Billing and collections assessment

In light of changing consumption patterns, moratoriums on water shutoffs, and declining revenues attributable to COVID-19 impacts, utilities across the country are taking a close look at Customer Information System (CIS) data. The goal of this work is to identify billing errors that in many cases reveals revenue that was up to this point being left on the table. Sealing these revenue leaks is one way utilities can offset—at least in part—revenue losses caused by COVID-19.

Billings and collections assessments—also known as Revenue Audits—takes digital information from the CIS, revenue and collections data, delinquency data, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data to provide detail on the current state of billing and collections. Additional relevant sources of information such as tax data and census information are woven in for use as reference for economic indicators. Raftelis’ staff then analyzes the available information and provides a detailed description of possible causes of missed revenues.

Our approach involves key elements including:

On-site Kick-off Meeting – A series of meetings during one on-site visit sets the overall objectives of the project and offers fact-finding opportunities. This site visit frequently includes three Raftelis staff members who meet with Finance staff, Customer Service managers, and Information Services (IS) staff. The meeting with Finance staff includes a discussion of the project’s problem statement and the proposed methodology. A meeting with Customer Service staff helps Raftelis gather context on trends or recent issues that are common among the customers. Meeting with Information Services staff allows Raftelis staff to get to know the information systems involved in billing and collections to round out the complete picture of the billing process.

Data Collection and Preparation – The process continues by obtaining a copy of the CIS database backup to ensure that the most up-to-date data are available for the analysis. Raftelis staff will also request information not contained in the CIS such as information on payments and collections, delinquency data, and any other available customer service data. Additional information will also be gathered from IS staff including tax assessor or real property data, GIS parcel and meter location data, and publicly available information such as census data will also be compiled. All of these data sources will be gathered together in interchangeable formats so that comparisons and queries can be run on all of the data simultaneously under a variety of analysis scenarios.

Account Information Analysis – Analysis begins by examining customer accounts. The primary objective of the customer account analysis will be to determine the rate at which accounts are being created and deactivated within the service area. This initial phase of the account analysis is performed in an enterprise database environment and will result in tables and charts that summarize your state of accounts. Given sufficient GIS data, Raftelis will also perform a quick account to parcel or account to meter matching process to facilitate plotting active and inactive accounts geographically to look for spatial trends. Looking at accounts in GIS may reveal particular neighborhoods or areas where a high rate of abandonment is occurring. Account information can also be cross-referenced against tax assessor information to show where inactive accounts are occurring on properties that are also not current on their tax bills. This phase of the account analysis is performed in a GIS environment and results in maps and other visuals that communicate spatial patterns.

Billing Information Analysis Beyond looking for patterns in account activity, the analysis examines at the historical billing information available from the CIS. This task seeks to determine how fees billed by the utility have changed over time due to either demand or other drivers. The billing analysis is primarily performed in an enterprise database environment and results in tables and charts that summarize the history of billing.

Revenue Collection Information Analysis – Once a picture of billing history is in focus, the analysis continues by examining the client’s ability to collect its revenues. The revenue collection analysis begins by examining account characteristics within the CIS to identify those accounts determined to be delinquent and how long they have gone without paying the account in full. In some cases, Raftelis staff may discuss the collections process with staff to learn more about how delinquent accounts are tracked and pursued. Beyond basic indicators of delinquency, Raftelis staff will compile and analyze data on payments and collections on accounts throughout across the enterprise. Similar to the analysis of billing history described earlier, the revenue collection analysis will look at payments and collections in aggregate across over the time period available in the data provided. This analysis will locate clusters of accounts that have gone delinquent more recently to see if any commonalities can be discovered between them. This portion of the analysis will also use enterprise database and GIS tools where appropriate.

Present Findings – All of the information and findings developed during the project will be compiled into a report for review by staff. The report will contain sections highlighting the following areas:

  • Data and systems details
  • Billing and collections process details
  • Data collection and preparation details
  • Analysis methodology details
  • Findings and results
  • Recommendations and action items

To learn more, view our insight on offsetting revenue loss or see how we helped a major water utility in Mississipi with their revenue leaks.