Feeds

back to article Botched SAP billing system helps Npower reach No 1 on gripes list

Failure to fix problems with an SAP-based customer billing system has seen UK energy giant Npower earn the most complaints for a power supplier during 2013. One in every 326 customers lodged a complaint against Npower, putting it top of a UK energy supplier league table released today by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Working hard to resolve it? My £5k bill says otherwise

npower are a complete, complete joke. The only way I can stem the flow of ineptitude from this shower of bollock-jugglers has been to change energy supplier and raise a complaint the formal way.

Utter, utter imbeciles.

7
0

Re: Working hard to resolve it? My £5k bill says otherwise

I wouldn't necessarilly expect moving energy suppliers to fix the problem. I shifted from nPower to SSE around the time these problems started. SSE have been great but nPower are a total mess. They're still billing me for electricity despite me now paying SSE. They're still billing me for a second electricity meter in the house which SSE had removed.

After spending about an hour explaining all of these problems to a very paitent nPower guy on the phone I was told they'd investigate but that this could take 90 working days. Almost 5 months! In the meantime they still send me incorrect bills every now and again and I have to ring up and spend half an hour on hold just to confirm that they're still investigating and I can ignore the spurious bill.

0
0
Silver badge
Happy

Upvote!

for "shower of bollock-jugglers"!

6
0
Silver badge

Re: Working hard to resolve it? @Oddlegs

See response to Shaun Sheppard - you need to write to npower's CEO in Swindon, copy his boss in Germany, explaining the problem, demanding immediate resolution plus compensation for harassment, nuisance, waste of your time and call costs to them, and also asking for a deadlock letter so that you can refer the letter to the energy ombudsman.

If they won't issue a deadlock letter, then write to Dermot Nolan, chief executive of OFGEM, reporting that you believe their failure to resolve the complaint, or to issue a deadlock letter put npower in breach of the terms of their energy supply licence (and copy npower's CEO). I doubt OFGEM will take much quick action, but if they agree that npower are not treating customer complaints as their licence requires, then we're talking multi-million pound fines (npower have repeatedly been clobbered for these for different compliance reasons).

2
0
Bronze badge
Pint

SAP ... IT Fiasco

Yet another example.

No excuse considering the database only needs a few dozen fields per customer, it could probably fit on a 32GB SD card (although the access speed might not be sufficient for all the call center drones).

FAIL. SAP.

5
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Working hard to resolve it? My £5k bill says otherwise

I recently asked my energy billing company (not a big-6) why I had not seen a single bill since switching to them last November and was told the bill had been (allegedly) issued last month but 'it had not yet made it to the website' (which I read as 'a load of tosh') ... a few minutes later the bill was 'published' ... however looking through the separate 'payments' list I noticed two which I had not done, including one for £11,000 ! ... When I questioned those entries, I was told 'they are adjustments for incorrect meter readings' ... again very odd as ALL the meter readings were given by me online and were recorded correctly.

So yup, probably another crap finance system. So I went on to quidco, clicked through to uSwitch, got a cheaper 1-year capped rate and got £32 cash back as well .. and a few minutes later the new billing agent (they are NOT energy suppliers!) started the change over process ... though why on earth it takes between 4 and 6 weeks to create a final bill from one supplier and setup (online) a new account is beyond me. For goodness sake even bank accounts can be switched in 7 days now.

This will be the 3rd time I've switched in 1 year and received around £75 quidco cash back as well as lower bills.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Does UK have "class action" lawsuits available?

This sounds like it'd be the right approach.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: "we're talking multi-million pound fines "

Corporate fines aren't the answer here. They have no significant effect in discouraging the responsible individuals from doing stupid things, and the costs are just passed on to the customers (and the workforce).

Individuals made these stupid decisions, individuals who pay themselves a small fortune when things allegedly go well. If they want megabonuses because when things go well it was due to their individual actions, the necessary complement to that is it is also their individual responsibility when things don't go so well. Personal bonuses => personal fines.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: SAP ... IT Fiasco

I work on a utility billing system that competes with SAP, but does not appear in stories like this on The Register, as our deployment projects generally work on time and budget. Mostly smaller projects than this, but also much much cheaper. Of course a billing system for 100k customers does much the same as one for 1m customers; difference at a certain point comes down to infrastructure and hardware.

I would say people tend to underestimate the complexity of big billing systems.

