipalities, uh, you know, just taking care of all that operational stuff, but how did you get into how'd you get into this.

Larry: kind of another interesting story. Engineering. I ended up taking a job, uh, as an it director at a university.

And one of the first things I got assigned was telecommunications. They said the way we got some problems in telecom, we need you to look at it and see what's going on. I said, okay. So as I started looking at the problems, I realized that our supplier bills were much higher than our ability to allocate costs.

So AT&T, MCI, Meritech there,  you know, those bills were coming in at hundreds of thousands, but our revenue was only at tens of thousands. And back in that day, almost 30 years ago, telecom was a pretty expensive and rare commodity, not so much anymore with the invention of the internet and digital and all that stuff.

But the challenge was back then, um, data, you know, big billing systems reside in a mainframes and you didn't have access to data. We don't understand that today because we have access to infinite amounts of data it but back then it in a mainframe. And what you be able to do is once you produce a bill, a batch bill at the end of the day, end of the month, you could say, oh, there's the results.

And now what do you do? But the problem is all the, all the problems that already been created, all the crimes had been committed. So I needed a system, a billing system that allowed me to have real-time access to data because I knew if I could find out what was going on, then we could fix it. So what had happened is that we found out that.

Some clever students and a few prisons had a hacked our telecom system, and we're giving away free calls to the world, uh, to the tune of about $2 million. So our billing system didn't know how to deal with it. So it was just discarding the stuff. So, but once we had real time insight, we're able to say, oh, look, this is what's going on.

We were able to trace down the owners of the originators of those calls. And then we found out what was going on. So over a period of time, we were able to recover about 70% of the data, I mean, uh, money and stuff like that. But what that made me realize at the time was, you know, we need to democratize data. We need, we need access to data.

In real time. We there's so much value that that's where the concept of monetization of data came from. We can get economic value by having insights, data, not just looking at billing systems as something that produces a bill, it's a tool to help improve your business. So that's, that's how I got into it is, um, kind of a roundabout way, but I've been in billing since the early now.

Jay: That's awesome. And, and for those that may just be tuning in, I'm going to actually, uh, or, or anyone that's watching this now or later, I'm going to go ahead and put up a little ticker, uh, about, about your business in case anyone wants to get ahold of you. Um, so what would you say? Uh, and before that, if anyone wants, has a question for Larry or a comment about MuniBilling or for Larry, uh, you can drop those in the chat and, and, uh, hopefully we'll be able to show those on screen, but, but getting back to this, what would you say is your favorite part of your work?

What's your favorite thing to do? And what do you love? What you do?

Larry: I'd say it's two parts. There's the internal part. There's the external part. And internally I've always enjoyed my leadership position, developing leaders. And I look at leadership as two dimensions, and there's what you call the technical leaders, which are the internal and the individual contributors to the value stream.

That's the people that create your sales. Do your marketing, implement your software, you know, engineer the software, manage the service delivery customer. So you want to make individual help individuals become technical leaders in their own, right? Even though they're individual contributors, they're technical leaders, then the other part of it is helping people become what I call coaching leaders.

So not another philosophy. The way I like to run a company is what I call a holacratic culture. Where typically you have an organization where it's top down top, tell us the next tier, next tier, next tier , and a holacratic organization. You invert that. And you have your value stream, where you have your sales and marketing and implementation engineering, et cetera, et cetera, doing their job.

Think of it, almost like an assembly line of creating value. And then that role, the manager's job, the coach's job is to help them look at the playing field from the side of the field, help them understand. And they come to the coach. I need some help doing this. Their job is as a holacratic organization is to enable the value stream creator.

So I really love that. Of the internal side. Now, externally, as I mentioned before, is I love helping organizations to their digital transformation. I mean, that's what we do. We help organizations get away from the paper trails. They're communicating with their customers online. They go to portals can pay their bill, look at their bills, do trending, communicates, submit tickets rather than having to call up even email and all that funds or go to the office.

Or write a check and send the bill and, you know, it's all done digitally now. So I love that. And then as I mentioned earlier, it's also helping organizations when I call exploit the benefits of monetizing their data. So like I had that problem in the billing system, same thing with our customers. They have to have, they have very, uh, limited resources.

Our utility customers are acquiring gas and electric and water. Um, and then they're having to allocate those costs out so nobody can afford not know what's going on with that in real time. So I love those aspects, internal, external, and what we do for that.

