Should Public Sector Organisations Care About Introducing E-Billing?

The “public sector” is obviously a catch-all term and one which envelopes large national government departments such as defence (including all the armed forces), education (including state-run schools and colleges), employment, social security or tax) and smaller local government entities such as urban and rural councils. In addition, it also includes more directly community-focused organisations such as hospitals (of all sizes and kinds), the fire service and the police, etc. Clearly, this represents a wide range of very diverse types of organisation whose needs are likely to vary greatly when it comes to the flow of money in an out. Of course, not all of these organisations send out a bill or invoice or even provide a receipt. However, they all buy products and services of one kind or another and will often have some kind of internal charging method for services rendered (however infrequent this may be) Sector Económico

This means that the vast majority of public sector organisations receive or issue bills (especially where they deal with consumers directly) and the volume can be very high. This is true of large council organisations, medical clinics and tax departments for instance and in some single organisations can run into millions of bills each year. For example, both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Driver Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC) in the UK issue over 20 million bills a year to consumers alone. We will therefore assume that for the purposes of this article that we are referring to the whole public sector, which includes Government to Government (G2G), Government to Business (G2B) and Government to Consumer (G2C) billing.

Based on the volumes of invoices generated (estimated to be over 2 billion bills/ invoices a year across the entire UK public sector), the automation of billing and payment collection processes (to create greater efficiency) should be a primary concern of most governmental entities. However, the evidence suggests that the generally slow take up of new approaches and online technology in particular has arisen from both many perceived barriers and a lack of perceived benefits versus commercial companies. Let’s therefore look at each of these factors in turn.

The Perceived Barriers

Although there are others, there are five main perceptions that public sector organisations often have about e-billing and payment. These are listed below:

  1. Billing projects are IT focused and there is not the time, budget or expertise to tackle this readily. There is also a long list of other IT projects to address

There are now several “cloud-based” billing systems that are fully built and involve minimal IT involvement on the client side. This means that the client expertise and resources needed to support the change can be very low and a solution can be up and running quickly even when other IT projects are a high priority.

  1. Billing software or technology can never be used “out of the box”

There are several bill presentment and payment options that do not involve “shipping” software or even involve much in the way of integration. In a cloud-based solution for example, bills can be presented and payment systems opened up within a few days or weeks at most (even in a large organisation).

  1. Billing vendors will need to provide all necessary project management skills to make a change successful

This is true but the project management and account management expertise is often very high on the vendor side and frees up a client organisation and its precious resources. In addition, private cloud-based solutions, for example are “bolted on” to provide an additional channel and do not disrupt existing processes or technology at all.

  1. The budget for an e-billing and payment project will always be high and is often very hard to control

With cloud-based online presentment and payment solutions there is usually no up-front capital costs at all and no maintenance or seat fees to pay. The whole system can be used on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. In addition control is provided to the client through the system “back-end” so that all activity can be readily seen and reported on in multiple ways to aid decision-making.

  1. There are insufficient internal people resources or expertise to implement a change of this scale (quickly enough or at all).

Because cloud-based solutions are already built, implementation can often be done in days and with only one often part-time internal resource as a liaison. The newly adopted e-billing channel is simply promoted to client’s consumers or other payers and they can start to use it immediately. This approach therefore tends to take pressure off internal staff rather than add it.

As we can see from the “other possible responses” column above then, there are other ways to see this transition which may overcome the particular perceived barrier, especially as new internet based technology and far greater use of online payment processes (such as Internet banking) has emerged in recent years.

The Perceived Benefits

A manager in the public sector can review the commonly perceived benefits of e-billing as easily as a private sector manager can do so. However, he or she may feel that these benefits may not apply as much or even at all in some cases. In the chart below, we have listed six of the major perceived benefits of modern internet based e-billing and payment portals and commented on the likely applicability of each to both private and public sector organisations.

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