Even with monthly reads and not processing half hourly data, I know utilities with under 500k customers will store around 1 TB of data. RDBs trade disk space for query performance, and churning through read and pricing data to produce 20k bills a day needs to be quick to get the bills into the mail before end of day.

Anon for obvious reasons...

1
0
Silver badge

Re: "we're talking multi-million pound fines "

"Corporate fines aren't the answer here. They have no significant effect in discouraging the responsible individuals from doing stupid things, and the costs are just passed on to the customers (and the workforce)."

That is for another day. There's people with problems now, and they have to work within the existing frameworks. I can also assure you that companies don't like getting fined, and do try and avoid it. Moreover, the size of regulatory fine is always adjusted up or down for aggravating or mitigating circumstance, one of the most important of which is actions taken as soon as it became apparent that there was a compliance failure.

One of npower's festering sores is of course that it decided last year to outsource big chunks of customer service, at the same time as the botched SAP roll out was continuing. Another triumph for the management consultants!

"Personal bonuses => personal fines."

A fine is a statutory or regulatory outcome, and that option already exists where criminal behaviour can be proved. Where there's simply incompetence or commercial misjudgement, as is most likely in this case, it's stupid to suggest that the courts should act against individuals. No, bonuses simply need to be able to have a negative component for personal incompetence, so that berks like npower's senior managers can see their base salaries eroded (and clawback of prior years' bonuses). But even that would require primary legislation, which won't be happening anytime soon.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Working hard to resolve it? My £5k bill says otherwise

I too have been having fun with nPower. Changed supplier last May and nPower have still not been able to provide me with a final bill for close to a year now (and continued to bill me for 3 months even after switching!!)

I have already been through the ombudsman and I'm now just biding my time for the full year to pass, at which point I'll be contacting them to ask them to issue a bill with a big fat "ZERO" and give me back the £500 or so pounds they've kept on the account.

I'm REALLY looking forward to that day.....

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Working hard to resolve it? My £5k bill says otherwise

"After spending about an hour explaining all of these problems to a very paitent nPower guy on the phone I was told they'd investigate but that this could take 90 working days. Almost 5 months! In the meantime they still send me incorrect bills every now and again and I have to ring up and spend half an hour on hold just to confirm that they're still investigating and I can ignore the spurious bill."

i'd send them a letter stating that as the error is clearly theirs, you are invoking the Protection From Harrassment act. That ought to put their tailfeathers in a spin.

I doubt the ombudsman would regard 90 days as acceptable either.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: SAP ... IT Fiasco

"Anon for obvious reasons..."

Which is a crying shame because some of us would like to know which billing system it is.

1: I've had SAP snooping around the PHB's office

2: The sheer number of billing botchup I've seen over the years leads me to wonder if I should be asking potential suppliers what they use and providing weighting accordingly.

1Tb data isn't very much for a billing system. A decent server can cache all that in ram and still have change out of 80k

1
0
Silver badge

Re: "we're talking multi-million pound fines "

"One of npower's festering sores is of course that it decided last year to outsource big chunks of customer service,"

This is because most manglement in large companies seem to come from a farming background and believe This is an appropriate definition of "customer service": http://www.equiworld.net/artificialinsemination/sementake.JPG (NSFW).

Note the customer service assistants helping out by distracting the customer and preventing it from getting away.

1
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Bronze badge

Re: Pull their fingers out

Similar issue here. I might just dump them.

0
0

Re: Pull their fingers out

Not sure what the law is like there, but here in Canada, no bill, no money. If you don't send me my bill, you can stuff getting payed and if you complain, we'll have fun in court cause I can't pay a bill I never got.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Pull their fingers out@ Shaun Sheppard

Keep your trap shut!

The ****ers can't charge you for energy used more than a year ago if they haven't billed you for it, so you may well be able to claim a refund for all the direct debit payments more than a year old.

https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/ofgem-publications/64010/back-billing-leaflet-2012.pdf

They may do this automatically, but it's npower, so I'd assume not. If, when you eventually get a bill and they are sniffy about crediting the >12 month energy, refuse to accept their view, tell them you wish to take it to the energy ombudsman and you'd like a "deadlock" letter (you need this prior to the ombudsman examiing the case. Don't let up, if need be write to the npower CEO (Paul Massara) by snail mail, and if you're up for the postage, to Peter Terium, RWE group CEO at the company's offices in Essen, Germany.

