I came across an article in the Times of India last December that prompted a double take. Ever vigilant and always on the lookout for stories pertaining to billing, I was taken aback by a headline espousing “the latest in mobile technology to eliminate discrepancies” in gas billing.
The story opened boldly with the statement that discrepancies in the monthly bills to consumers of piped natural gas (PNG) in the city of Mumbai ‘could be a thing of the past soon’, with the help of mobile phones. The plot thickens. I knew India was one of the world’s hottest mobile phone markets and was thinking this might be a first – billing for gas with mobile phones!
PNG has been incredibly popular wherever it has been introduced. It is safer and more convenient than liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) delivered in tanks, but introduces the added complication of meters having to be read at over 570,000 consumer premises. Reported discrepancies in billing were deterring new customers from signing up and causing concern amongst existing customers.
A spokesperson for Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) stated, “Earlier, meter readers were often unable to access houses to read meters or there were often mistakes with the reading. In some cases, customers refuted the charges even though the reading was accurate because they felt that their consumption could not have been so high. We felt the need of the hour was to address this issue at the earliest.”
To address this, MGL has introduced a mobile phone application to track meter readings more effectively not only via its own meter reading staff in the field, but also for customers. It allows them to enter meter readings and also take a photo of the meter. Both are transmitted back to and ERP systems at their headquarters where the information is processed and bills are produced.
Presumably, any discrepancies can now be verified with photographic evidence. It’s not quite M2M smart meter technology in action but it is a considerable step forward, for all the reasons listed above. It may remind even some old timers in the telecoms world of the era when rotary exchange meters were photographed by a professional and the resultant snaps used by the billing department to key numbers into gigantic, by today’s standards, electro-mechanic accounting machines.
It may also be a first time mobile phones have been used to eliminate discrepancies, rather than create them. But for Mumbai, it really is a case of billing with gas, or should that be cooking with mobile?