Northern Electric has blamed the installation of a new computerised billing system for delays in billing customers. Ofgem, the gas and electricity watchdog, threatened to stop the company signing up new customers last month, unless it reduces the number of billing errors within 28 days. An Ofgem investigation revealed that, in July, Northern Electric had 2,136 unbilled electricity accounts and 4,533 unprocessed meter readings. Over the last few months a string of companies have singled out software for disappointing financial results and business performance. In its 1998/99 financial results last month, European hi-fi manufacturer Bang & Olufsen largely blamed an installation of SAP enterprise software on a breakdown in its supply chain. Northern Electric blamed the billing fiasco on a new in-house system which was installed last August replacing a 17-year-old legacy system. The new application was introduced to handle the changing conditions in the deregulated market, allowing suppliers to offer both gas and electricity to customers. Northern Electric IT manager Steve Raine said the two-year-long implementation was a challenge because no software on the market could handle the requirements of deregulation. 'There's no software on earth that meets the needs of the new utility market so we had to build it from scratch,' he said. 'We couldn't go to SAP and say give us a complete suite to handle the gas and electricity market.' Northern Electric ruled out adapting the existing system because it would have required too many additional applications to be bolted on. Raine added that the tight deadline for the installation and the project size also added to the pressures on the team installing it. Northern Electric used three consultants, specialising in the utility industry, to integrate the system. He refused to name the vendors but said Northern Electric did not blame them for the problems. A Northern Electric spokesman said the billing problem was now under control and was confident it could meet the watchdog's ultimatum.
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