South East Water is to pilot a Web-based bill payment and presentation system using an application service provider (ASP).
The utilities company hopes that the pilot will help minimise back-office integration.
Despite massive promotion by IT suppliers, few users have been able to see the advantage of handing over the running of business software to an application hosting company.
Mark Foulsham, South East Water's head of IT, said the business advantages made the pilot worthwhile. "The underlying benefits are flexibility and reliability with strong physical and virtual security. It will allow us to move more quickly and frees us from our legacy system."
Tight service level agreements have given Foulsham the confidence to hand over the running of critical business systems.
The Ebillity system from iDesk will be rolled out to a limited group of South East Water's customers over the next two months, then to a greater number over a six-month period. It is hoped to have the system fully implemented in time for the company's peak billing spike in February 2002.
The service is being delivered discretely to the existing billing datastream. Customers who choose the e-billing option will have their information diverted to iDesk.
Foulsham said, "At present our legacy systems are being upgraded and we do not want to have to go through the exercise of integrating the e-billing system. In this way the ASP model has provided a close fit with our technical and organisational structure."
Security is addressed by iDesk's use of Exodus as a hosting supplier. Exodus offers 24-hour physical and virtual security at its hosting facility, which is based on fibre-optic networking and Sun Ultra servers.
According to Foulsham, the system will give customers greater choice over how billing is delivered. It will help cut costs for the company by introducing a self-service model which will take pressure off the company's call centre.
It is also hoped that the costs of implementation will not be high and that it will proceed smoothly. "The beauty of the solution is that there will not be a great deal of back-office integration necessary. We have devised a rigorous project management plan - we do not want to compromise the implementation by rushing it," Foulsham said