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BIG water billA homeowner in Omaha, NE, received an erroneous water utilities bill for $13,499.02. For her home. The bill claims that her residence used 4.5 million gallons of water in a month! The bill arrived late on a Friday, so she had all weekend to worry about this big expense. Not to mention, the woman (Theresa Skaggs) was battling cancer, so she had plenty of medical bills and health issues to worry about.

With the customer service line closed for the weekend, what did she do? She called the local TV station, KETV. KETV aired her story, and the story made its rounds on the internet. Pretty embarrassing for the Metropolitan Utilities District. Yes, their name is MUD.

residential water metersThis wouldn’t happen at your company, I’m quite sure. But let’s examine some possible causes for this localized billing error:

  • Theresa’s bill was mistakenly merged with other bills, creating a larger cumulative total.
  • The technician who read Theresa’s water meter fat-fingered the entry on how many gallons she used.

Following good information governance principles, you’d start by performing solid VA Hospital Spurs Change Through Data Transparency. What could you do to prevent problems like this from occurring again?

  • Policy: Require a review of merged records, where the types of records are different (residential and business, for example).
  • Policy: Provide last month’s reading to the technician at point-of-entry. Question the technician if the difference is greater than 50%.
  • Policy: If you can’t provide point-of-entry information or validation to the technician, at least run validations before the bills go out. Catch records where the difference in usage is more than 50%, and double-check the readings.

You can do these things by hand…manually scanning rows and rows of data. Better yet, use tools like Data Services, Information Steward, and Business Process Management to automate this information governance workflow.

To finish the story, MUD did return Theresa’s call on Monday and admit that the bill was wrong. A new one was sent in the mail. But the mud still sticks to…MUD.

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4 Comments

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  1. Vish Agashe
    Ina,

    Thanks for excellent blog as always. Your example of billing error brings good points about where Data Governance need to kick-in. Add to the list you have already provided….

    1. If MUD had policy to get supervisory approval for the billing amount for any customer whose bills exceed billing amount by certain %….this embarrassing mistake would have been caught. (Integrate workflow, exception management and enforcement of policy)

    2. If  basic validation passed the checks, MUD could have possibly cross verified this bill with any issues this customer might have had in the past (like broken pipe, dramatic increase in usage during certain months etc…) to cross check validity of this reading etc…

    This example goes to highlight how Data Governance policies need to address quality/consistency issues in business transactions/business processes as a result of data issues.

    Vish Agashe

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  2. Dewang TRIVEDI
    Well in billing as Tammy has already mentioned , if one doesnt focuss on implausible reading then we can expect such sort of panic for the consumer .

    Nice blog to pin point on necessity of validations in dealing with customer financials .

    Cheers ,
    Dewang

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  3. Ina Felsheim Post author
    Yes, I wish I knew if they were an SAP Utilities customer… Tammy would know more, but I would think implausible entries would not be incredibly uncommon.

    Handy transaction in ERP to take care of it. And if you don’t have that, you can use validation tools and workflow to help you catch it. Or, perhaps, a double-check. Or triple-check? 🙂

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