Most Indian water supply utilities are under severe financial strain due to a lack of metered connections, inefficient billing practices, low water tariffs and poor cost recovery, etc. To ensure the financial sustainability of water supply projects, it is imperative that a robust water billing and revenue management system is in place.
To this end, the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Nagaland government, launched the state’s first computerised billing system for water supply in Kohima district.
Benefits of the system
At present, the department caters to 6,072 domestic and 12 commercial consumers in the district. Prior to the launch of the computerised system, PHED was collecting revenue through a conventional, manual billing method. However, the majority of the manual billing methods lack operational efficiency, involve large volumes of data and are prone to human errors. Billing errors entail additional costs for both the service providers since rectifying errors requires another round of billing as well as consumers who spend time on issuing complaints against incorrect bills. In addition, it increases the number of complaints to be redressed by the utilities.
To address these issues, PHED developed a computerised billing system for issuing and collecting water bills in Kohima district. The system, operationalised in October 2016, requires consumers to register themselves in order to access the water bills generated online. The software application for the system will enable the department to maintain a record of information pertaining to outstanding bills, payment receipts, etc.
It will also help in accurate data collection and maintenance. The system will not involve any data input processes, which are time consuming in nature. Further, the computerised system will enable the department to timely raise and collect bills, and account for their daily collection of water dues. It will also bring down the per unit cost of bill collection. In addition, the billing cycles can be reduced through this system, leading to higher cash flows and financial stability. Thus, revenue management will become much more effective and efficient.
Given the various benefits of a computerised system, the upgraded water billing system in Kohima is a step in the right direction. Going forward, PHED is planning to install more payment counters in the district through banking institutions. This will enable consumers to pay their water bills through credit/debit cards and internet banking options. Moreover, the fast billing process will help in quick service delivery leading to high customer satisfaction.
Going forward, the computerised system will act as the foundation for more technology-based initiatives to be deployed in the state. PHED can build on the system to launch spot billing services through hand held data logger devices, enable geographic information system mapping and provide facilities to make payments in instalments as well as offer discounts for upfront payments. In addition, it will allow the utility to analyse the status of non-revenue water and illegal connections in Kohima district. Such measures can assist PHED in streamlining its revenue collection process and identifying its focus areas for improvement.
The launch of the computerised billing system is the first step towards the implementation of more technology initiatives in Kohima. PHED is planning to soon install similar water billing software in all major towns in Nagaland. However, for the successful implementation of such initiatives, civic participation and cooperation are required. Citizens will have to ensure timely payment of bills and the state’s water taxes. In addition, PHED personnel are required to ensure timely collection of meter readings, proper supervision and efficiencies in work. Once these requirements are met, the service provider will be able to financially sustain its operations and provide better public services.