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Wednesday Mar 11, 2015

New billing system 'in sight' for Durban property owners

An end seems to finally be in sight for the eThekwini Municipality's much anticipated billing system - close to R600 million and more than a decade later.

The Revenue Management System (RMS) was set to "go live" in July after many years of postponements, the IT consultancy company doing the work said yesterday. The consultancy, Liepzig Advisory IT, announced the date during the city's executive committee (exco) meeting yesterday.

The system has been beset with delays, with costs escalating since it was first proposed in 2004.

The initial cost of the system, contracted to Ramco/Citi Works in March 2004, was budgeted at R90 million to R150m over four years. But costs have soared to more than R500m in 10 years.

An IT expert at Liepzig, Leepy Shabangu, cautiously told exco yesterday that the system was expected to be implemented in July.

He said: "The revenue management system looks at a lot of systems that we are trying to consolidate into one. It looks at your debt management... it looks at your billing, your rates, your lease, electricity and so on."

He said a cautious approach needed to be taken before the programme was implemented.

"This is a huge chunk in our revenue collection. We need to be extra careful in our billing," he said.

"In terms of where we are, we've done the design. We've done the build and some form of testing. We know that the application works. The only thing left now is to test it with our data collected over the years."

The important thing was to "migrate" the data to RMS.

"We need to take the 1.3 million accounts that are sitting in Coins (the system now used by the city), and all our systems, and move them to this RMS system."

He said about 1.2 million accounts had been "moved across" to the new system and 10% were outstanding.

Shabangu said they had found accounts with very serious challenges.

"We found a lot of discrepancies in the current system and we've designed a system so we can have checks and balances. Until we have our own data running and have done parallel runs - we are not out of the woods yet... but it's looking better than it was."

City manager S'bu Sithole said "huge progress" had been made.

"The challenges are saying we make sure that those parallel runs are tested and we are confident that come July 1, when we switch to RMS alone, we will be able to function properly without any hiccups," he said.

Although there would be "some implications", the municipality had "previously said we would not pay people unless we see that work has been done".

However, he said, the city would pay R4m for an additional consultant until the end of June.

DA caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said he acknowledged the progress, but it was nothing to celebrate.

"We were expecting to go live sometime last year. It's been over a year now... today we expected you to say 'we are going live'. You don't seem convinced that the plan you have is going to work."

He expressed concern that internal engineers did not have the skills to deal with the system after it was launched.

ANC councillor Fawzia Peer commended Liepzig for moving from the stagnation phase "from where we were last year". She said the system needed to be watertight so that customers were not adversely affected.

The programme was initially to go live in 2008 but was mired by postponements and deadline extensions.

Liepzig was appointed to oversee the implementation in 2013. The contract came at a price of R15.6m.

The Mercury

 
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