Jay: That's awesome. And that's one of the things that I really found interesting about the company, because so much of what we do in digital marketing is taking these old traditional marketing methods and digitizing those.

And I, I just love the fact that there are, there are more and more of these types of tools and software programs and applications being developed to kind of do that in all facets of business for different niche industries, too, which I just thought was the coolest.

Larry: Absolutely digitizing digit. It's changing everything where you had very few people relying on mainframes.

Now, you know, look at the power you've got, you know, it just production studio, and now we're giving it to customers. And another thing that's changed, everything's in the cloud now. Right? So instead of having to go to an office to do something anywhere, anytime. iPad, phone, whatever people can access that information and be received notification and all that in real time.

It's, it's quite remarkable. What's changed.

Jay: It's funny you say that because as we've been doing this, talking about notifications, you know, it was a notifications going off on my project management tool here, and this tool here and emails come in and it is, but the fact that we can get those at Lightspeed and be able to stay on top of things, it kind of creates this always on culture.

Uh, but it's, but it's. It's improving the speed at which things get done and we're moving a lot faster. And I think it's a benefit at the end of the day. Um, so do you have other people on your team?

Larry: Yeah, we have a, I'd say a pretty dynamic, uh, collaborative virtual workforce, about 70% of our people reside here in, uh, Greensboro and the rest of them, you know, throughout the country and know that when I meant by a virtual workforce in the value stream, we've got, you know, marketing sales, implementation, client success.

Um, customer service engineering, product management, all that fun stuff is spread throughout. And then we get our, what we call your shared services from our parent company, EEA you know, HR, finance, marketing, all that fun stuff. So, yeah, it's quite a robust team.

Jay: Awesome. Okay. Well, that's, that's good to know. And, and, and as a, as someone who's trying to grow a team all the time and, you know, has been growing this, this team, it's always fun to hear about virtual versus in person and, and the world has definitely changed a lot there.

All right. So. MuniBilling. What are some common types of issues that you can help with?

Larry: I get it what's important to understand is our clients who are utility service providers, municipalities, or multifamily, or anybody who's provided a service. I would say they deal in absolutes. And what I mean by that is they absolutely need to produce their quality bills on time, has to happen.

Absolutely. And their customers absolutely want to receive a correct bill on time. And then both parties. Or neither and can afford to have be irresponsible. Because as I mentioned about data coming in real time, you know, these are limited resources. If I got a bill and this happens, happens all the time, it happens a lot.

I get a bill for water for two or 3000, sometimes $10,000. What happened? A water line broke or something happened. And it was on my side of the meter. And I didn't notice, I was on vacation.. Um, or we left something on and electricity bill went through the roof or we have a gas leak. So what these people want to do is I need this information absolutely in real time, anywhere, anytime.

And then the other part is, as I said, I mentioned it for utility service providers is we need to automate that process as much as possible. We're constantly, I'm very much of a lean, uh, lean philosophy looking at ways to identify. The ways to optimize processes, lean out waste. All right. So we do that. We provide the technology to help people do that.

And then the other side of it is not everybody has the technology services. You know, the pandemic people are having trouble hiring people. People are having trouble mitigating losses. People are, you know, in the industry they've been there 30 years now. They can't find a replacement. So we also offer what a professional managed services, which essentially augments our customers backend with service delivery teams to help them fill in the gaps or maybe even do the whole thing for them. So it's technology and managed services are two major components.

Jay: Okay. No, that's yeah. That's great. So, so when you say, um, when you say that, so w w you've mentioned the word value, uh, quite a bit.

And I, and I wanted, if I, if I were to ask you this, what do you think is the greatest value that clients derive from your solution? What would you say?

Larry: Yeah. That's why new businesses create value. So I'd say one is automating the life cycle, their operations by digitizing, you know, helping them with their digital transformation.

And then two is giving them what I call intelligent. You'll hear buzzwords like business intelligence and all that fun stuff, but helping them monetize the data. And then my interpretation or my definition of monetizing data is getting economic value from information. So as I said before, if I could get information real time, Hey, my water usage is going up, but I haven't increased my consumption.

Oh, that's information. I can work on to control a cost and get that fixed in real time. If I'm seeing something happening in the systems and kind of trends. Um, that, Hey, why all of a sudden nobody's there. They're not consuming any power. Well, something might be wrong there. Sometimes you'll find out we see all sorts of creative things that somebody electric bill went up because they found out some neighbor tapped into their line and they're consuming all sorts of energy and they never even knew it.