In three quarters of all cases the ombudsman finds in the customer's favour, and what's more it costs the energy company (from memory) about £400 per investigated complaint, even if the ombudsman doesn't support the customer.

0
0
Roo
Silver badge
Windows

Re: Pull their fingers out@ Shaun Sheppard

"Don't let up, if need be write to the npower CEO (Paul Massara) by snail mail, and if you're up for the postage, to Peter Terium, RWE group CEO at the company's offices in Essen, Germany."

Damn Led, are you paid by the ton of mail landing on their doorsteps ?

Edit: Just noticed that I accidentally echoed that info. Sorry.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Pull their fingers out@ Shaun Sheppard

"Damn Led, are you paid by the ton of mail landing on their doorsteps ?"

If only. Npower are so staggering useless I'd be a very rich man indeed if I got a share of the postage on their complaints inbox.

I work in this industry, I've worked in other regulated sectors, and I know how bad it can be when complaints aren't resolved quickly. You have to give them a couple of chances to fix things normally, after that the only hope for quick resolution is rapid escalation to the very top.

If you want to make a complaint to the big wigs, far better to send it to the CEO on paper. Not only will he have a very efficient PA who will send out a polite reply in his name, but they will ensure it goes to the right (reasonably high level) person for resolution, and that person who has to resolve it sees that it has come from the office of the CEO. Moreover, all incoming mail to the CEO is usually formally logged, which discourages "the dog ate your homework" excuses lower down the organisation.

Because Massara has been running a shambolic business for so long, he may be immune to customer complaints. But RWE's top man won't be accustomed to getting letters of complaint about npower, and when Massara gets a call from the group CEO's office saying "voss is diss?" he'll want to look as though he's in control.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: Pull their fingers out

The issue is that Npower (and others) are billing for services they never supplied.

Personally, I'd call it fraud.

0
0
Bronze badge
FAIL

Re: Pull their fingers out

I adopted a similar method of dealing with these nPower incompetents - I stopped direct debits, claimed a refund via my bank direct debit guarantee and complained to the regulator.

Finally got TWO out of date bills with unexplained items. Rejected the regulators "solution".

This is going to run and run.

Now I realise WHY - IBM and SAP - receipe for a MEGA-disaster if ever I saw one!

0
0
Silver badge

Yet companies still fall for

the SAP sweet talking and buy their ****

how many more bodged implementations does it need before companies see the light.

Mind you IMHO the Oracle alternative is not so hot either. At least the undocumented error messages aren't in German.

9
1

First Utility

First Utility haven't been able to provide me with a bill since October. Similar back end migration issue. They also stopped taking the direct debits, which I didn't notice for the first couple of months. So now I'm facing a big catch up bill.

Emails are not answered for weeks (if at all) and their call centre queue is usually at least 70 callers deep. When you do finally get through to a poor harassed operator you just get given the same empty excuses and promises they simply don't fulfil. They have been "working hard to resolve this" for nearly 6 months now.

Ofgem seem powerless to do anything about it. Plus they give the energy companies 8 weeks per communication to respond before they will get involved at all.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: First Utility

Unless you are locked in to a fixed rate (with £30 per fuel exit fee) SWITCH NOW and THEN tell FU why (7-day cooling off for switch if FU pull their finger out).

Personally not had an issue with FU last year and only switched due to tariff change .. went to SSE, who then stopped their 'no price rise 'til October 2014' and put up prices in Nov13 .. so switched again to Spark Energy and 6 months later just started a new switch back to FU as their tariffs are (relative to all others) cheaper again.

At each switch I got cash back of between £21 and £32.

Three things .. know your yearly KWh usage, your MPRNs and give monthly meter readings. But above all vote with your feet and switch as it hurts them.

0
0
Bronze badge

Check before you jump

I know that EDF Energy also has SAP, and how many others? Fryingpan _> Fire

2
0
Anonymous Coward

SAP again

Look forward to hearing Juniper's troubles ahead.

2
0

Ahhhhhhhhh

So that explains why my December bill arrived in February. Looks like I got off lightly!

0
0
Anonymous Coward

I was wondering who was to blame for the implementation, after all it could only be one of a few completely incompetent consultancies. Glad to see my old employer keeping up their low standards

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Dumped them last year after not receiving a bill for a year. Spent weeks trying to get them to issue one. A complete joke.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Is the SAP work being done in the UK or off-shored?

0
0
Bronze badge

SAP somehow always spells doom...

