By Melusi Maposa, Managing Director for Accenture Utilities in South Africa
The challenges that the city of Johannesburg has been experiencing with its billing system are well known. Inaccurate readings, the continued and seemingly increasing reliance on estimate-based billing and the inability to resolve issues have hampered the City’s ability to become a responsive and service-driven city. Issues with the billing system also naturally translate to service-delivery issues due to the city’s reliance on revenue collected to fund its priority initiatives.
For many responsible rate payers, the threat of disconnection – due to non-payment of inaccurate bills and delays in dispute resolution – has become a daily reality and the source of frustration and anxiety. The City’s residents also constantly complain about the frustrations encountered when they try to access official channels for complaints and queries – the experience is, mildly put, stressful.
The situation highlights the problems that many metros and municipalities face. However, there are solutions.
The challenge: controls, incentives and communication
In any large metro area, accurate billing poses a challenge. Credit collections even more so. One of the primary issues is control – ensuring that the data coming into the system (covering both customer information and usage) is correct, and that once within the billing system that information is handled appropriately. Fundamentally, rate payers must believe that their bills are correct before they pay. Additionally, bills must be delivered to the customer timeously.
A strong social contract between a city and its ratepayers forms part of any workable billing and credit collections solution. When residents trust the accuracy of their bills and are able to interact with their city in a way that is convenient and which they prefer – be that via a mobile app, the internet, telephonically or in person – the interests of the city and its residents begin to align.
Digitisation plays a big role here. By allowing residents to raise queries or modify their personal data online or via an app, the city could benefit from a reduction in its administrative workload.
Other elements of a functional billing and credit collection system include strong end-to-end governance of the revenue value chain and correct design and implementation of rates.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of the actual billing system, the city needs to align its internal processes and its people’s aims and objectives to achieving a user-friendly and accurate billing system. Internal processes need to be correctly mapped to both people and technology, and rewards and incentives should encourage billing excellence.
Making sure people come first
While the task faced by any city currently struggling with billing issues may seem overwhelming, there are opportunities and routes for reform – smart metering, prepaid options, improved information governance, rate stratification and better communication channels among them.
Any change-programme must, however, involve a human-first approach. At the core of any city are its residents, and ensuring that the ultimate solution works for them, and sensitively tackles issues of social responsibility.
In all spheres of business, Accenture maintains a human-centred approach when enabling clients to solve the challenges they face. By leveraging the power of technology and, simultaneously, addressing problems from a deeply human perspective, it becomes possible to enable our clients to ‘lead in the new’ – to use digital solutions to bridge the divide between what is and what could be.