So automation, monetization, those are the two big things.

Jay: Very very cool. All right. So you talked a little while ago about, you know, kind of how the utilities were even just like 20 years ago, like how, how things have changed. Um, but, but if you were to pinpoint it, what do you think is the greatest transformation that's occurring in your industry right now?

Larry: We're on the very cusp of it. All right. So a lot of the infrastructure used to produce, you know, the utilities, water, gas, electric, what have you we're created and architected over a hundred years ago. I mean, these, these lines have been in there. Sewer lines been in there for a hundred years and we're having to rethink

everything across the globe. So these are limited resources. There's only so much water. You hear about it all the time out west. Hey, we got limited real water. We got to figure out ways to do that. So what's where does the billing system come into play? If we're able to help people monitor their consumption in real time, then they can take corrective action.

You know, my brother lives in California. If they consume too much water in one day, they get a big old red sticker on their door. It looks like you've been evicted and it's a huge, fine, it could be a thousand, $1,500, $2,000. You've repeated offense date. They almost cut you off. It's really not good. What's happening in this industry is people are looking for renewables.

People are in a bitter renewal. Can't be some big power plant that's built out in the middle of nowhere with a huge transmission lines. It has to be produced locally, local water, local gas, local electric. So that means the utility providers are now becoming much more involved. So they're going to be looking at how they consume it, how they receive it, how they consume it.

So they need information and much more. Real-time much more detailed information and the end consumer. Is now entering a collaborative event because you're starting to see these little companies, little towns pop up with co-op. So we're seeing a huge paradigm shift is probably on the very cost it's going to, you know, one of these things, something like this, these transformations take 10, 15, 20 years, but really it's all gonna be dependent on how can we lean out waste?

How can we help with the automation and how can we get data to people to make decisions and real time manner. So that's the biggest things happen in industry. The value proposition becomes even more important as we work to get better and better at those too, by collaborating with our customer.

Jay: Sure I couldn't help, but think, and that is so funny that you're talking about this.

I couldn't help, but hear like, like my wife's, uh, my father-in-law's voice, like, you know, like, um, shut the door, you're letting the air, you're heating the whole rest of the world. Like I kept, I came here and like the old saying of like, you know, close the door behind you, turning the lights out behind you and it's almost like you've created the solution that will make every dad be like, look, this is how much you're costing me. We hate you need to close the door. You know, it's really funny. So yeah, I knew there was a dad joke in there somewhere, but I really do see the advantage in being able to, um, monitor and control the everything in real time.

I think that's, uh, that's a, it's an amazing value proposition for the end user, for the, for the homeowner, for the renter, for, for whatever. Um, I think that's, that's excellent.

Larry: Because what happens over time with our number crunching our business intelligence, we'll be able to help them predict where they're going to be.

That's pretty straight forward. Here's what you're doing here. You're going to be, and then over time as you collect more and more data, You get to you hear terms like artificial intelligence and things of that nature machine learning. It actually does more statistical analysis of the data. And then you're actually able to prescribed information.

So instead of having subscribing to all these different things, people are getting 15 notifications. Everybody gets a bill. Everybody has a service provider. We can amalgamate unify that information and provide it to them in a way that they can get economic benefit from it. They're not just using us to produce a bill they're using us to actually, um, gain economic value.

Jay: Awesome. That is real. I mean, you're, you're the fact that you have this, this technology and this platform is just, it's just awesome. To me. It's just, it's one of those things that is just seems so cool.

Larry again, thank you so much for being a guest today on meet the experts it's been, it's been great having you. Um, I think what you're doing is wonderful and I'm so glad that it's here in Greensboro and, uh, hope to talk to you again real soon.

All right. There was Larry Foster with MuniBilling. What a really, just a great tool for municipalities and, and really for the, the, the end user, uh, to have ha to be able to, to track this stuff in real time and really, uh, understand where they're consuming, uh, utilities. So, again, as I said at the top, uh, my name is Jay Vicks.

Meet the experts, JV I'm mobile marketing. If you would like to be a future guest. On meet the experts. Please go to guests dot advertising, You could see it scrolling across the ticker. I was wanting to go backwards here, but guests that advertising and we have a couple more episodes in the works and look forward to seeing you all soon.

So if you're in the triad, go outside and enjoy this great day. Now that this episode is over and we'll talk to you real soon. Have a great one.


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