Overcoming the Challenges of Manual Utility Billing Data

The fact is, if you use a manual process to record, reconcile, and pay utility bills, then, in all likelihood, there will be a mistake in the data.

The Big Zero report

Perhaps you’re about to sit down with your utility supplier to renegotiate your contract. Maybe you’re about to ask for a final sign-off on the organization’s energy budget. Either way, it’s a moment of truth, the culmination of months of work. As the decision-maker, you can feel the weight of responsibility on your shoulders. Your team has pored over reams of reports and waded through data to get you to this point. In fact, you’re surprised at just how much time and effort they’ve had to put in.

As you prepare to present your proposal, you feel less confident than you should. You can’t dismiss the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, some of the numbers are not quite right.

Manual utility bill data is error-prone.

The fact is, if you use a manual process to record, reconcile, and pay utility bills, then, in all likelihood, there will be a mistake in the data. In our experience, one in ten utility bills contains an error, whether it’s incorrect rates, overlapping billing dates, or issues with the meter data.

Trying to find and remedy these errors is an expensive business. Account reconciliation is often done on paper and can be incredibly time-consuming. Even when you do identify an error, the effort is not yet over. You’ll then need to raise and resolve a query or dispute with your supplier. If the billing error dates back several months or even years, it could take some time to agree on a resolution.

Poor data quality costs businesses an average of $15 million per annum, a significant amount of money to have to make up in increased sales. Bid identified utility billing errors of 1.4 million AUD for one of their global customers. Find a way to reduce data errors, and you’ll deliver a positive impact to the firm’s bottom line.

Like Bill Identity’s Utility Bill Management (UBM), using an automated utility bill validation platform provides certainty of data accuracy. UBM has a rigorous validation protocol to catch overcharges and mistakes as soon as they come in. This significantly reduces the need for account reconciliation and improves overall efficiency.

Manual utility bill data is slow.

Compared to the flexibility of electronic documents, paper is a pain. In a 2014 AIIM survey, two-thirds of respondents agreed that running a business at the speed of paper would be unacceptable within a few years. Almost half said that removing paper was the biggest single improvement they had made to productivity in their business.

Believe it or not, it can take up to 45 days for a utility bill to be processed manually. That time includes everything from the meter read to the availability of data for reporting. A large proportion of that—up to 28 days—is used up just getting the bill to your Accounts Payable team to process.

That time can cost your business money. A typical utility bill needs to be paid 21 days after the bill is released, or you risk additional fees and even disconnection. In some cases, the bill is due before your team has even looked at it.

The solution is to get your utility bills sent as PDFs. Doing so allows for faster payment, validation, and data collection. It also makes automation easier and quicker. The difference is significant: the reduced time lag between production and delivery means utility data hits your corporate systems much quicker.  That puts the business in a position to take advantage of early payment discounts and avoid late payment fees. Accurate and current data will support discussions on new contracts, budgets, and cost savings.

Manual utility bill data is resource-intensive.

Because of its complexity, managing utility spending without automation is slow and resource-intensive. Under such circumstances, the effort required to operate is not lost on accounts payable leaders; 47% say they want to eliminate paper and reduce manual tasks.

The four most significant pain points are: manual data entry, the need to move paper from one individual to another, lost or missing invoices, and dealing with paper invoices. All are issues that become more complex as an organization grows and, even in the most thriving of businesses, resources are not infinite.

The result is that well-trained and highly skilled members of the Accounts Payable team end up bearing the data-entry burden. The impact is felt in both morale and cost; bored workers are twice as likely to leave a company, which leads to the obvious expenses required to recruit and train a replacement.

Automation and data management software brings substantial time savings, requires less human involvement, and gives any business the confidence that the data is correct. The 24-hour workforce of orchestrated Robotic Process Automation (RPA) cuts down on the staff resources needed for utility bill payment and reporting. Robots process information faster and more accurately than their human counterparts, but they never stop to use the bathroom or go on vacation.

RPA frees the experts from data entry and allows them to tackle work they are interested in and better qualified to do; work that, in itself, will help the business identify other ways to save money.

Conclusion

Predictability and consistency inspire confidence. The next time you’re asked to stake your reputation on a report or recommendation, take the time to ask how the data is obtained.

If any part of the process is manual, there could be errors in the data, but it’s a sign there’s a significant opportunity to save time and money.

Bill Identity has identified eight ways to successfully gain control of your utility data. Find out how in our eBook Taking Control of Your Energy Data.

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