It is December 1995. A man wearing jeans and a shirt runs frantically into the office on Bergmannstraße in Berlin-Kreuzberg carrying a large box. A box that could not be any fuller. Not full of tasty treats from the supermarket next door but filled with paper. Mountains of paper. Small slips, large slips, printed or handwritten.
Saying a brief hello to his colleagues, he then places the box in the row of other boxes which the many hard-working meter readers brought to Bergmannstraße the day before, the day before that and the day before that. “Fortunately, the peak is only once a year,” he thinks to himself and, as always, calls out a cheery “See you next week!”.
Digital data are replacing mountains of paper
We leap forward in time to January 2017: Adrian Wosch is sitting at his PC in Großbeerenstraße in Potsdam, where the ista branch moved to in 1999. Things are hectic in the area manager’s office – a phone call here, quick typing there and from the left the question as to where you have to click again in the SAP mask so the report from the device centre lands in the customer centre in good time. The man with the boxes of paper is now only very rarely seen here.
Most of the work that goes into generating a heating cost bill has to be done between November and February.
However, 20 years later, even without paper and with digital metering devices, the winter months are a special time for billing companies. “The winter is always an extremely busy time for us – the peak time in our business year because most of the work that goes into generating a heating cost bill has to be done between November and February,” says Adrian Wosch on the phone. The area manager is an old hand at this business and last year he celebrated 25 years of working for the company. So he knows all about the processes and practices involved in consumption metering – and how they have changed over the years. “We used to have to work through mountains of paper. We received boxes of meter readings, information from landlords and property managers on tenants moving in and out as well as reports on changes in the ownership of apartments and multi-family buildings which we then had to process – all by hand of course.”
Roughly 9 million data sets
Today, the consumption figures are read digitally – at least in most cases. In addition to the meter readings, most of which are nowadays already transferred to our servers by radio during the year, ista also receives some 9 million data sets during the billing period containing information which has to be processed for the heating cost bill.
“That’s a lot of data but when you’ve been here as long as I have, you know how to keep a cool head,” Adrian Wosch says. And you definitely need a cool head as an area manager. For as direct managers of some 1,000 properties on average, they are the absolute experts who know all about the devices, meter reading records and any special cases regarding their properties, or multi-family buildings as we call them, and have an answer to most questions.
But what actually happens in this peak time for heating cost billing? “The peak begins in November for us. Every area manager then plans the meter reading of his properties, some 90% of which have to be processed by the deadline, December 31. The main task at this time is to allocate our service partners who read the meters to the properties. But many special aspects also have to be taken into account: Is the automatically generated order correct, does a device have to be replaced or does a customer have any special requests that have to be taken into consideration?” says Adrian Wosch, describing his working day in November and December.
All readings, whether they are read remotely or not, have to be checked for plausibility.
There is also a separate process for each special case. “In January, we then receive the meter readings from the metering devices which are not yet read electronically – the deadline for this is the beginning of February. Admittedly, the volume of manually read data is much smaller than it used to be because most devices are already read using the radio system but all readings, whether they are read remotely or not, still have to be checked for plausibility. That’s what our colleagues do in the service centres, which is also where the heating cost bills are generated. We and the service centres have to work really closely together as we are again responsible for coordinating and managing any necessary follow-up work and queries.”
After billing is before billing
While the peak for the service centres continues until the middle/end of May, things in the Potsdam branch generally get slightly quieter in early April. “But only slightly because now it is once again time to start replacing devices. In order to comply with the prescribed calibration periods, we have to replace the devices in the properties every 5 to 10 years. We start this work in the spring and continue right into the autumn.”
It never gets monotonous and boring, Adrian Wosch says: “I like my job very much. Of course, the good collaboration with my colleagues and satisfied customers are part of the reason why I love it but it is also the constant new challenges I have to deal with. So much has changed over the years – nothing is the same as it once was.”
And that’s good as digitalisation, and above all the paperless property, is certainly changing things for the better. So the only interesting question that remains is what will things be like in the branch in Großbeerenstraße in December 2027?