The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) in Karnataka serves approximately 9.5 million customers and is responsible for the supply of potable water, including planning, construction, management, and operations and maintenance of the water supply system, in the city.
Poor billing and collection practices had led to the board’s inability to recover costs from its service delivery. As a result, BWSSB found it difficult to provide adequate services to citizens, and to properly operate and maintain infrastructure facilities. Moreover, the low revenue collections hurt the creditworthiness of the board, affecting its ability to raise funds from the market for various capacity augmentation projects.
To address these issues, BWSSB has been implementing various initiatives to streamline the billing process and make it more transparent, and ensure efficient revenue recovery. These include developing an online bill collection system, setting up bill collection kiosks at various locations, and launching a mobile application for registering complaints and tracking the water supply system.
To improve water billing and revenue collection, the board initiated the BWSSB Ganakeekrutha Grahakara Seve (BGS), which envisages the delivery of a range of government services to citizens through its 26 subdivision offices connected by a local area network. Stakeholders, government officials, system integrators, citizens and vendors were consulted regularly at different stages of the project for requirement analysis and successful implementation. The application was tested by a third party before rolling it out to the subdivisions.
The National Informatics Centre (NIC) was the technology partner, consultant, developer and implementer of the BWSSB project. The software was developed using Microsoft-based Visual Basic and SQL Server 2000/2005 with barcode and biometric technology, and all the core business logic/procedures were written as database-level procedures. The core BGS system was given to a reputed third party for functionality and security testing. The board recruited four technical engineers and two temporary staff specialised in software to support the smooth implementation of the project. NIC gave training to the subdivision staff at the operator, supervisory and officer levels. As BGS is a citizen-centric application and water distribution, billing and collection is the core business of BWSSB, the NIC has positioned a team at the board’s head office for addressing any critical issues and continuously upgrading the application.
Prior to the implementation of the BGS, manually written bills were issued. These bills were often found to be inaccurate and failed to highlight the actual consumption and other details of consumers. Ledgers were maintained manually, but their accuracy level was low. Management information system reports, required to improve the overall efficiency, were not available. It was in this context that the board adopted an IT-driven, customer-friendly revenue and billing collection system.
To improve the system, the NIC analysed the manual system, the existing subdivisional-level computerisation and BWSSB’s requirements. The payment options for residents, earlier available for only four hours at the subdivisional offices, were changed and new 24×7 bill payment facilities introduced. A total of 74 cash collection kiosks were installed at existing cash counters and at strategic locations to help citizens pay their water and sewerage bills. A single-window clearance system, Bangalore One, was established to clear payment dues and an electronic clearing system facility also provided by the water board. Changes in customer details, such as commercial/domestic connections, bore size, meter reading, etc., were carried out through biometric authentication.
Some of the services offered through the BGS system include pre-fixed reading days for meter readers, monitoring abnormal consumption patterns, generating bills with detailed demand structure and historical payment details. Bills are secured by barcodes and cash counter information is encoded with a media access control address. The collection data is aggregated from kiosks, Bangalore One and cash counters through the barcodes and transmitted to the head office. The data is then posted to the respective subdivisions through SQL merge replication technology. Single bills with multiple payments and multiple bills with single-payment options are also provided at these centres. These initiatives have helped increase customer interface and improve the bill collection process significantly. BWSSB has an integrated workflow-based new water connection module, and has started a spot billing service to improve transparency in billing practices. A facility to register grievances through an interactive voice response system has also been provided by the water board.
To further enhance the billing system, BWSSB has recently launched a facility on its website, which enables consumers to apply for new water and sewerage connections online. Consumers can log on to the civic agency’s website and click on the “Apply for New Connection” link, and register with the board by providing a valid email address and mobile number. Upon successful registration, BWSSB will provide the customer a consumer ID and password that can be used to apply for new connections. Consumers have to make a payment for the application form and provide the requisite documents online.
The civic agency has also launched a mobile application to register consumer grievances related to water supply services. This application can be easily downloaded from BWSSB’s website. Customers can use the application to lodge a complaint and track its status using the complaint number generated. In addition, consumers can locate water kiosks in the city for making water bill payments and access information regarding water supply timings. Plans are afoot to provide a bill payment facility through the mobile application, which will make the entire system accessible on a single platform.
The initiatives taken by the board have helped bring more customers under the billing umbrella, thereby streamlining its billing mechanism and increasing revenue collection. The online bill payment system will not only reduce customer servicing costs, but also improve transparency in billing practices. The increasing revenue gains resulting from these initiatives are expected to help the board take up more development projects. It will also encourage other water utilities to undertake similar projects for improving their financial performance.