SAP is literally defined as Slow And Painful.. ask EI DuPont who "updated" their SAP implementation a few years ago. Took years to fix and in the meantime they couldn't write a friggin PO or pay one. Seems like everyone who uses their (SAP) stuff has an issue of one kind or another.

There just have to be better products out there.

3
1
Bronze badge

Re: SAP somehow always spells doom...

SAP is literally defined as Slow And Painful..

Perhaps, but I have heard these alternative explanations:

Stupid Ass Program

Shut up And Pay

1
0
Bronze badge

Wow, 800 extra staff ......

....... which means 2 techies and 798 project managers.

8
0
Silver badge

Re: Wow, 800 extra staff ......

"....... which means 2 techies and 798 project managers."

Well, they must be outsourced or contractors then, because in the RWE first quarter results announced today, the npower supply business is shown with 530 fewer employees than the same time last year.

I imagine that Npower devised their own perfect storm:

1) You're a UK board member of a German owned company with a history of fines for customer service failings - surely if you decide to change things, they can only get better?

2) In an environment of steeply rising bills, you decide to fuck with the main billing system. The business case promises better performance and lower costs, and you believe it.

3) You opt for SAP because it's German, and that's reason enough in any German owned company

4) You select IBM Global Buggerups as the lead consultant, because you once heard that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, and because you believe the snake oil salesmen they sent, who took you out to reference sites in exotic parts of the world, and bought you lush dinners

5) At the same time you decide to outsource many of the actual customer operations staff to Crapita, because that'll "improve" customer service AND save money on top of the business case promises of sunlit pastures and newborn lambs. They promised us, they promised!

6) Just to help, your German uberlords insist that you sack all your UK back office staff and roll everything up into a German based shared service operation seven hundred miles away, so that the UK business gets worse internal services and has to pay more for them, meaning nobody can get bills paid, contracts let, nobody can get meaningful management information, or even anything done.

7) When the pilot SAP roll out showed problems you opt to "go large" and extend the roll out to all your customers, because IBM insisted it was all the fault of the legacy systems.

8) And according to the latest results, you've had to triple your UK capex budget, presumably to pay for all the contract variations with SAP, IBM, Siebel etc, because their contract writers ran rings round your procurement team.

Maybe it wasn't like that. Perhaps somebody from npower can enlighten us?

3
0
Bronze badge

Re: Wow, 800 extra staff ......

Ledswinger - that is the most brilliant (and ACCURATE) analysis of this almighty ballsup.

Nice one!

0
0

Re: Wow, 800 extra staff ...... view from the former front line

Hi there.

You're right - RWE npower laid off 500 of their 700 IT staff last summer and I was one of them.

Up till last September, I was a full-time IT employee (programming, development and support) at RWE npower’s main IT centre in Kingswinford, West Midlands with 20 years tenure there : there were over 200 IT development and support staff there, with the remaining 500 RWE npower IT staff split across other offices in the country.

Last summer, 500 IT staff were made compulsorily redundant by RWE, the German owners of npower, and replaced with less than 40 outsourcing contract staff from Wipro, an Indian IT outsourcing company. This left 200 IT staff out of the full-time 700 IT staff at the time : this was largely unreported, and counts on top of the 1400 business staff laid off at the end of 2013.

So they've laid off 2/3 of the IT staff (most with 20 years+ industry experience). We've all collected our redundancy cheques and gone, and the overworked 200 remaining IT staff and 40 outsourcers with little energy industry experience are running a very poor, modular SAP system. SAP is the preferred platform for RWE and many German firms, but is very inflexible and was obviously woefully incapable of coping with the comparative complexity of the UK's legislated power market as compared to the simpler German market : however, they ignored our recommendations and warnings, went ahead with the legacy system replacement and then cut costs to the bone by sacking the staff in favour of cheaper labour.

It's probably a coincidence that they are having difficulties though, what with figting with a new, unfriendly billing system and most of the experienced IT staff kicked out...

In 2011, when the Fukushima nuclear power plant got trashed by the tsunami, the green German government cancelled Germany's nuclear power industry overnight in a knee-jerk response : RWE had a lot of investment in nuclear power so they were stung massively, and have since embarked on a massive cost-cutting exercise across their group - IT is now done in Czechoslovakia, Poland and now India where it's cheaper, and permie staff are laid off in favour of outsourced labour, and computer centres and buildings (our old base in Kingswinford is just one) are being sold for building land.

