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The redesign of the billing system started by studying the old system. We studied the various steps the flow of information went through, finding out who received what report, if the report was used at all, how the person used that information, and if he could do the same or better with more or less information. We also questioned if the person receiving the report was the best person to receive it. If the answer was somebody else, then that person was interviewed also. The results were that some reports were eliminated altogether and others changed to provide different information. Some features were added to the system to make it more effective as a whole.

  1. The routes followed by the power company's meter-readers were analyzed and new routes were proposed. The information given to the meter readers needed to change to add some controls over the readers. These changes were not implemented due to strong opposition by the Union and other factors.
  2. The size of the record of the master file was increased to provide room for more fields, and a larger key needed in the previous process (see A). The new key was not implemented, but the space in the file was provided to make it easier in the future to implement A.
  3. Power Company keypunchers were interviewed about the design of the input cards, to make the keypunching process faster and easier to correct. All cards had to be keypunched and verified.
  4. The programming language used in the system was changed from RPG to COBOL, to make it easier to maintain. Programming standards were put into effect. Source libraries were created to provide a standardization of the names used in the system. The bill sent to the consumer was redesigned to:

  5. The system had two main flows of data, one for normal households and another for big power users. The later required several readings to account for the reactive energy, peak and off-peak consumption etc.
  6. The readers provided the readings to the MIS department to be keypunched. The readings went through an edit program that created a file of good readings, and a report on errors detected. This report was analyzed and the corrections keypunched and fed to the system. Then the billing process was done in two steps:

    • Calculation of charges and bill printed
    • Consolidation
    These two steps were designed so that step one could be run several times without any consequences. Step two could only be performed once.

After the billing, came the report process. There were reports on accounts aging, energy billed, and information needed by the accounting department, etc. The system could bill average power usage in case of a strike by the meter readers. The billing process was staggered throughout the month. There were many different types of customers: Users with energy meters, users charged on a fixed rate basis, industrial users, rural customers, and employees (paid only 25% of the bill as a fringe benefit). The rate paid by the customer depended on the geographical area and other factors. The different taxes included in the bill varied depending on the customer and his location in the city or out of the city. The end of the month process included printing monthly reports, cleaning up the master file, and transfer of records to a bad debt file. The billing system provided information to the payroll system. The power bills belonging to employees were deducted from the employee's paycheck. The other process was dependent on the payments. Each cashier provided a batch of receipts with the total collected through her cash register. The computer added the receipts and compared it with the total provided by the cashier. If the difference was less than an amount X, the batch was accepted, otherwise it had to be examined by the supervisor of the cashiers before being processed. The next step was to update the master file with the payments. Then reports were sent to accounting and to operations. This process was performed daily for city users. Rural areas were processed monthly. After the payments were completed, we processed the disconnections. This subsystem detected which customers were candidates to be disconnected due to lack of payment. Customers owing three or more months, which owed more than a minimum amount "Y", were reported to operations so that their power could be cut off. This minimum was set, so that the amount to be collected justified the effort of a trip by the truck. Collection on big debtors had priority when there was an urgency for funds. The number of disconnections reported were limited to a number "X", depending on the resources available and the plans of the operations department. The last key reported was saved, so that the process could restart from that point the following day. With industrial customers the report was sent to the finance department, not operations. That way the customer could be contacted about it, without suffering a power cut. For some industries, a power cut could cost many times the amount owed on the power bill. Another subsystem was used to handle the cases where a customer could pay a large debt on an installment basis, without suffering a loss of service. The accounting department would provide information on the amount to be financed, number and the amounts of the payments. These payments were added to the master file before the billing process. during a crisis, an estimating system was developed to enable the Power Company to run the billing system despite a local union strike.