Bringing Utility Billing to Telecom Speeds

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Smart meter systems, like cellphone networks, transmit and crunch a lot of real-time customer data, and customers don’t particularly like it when their bills don’t come out right. Can tools that phone companies use to make sure bills are accurate and in real time, end up helping utilities? That’s the idea behind a partnership between Convergys, maker of software that helps telecom and cable companies manage customer data data, and smart meter data specialist eMeter.

The two companies have teamed up to help utilities with this looming customer billing issue, and said this week that they’ll partner on helping utilities bring their legacy, batch-based billing and customer care systems up to speed, while “reducing any potential risks which may arise during deployment” of smart meters or other smart grid systems.

That sounds like just the kind of help utility Pacific Gas & Electric could have used in its multi-million smart meter deployment. The utility has faced a customer backlash over its smart meters, and while a report found that the technology worked, it also dinged the utility for not using it to collect data and inform its customers about smart meter installations.

Convergys’s “relationship management” software is in place for a host of big telecommunications and cable customers already, and it’s also developed a version of software specifically for utilities. It landed a big customer, Duke Energy, in September 2009. As for eMeter, the startup has utility clients including Texas-based CenterPoint, Toronto Hydro Electric System, Bluebonnet, and Vattenfall in Sweden and Finland, along with many others, and raised $12.5 million in venture capital in July.

Utilities will definitely face challenges in bringing close to real-time data to customers. While many smart meter networks can theoretically deliver data in as little as 15 minute increments, almost all utility back-office billing IT is done in batch processing style. Replacing that will take a big investment in IT upgrades, or a change to new models of utility customer pricing.

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Image courtesy of Amayzun.

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