More than just software, prepaid billing remakes the business.
It revamps operations and changes the customer relationship.
There are no technical impediments that stand in the way for prepayment meters in North America. Whatever roadblocks do exist lie more with the state legislatures and with the culture of gas utilities and consumers."
Those comments come from Janet Penz, product manager (diaphragm meters) for Schlumberger Industries, speaking from her new Canadian office in Mississaugua, Ontario.
That picture tends to mesh with answers we received from other vendors and manufacturers when we asked them to comment on prepayment billing. Overall, they emphasized several points:
• Restructuring. Pay-as-you-go metering can revamp the utility's entire billing process, reducing bad debts and saving collection costs;
• Consumer Awareness. Prepaid metering turns the utility/ customer relationship on its head, offering choice and control to consumers;
• Legal Roadblocks. Laws or regulations may block some prepaid metering strategies in certain states; and
• System Integration. The next step means integrating pay-as-you-go metering with other technology applications, such as customer information systems (mainframe or client-server) or automated meter reading (AMR) equipment.
Carl J. Powell, sales manager, Siemens Measurements Ltd., speaking from his office in Oldham in the United Kingdom, sees "very few technical problems" in setting up a smart card system. "The technology is proven," says Powell. "The only problems I could see would be ones of customization of the metering product and the linking of the vending system to the main frame billing system of the utility."