Data problems hit power firm

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Data problems hit power firm

Mike Simons
IT and data problems have sent the fast-growing electricity and gas supplier Independent Energy to its bankers for extra credit.

Mike Simons

IT and data problems have sent the fast-growing electricity and gas supplier Independent Energy to its bankers for extra credit.

The firm has been hit by billing system problems, which last month meant it had only billed for £35m of the £130m worth of electricity sold in the second half of 1999.

Independent's original billing system was supplied by Vertex, the outsourcing arm of United Utilities. The company was forced to bring in X-Team, part of the Compaq group, to build a bespoke work-around system that by last week allowed Independent to bill for a further £52m of sales.

Clive Hencher, Indep-endent's director of customer operations, said, "X-Team has created another billing platform which allows us to send interim bills and increasingly accurate bills over the coming months. You can't buy an electricity billing package off-the-shelf and install it overnight."

Competition in the utility sector depends on the free flow of data between market participants and Hencher said, "Some of the data we have been sent is incorrect, invalid or corrupt. None of this is surprising."

Sources at electricity regulator Ofgem confirmed that poor data supplied by the regional electricity companies, whose clients were being poached by Indep-endent, was responsible for much of the problem.

Independent now hopes to be able to bill all customers on their full meter readings - on agreed tariffs - in two months. However, it will still have to go through a time-consuming reconciliation process to sort out interim payments.

The billing problems knocked £1m off the group's first half profits of £12.1m. Interest payments on the delayed revenues plus the cost of implementing the new solution will cost a further £2m in the second half, according to Independent's chief executive John Sulley.

  • At the end of the month Ofgem will review the sanctions it imposed on Northern Electric and Gas last year, following failures caused by a new computerised billing system. The regulator ordered the crackdown after Northern topped the league table of customer complaints, with a rate four times higher than that of the next worst supplier.

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