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In order to accurately and efficiently bill customers for their utility consumption, usage data must be collected and converted into billable units. However, this data collection process is very time consuming when done repeatedly for all customers. For this reason, utility providers of all sizes often turn to utility billing software to automate key tasks.
In this Buyer's Guide, we'll look at what capabilities utility billing software offers and the benefits associated with deploying it. We'll also look at specific considerations for different sized providers and some market trends you need to know about.
Here's what we'll cover:
What Is Utility Billing Software?
Utility billing software helps providers track usage of the utility services they offer, e.g., water, gas, electricity, wastewater and sanitation. It then helps these providers manage the billing process based on the usage data collected.
Different systems offer a range of functionalities such as meter management, invoice management and payment processing to manage the entire billing process. These software systems can be deployed either on your premises or in the cloud.
Common Features of Utility Billing Software
Vendors offer a variety of functional breadth and depth in their utility billing software. Here are some of the most common capabilities:
|Account management||Store searchable account information with searchable with fields such as customer names, addresses, phone numbers and any other user-defined fields. The account page can be customized to the utility provider's specific needs.|
|Meter management||View the complete usage history for any specific meter in both graphical and chart form, along with the option to print the bill.|
|Customer management||Centralized customer database that includes account notes, billing and interaction history and usage statistics. Enables customer service agents to provide quick and efficient service to customers and ultimately enhance customer relations.|
|Metered billing||Upload meter readings automatically from various electronic meter reading devices to the system and charge customers based on their usage. Meter devices are usually managed by the utility service provider, and the software is designed to integrate with commonly used devices.|
|Nonmetered billing||Enables billing for utilities offered through flat rates or fixed one-time charges. Nonmetered flat rates are usually higher than metered rates, and are often intended for higher volume usage customers.|
|Rate management||Manage complex utility rate calculations (such as different rates in different areas or varying normal and peak hour rates) and multiple pricing options. Create separate rate schedules and tier blocks for different areas and times of day.|
|Move in and move out||Move-in/move-out capabilities track the date when a customer moves in or out of the location where the meter reading device is installed to ensure you are billing the correct customer.|
|Online payment processing||Allows providers to offer flexible online payment options to their customers. Includes features such as emailed receipts, single payment for multiple bills etc. Maintains a record of all past payment transactions.|
|Penalty/cut-off processing||Allows users to define and create penalties based on multiple calculation methods for customers who make payments after the due date.|
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Before you start evaluating different utility billing systems, you'll want to know what buyer category you belong to and which features are most suited to your situation. You'll likely fall into one of the categories below:
Small utility service provider (fewer than 50 customers). These buyers have a relatively small number of customers in just one area. They'll require a simple utility billing system that manages their usage tracking and billing needs. Such buyers should look for solutions with basic features such as account management, meter management and metered billing.
Medium utility service provider (50 to 250 customers). These buyers have a growing number of customers that may be spread across more than one location, and they need a solution that will help them scale. They should opt for systems that offer additional features such as more robust customer management, nonmetered billing, move-in/move-out and online payment processing to make their overall processes more efficient.
Large utility service provider (more than 250 customers). These buyers have a high volume of customers across multiple locations. They require a system that efficiently manages their complex requirements. Such buyers should be looking for features such as nonmetered billing, rate management and penalty/cut-off processing.
Benefits of Utility Billing Software
Some of the more general benefits of introducing software to automate key tasks should already be apparent from this discussion. However, some of the specific benefits of implementing utility billing software include the following:
Identification of customer usage patterns. With this software, users can view the usage history of all customers in either graphical or chart form. This helps users identify customers that are heavy consumers of a utility service and take measures to maintain and enhance those relationships by offering discounts or other benefits. In addition, users can study the patterns to scale their business in heavy usage areas.
Managing multiple client locations. For a single customer with properties in multiple locations, utility billing software can help users manage billing either on a single invoice or separate bills, according to the customer's preference.
Data security. Cloud-based utility billing software offers encrypted data backups on a regular basis. Most of these systems are Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant and offer bank-level encryption through multiple servers. Safe and secure transactions help users build better customer relations since they can ensure all personal data remains safe.
Market Trends to Understand
Businesses looking to invest in utility billing software should keep the following market trends in mind as they evaluate systems:
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model becomes more widespread. SaaS, or subscription-based software, is becoming more common for nearly all types of utility billing systems. The benefits of these cloud-based systems are quite compelling; they include quicker and easier implementation, lower upfront cost and are often designed to have user-friendly interfaces.
Demand for tailored utility billing software. Currently, there is a wide range of utility billing software options that serve different sectors such as water, sewage, gas, cable, electricity, telecommunications and internet. Demand for exclusive products that cater to specific needs of these niche end-use areas is rising. Buyers are looking for utility billing software that is tailored to meet their needs, while improving operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.
Here are a couple of important factors to think about before you purchase utility billing software:
Deployment options. Utility billing software is available in both on-premise and cloud-based options. Typically, the upfront costs associated with cloud-based software are much lower than they would be with an on-premise solution. Use our Total Cost of Ownership calculator to analyze the short-term versus long-term cost differences between on-premise and cloud-based utility billing systems.
Integration requirements. Before purchasing new software, check whether the utility billing system you are considering integrates with other business tools you use, such as QuickBooks, Microsoft Excel, PayPal etc.
Payment compliance. As utility billing systems involve payments from customers, check whether the system complies with industry standards such as PCI DSS.