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Cost of Seattle billing system rises to more than $100M

Seattle CityLight and the Seattle Public Utilities are delaying theimplementation of a new utility customer information and billing system untilfall. The system has been in development since 2012 and was scheduled to launchin April at a revised cost of $85 million, but the latest estimates put thefigure at more than $100 million.

The utilities plan to use the time to conduct an"exhaustive final check" to make sure the system functions properly andhave assured that customers will not be inconvenienced by the delay."We've seen what has happened elsewhere when a billing system is rushedinto use. We cannot afford to make that mistake. We're going to take the timethat's necessary to do this right," SPU Director Ray Hoffman said April 1.

The new system will replace a 15-year-old suite of databasemanagement software which is no longer supported by its vendor and will process5.5 million City Light and SPU bills and collect about $1.8 billion in revenue.Over its projected lifetime, the system will handle some $21 billion incustomer bills and payments, while serving more than 400,000 commercial,residential and industrial customers.

"Replacing the outdated existing system is critical tothe utilities' continued operations. If the old, unsupported billing systemwere to crash, the resulting loss in revenues — potentially $5 million a day —could jeopardize the utilities' ability to deliver critical services,"Hoffman added.

An April 1 news release also suggested that increases in thecost of utility computer billing systems were nothing new.

"For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's billing andinformation system, which went live in September 2013, has reportedly cost $181million to date, and may go as high as $200 million by the time the dustsettles. According to a state of California audit, billing system errors due toa rushed implementation of the LADWP system resulted in $245 million inuncollected revenue," the release said.