As a utility, your billing needs are unique. You need a software package that will meet these unique needs. Utility billing software will not only meet these unique needs but will automate much of your billing process. From meter reading, to invoice compilation and payment processing, utility billing software will give you everything you need to monitor and manage your entire billing process.
This guide will provide information on the following topics:
Utility Billing software aids in invoicing customers of utility services, such as gas, water, electricity, and more. Utility companies use this type of software to record usage data from meters and pair them with a billing rate in order to determine the appropriate charge for a customer each billing period.
Utility Billing software can come as a stand-alone solution to provide core needs such as reading meters and calculating billing amounts. It can also come as a fully integrated option with back-end accounting to manage every aspect of your utility operation.
|Customer management||Store information on all customers being provided utilities. Record information such as their service address, contact details, and more.|
|Meter management||Automatically import meter data into the system and pair it with a customer account. Keeps track of historical usage and can alert technicians if meter readings appear out of the norm.|
|Multi-company management||Keep separate records of different utility collections by organizing them as separate companies. An end user may own or manage multiple utility companies, sites, HOAs, and more, and will ensure records and data files can be kept separate.|
|Payments & Invoices||Handles billing and invoicing customers for their utility usage. Record check payments, process recurring credit card or ACH payments. Billing can be handled via mailings, or through online-portals. Integrated Utility Billing options are also available, which include accounting software functionalities such as tracking business expenses and creating reports in a general ledger.|
|Rate management||Determines appropriate rates for customers and assigns rates to accounts to be used in conjunction with any meter data. Rates can vary by energy type, and include varying rate structures such as flat rates, single-step rates, multiple-step rates, percentages, and more.|
While there are many on-the-surface benefits of using a software to handle your utility billing, sometimes it’s best to look at examples as to everyday scenarios where you may benefit from having automation in your business.
A common theme across any utility is the need to track usage and bill based for this usage. As a result, in order to bill a customer, usage data must be gathered and translated into a billable amount. This can become a very time-consuming task when the steps of gathering data and translating this data into a billable amount must be repeated for each individual customer. The good news though? The repetitive nature of this process though makes it an optimal candidate to be automated through software. The first step involved in billing for most utilities is gathering usage data from meters or some other monitoring device. One option for accomplishing this is having staff manually read each meter and write down the usage. At that point, the usage data can be translated into bills for each customer. This labor-intensive process can however quickly become a very time consuming and costly method of managing billing. If you’re looking to automate this process there are a number of automatic meter reading (AMR) systems available to you.
Many utility billing systems have integrated automatic meter reading solutions while others will integrate with a third-party meter reading system. Whatever the setup, the end result is the same. Utility usage information will be gathered efficiently and will be ready for use in the creation of invoices. Since the gathering of usage data is automated, you can ensure that all usage information is 100% accurate. AMR systems will help remove the risk of human error.
Automatic meter reading systems can vary greatly in their methods of tracking and complexity. Some will consist of a fully integrated network that continuously monitors and logs utility usage. This type of AMR system will give you the greatest depth of information and the highest level of control. If this level of control is not needed, there are additional options available to you.
Some automatic meter reading systems will use mobile devices that connect to meters to gather usage data. This will allow you to ensure that your data is 100% accurate eliminating any human error. If you are, however, looking to improve the productivity of the meter reading process, a wireless AMR system offers just the solution. Wireless automatic meter reading systems send data to a device within a certain proximity of the meter. This means that staff can just drive down the street while data is gathered automatically.
Once usage information is gathered a utility billing system will automatically create invoices. These systems will give you a number of options for invoice delivery and payment acceptance.
Utility billing software will give you a plethora of features all designed to save you time. Batch invoicing will allow you to print or email invoices with one push of a button. This will ensure you don’t have to print/email each invoice individually. Utility billing systems will also allow you to set up different pricing structures for different customer types, so you don’t need to manually adjust billable amounts. If you bill on a subscription or flat-fee basis, recurring invoicing features will automatically create your invoices on a set schedule. All of these features are designed to automate the process of invoice creation and delivery.
After invoices are delivered to the customer a strong utility billing system will manage the process of collecting payments from your customers.
Once invoices are issued, utility billing software will give you a number of options for managing collections and receiving payments. Utility billing systems will track outstanding payments due. Additionally, many of them will have the ability to automatically print or email late notices when a customer is past due. These systems will also apply late fees to these customers automatically.
A strong utility billing system will give you the tools needed to manage customers with multiple locations. You will be able to set up multiple locations for a single customer. Their invoices will then detail amounts being charged for each location. This will ensure that one customer is not receiving multiple invoices in a billing period.
A number of utility billing systems will give your customers an online payment portal. This portal will allow your customers to log-on using a password and pay their bills instantly. This level of convenience ensures that payments are received as soon as possible.
Whether you are a small utility with just a few dozen customers or a large utility with thousands of customers, there is a utility billing solution available for you. These systems are designed with your needs in mind and hence will provide the maximum level of automation for you.
Depending on the size of your utility operations, your focus may be with differing levels of functionality.
Most small business accounting software will have a billing feature. However, solutions that were developed without the utility industry in mind likely won’t have the capabilities of grabbing meter reading data and convert that into a billable amount that can be linked to a customer account. Any generic system will need to have a lot of manual conversions done, before you can get to the step of entering in bill totals to a customer and sending it to them for collections. However, add-ons and integrations are available for many small business solutions (such as QuickBooks) that should help make this process easier.
Utility companies handling multiple communities may charge separate rates, and will need a way to assess “local rates” based on who they are billing. They may also need a more automatic way to exempt prorating, handle late charges (such as assessing various late charges depending on how late a bill is), and more.
Larger organizations that handle hundreds of units may have relationships with multiple utility vendors and be very competitive with them to obtain the energy they provide to their customers. They also usually manage a high volume of units, houses, and locations that require more of an automated way of management. These type of businesses should focus on more advanced functionality, such as automatic billing, and established and aggressive ways to establish due dates and cut utility usage off due to non-payment. Solutions such as Visual Utility Billing can handle billing anywhere between 1,000 to 100,000 customers.
QuickBooks solutions (such as QuickBooks Online) have billing capabilities built right into the solution, but since QuickBooks is an industry-neutral program, it does not have a utility billing feature built-in.
Many businesses have gotten by using QuickBooks as a utility billing program. However, QuickBooks is not developed with utilities in mind, and will not have the ability to generate charges based on energy usage. Users will likely need an advanced knowledge of the QuickBooks program in order to manage multiple accounts for one billing address (for example, if a customer pays a utility company for water, sewer, and gas). Collecting payments for these utilities separately and assigning them to this specific account under one customer may prove to be difficult without add-ons.
Solutions such as AaaTeX Meter Billing (in the video above) are available as add-ons to QuickBooks desktop versions. The software works best for water, electric, and gas utilities. It can generate invoices from Excel spreadsheets (or other CSV files) that hold the meter readers. It can also calculate usage from the previous meter reading to current and keep these previous readings stored in QuickBooks.