Encouraging Water Conservation with Next Generation Billing Technology

New billing technologies are being adapted to help water utilities encourage water conservation. They offer more sophisticated ways to measure and bill for accurately bill for water consumption, which can in turn improve water conservation rates.

New billing technologies are being adapted to help water utilities encourage water conservation. They offer more sophisticated ways to measure and bill for accurately bill for water consumption, which can in turn improve water conservation rates.

By Chris Lewis

Can something as simple as the water bill really affect water conservation practices and reduce overall demand? It can if the data and information are combined with not only an individual's ethical motivation to reduce consumption but also with a financial incentive that will motivate them as well.

The old adage "you can't manage what you can't measure" certainly rings true when it comes to water management and conservation strategies. Unfortunately, many cities are still using outdated measurement systems that bill customers for water based on square footage of the home or building they occupy. Without data showing consumption and related costs, it is virtually impossible to encourage customers — especially businesses — to reduce. With this in mind, here are a few ways that next-generation billing technologies can help.

Information is Power. Information as it relates to the water bill needs to be more than just consumption multiplied by a flat price. Information becomes truly powerful when it helps consumers understand what processes, equipment and technologies in their home or business are using water, at what times of day and, most importantly, what the associated costs are.

Predicting the Future. Even more powerful in helping conservation efforts are billing technologies that help consumers predict how changes in consumption patterns — or adoption of more efficient equipment — will result in cost savings. Reporting portals and Business Intelligence solutions that can help prove results after projects have been implemented, tested and measured, add additional insight and value.

Communicate the Successes. Imagine the ability to link a communication strategy with billing technology to show progress on efficiency initiatives, communicate results and share information and tips about how to conserve water resources. Communication could also include promoting upcoming programs that would propel consumers into thinking more seriously about the benefits of water conservation.

Next generation billing technology can help reduce water consumption when part of an overall strategic water conservation initiative. That said, installation of new meters carries a cost that is typically passed on to the end customer. In addition, there can be cost increases after new meter technology is installed. One way to manage the initial cost of handling more complex data is with a Managed Service approach to technology.

With a Managed Service approach, billing technologies are outsourced to third party organization that handles the data and invoice process (often from customer information input to the printed bill). Managed service solutions can offer a lower cost to implement and typically offer greater flexibility with technology enhancements and complex rate calculations. This type of service also allows for reliable cost forecasting and some arrangements preserve the important jobs of the utility call center staff while augmenting the IT resources and expertise for the technology function.

Water utilities are also in a position to look at other industries that have implemented advanced metering and complex billing technologies and learn from them. Specifically, evaluating and reviewing recent changes in the electricity industry as it relates to various Smart Grid and AMI projects can provide useful insights. Information on consumer adoption rates and consumption pattern changes can help water utilities ensure that any change to metering or billing is successful and accepted by the end user.

The water utility industry as a whole must evolve to meet water resource scarcity issues by continually augmenting strategic water management initiatives to measure what resources are consumed and when, as well as to encourage conservation by the end user. Using next-generation billing technology is a step in the right direction. With it, water utilities can incorporate more sophisticated ways of measuring and billing for water consumption, which will in turn improve water conservation rates.

About the Author: Chris Lewis is the Director of Market Development for Cognera Corp. Cognera offers billing and customer care solutions to enable Competitive Energy Retailers and Utilities to meet increasing customer demands and industry requirements.
Web: www.new.cognera.com

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