Very sad, eh ?

0
0

Don't blame SAP, blame npower and particularly IBM Global Services. They must hold the record for the most botched implementations in the industry. SAP works. Yes, it can be clunky and awkward at times, but it does work. In the hands of a good implementation team and the proper support, SAP can sing like a bird.

There used to be a saying that 'no one ever got fired for hiring IBM'. Lately, that alone should be grounds for termination.

3
0
Bronze badge

RE: Don't blame SAP, blame npower and particularly IBM Global Services.

There used to be a saying that 'no one ever got fired for hiring IBM'. Lately, that alone should be grounds for termination summary execution.

FTFY!!!

1
0
Thumb Up

I hate to see SAP being blamed as default, yes it is BIG, complex and can often be frustrating.

But nine times out of ten the problems are self created by people failing to appreciate these facts, doing silly projects without the understanding, expertise or resources required.

Nobody ever mentions the countless successful implementations, when they fail they fail BIG time and get a lot of press/comments.

3
0
Vic
Silver badge

In the hands of a good implementation team and the proper support, SAP can sing like a bird.

I've heard this many times, and I properly believe it.

But I've yet to see a *single* successful SAP implementation. And I've seen a few...

Vic.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

SAP Again

British Gas had a very similar experience with SAP (and Siebel), which was used to replace their old but rock-solid gas billing system and not-so-great electricity system. Had to take on loads of temporary staff to manually process all the exceptions kicked out.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

SAP isn't the issue. SAP 'per se' doesn't do anything. It's just a framework, which if used badly results in this...

0
0
Anonymous Coward

nPower

It will all get a lot better now that they have awarded their customer contact centre contract to Capita, that bastion of excellence.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

SAP - all gloss

I well remember the glossy SAP brochures and the sweet talking salesmen.

Any non half wit engineer back then could see disaster about to arrive via their over engineered and suited to no one software.

The thing was, the sales blurb was so non specific the directors chose to believe in it rather than be overwhelmed by the very few knowledgeable staff that they had.

1
0

Guess number 2

So Scottish Power had a spike of complaints also. Now doesn't that correspond to when they started migrating customers to their new system. Want to guess the manufacturer?

SAP with IBM the main consultancy firm. You couldn't make it up. IBM's sales team must be rolling in it!

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Can't get a bill, can't swap supplier

Whilst the legislation says you're not liable for billing in excess of 12 months

1) I don't believe this means you are entitled to a refund on direct debits paid (I may be wrong but I thought it only applied to pay on bill customers)

2) this has to be there fault, not yours (ie you can't just stop giving them meter readings or your contact details and get away without paying your energy bills!)

Unfortunately I'm trapped with nPower...literally trapped as I have a double meter system. AFAIK no other supplier will switch me on to their systems unless I pay to get the physical meter switched over. In fact the arrangement seems so niche I can't even send meter reading in inline I have to phone up.

I've not had a bill since moving in, in feb 2013. A few months were my fault for not giving them my contact details, but since then I've tried to get a bill to no avail. The website gives me a next bill date, this rolls around and the next bill date moves to the future but no bill is ever issued.

I work in force.com and whilst I'm no lover of SAP I don't think you can blame the software. It's the implementation which will include IBM GS under pricing the deal, as nPower looked to the lowest cost provider.

IT procurement often fails to take account of the cost of or likely hood of failure in a response to an RFP. Thus it's really difficult to not go for the cheapest (or second cheapest) provider.

I see RFPs with crazy prices in problem areas I know well, well enough to win industry awards in, and I can't work out how the hell the SI is going to deliver the project for what we are told we need to get to in order to be competitive. Maybe it's because we assume the amount we can leverage offshore is less than they believe. If that's the case either they are better at offshoring or we are more realistic in our expectations about an appropriate team mix.

My view: something needs to change in how companies assess SI's on things other than price.... But I would say that. I am one!

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Can't get a bill, can't swap supplier

"1) I don't believe this means you are entitled to a refund on direct debits paid (I may be wrong but I thought it only applied to pay on bill customers)"

I can't say with certainty, but I suspect you can get the direct debits refunded. That's your money until the supplier has billed you, even if it has been physically transferred to their bank account. If they were able to back-bill past twelve months by relying on DD payments, there'd be different treatment of DD customers to credit customers, and that sort of customer discrimination is prohibited.

But, as with my advice to the other people with problems, you can write to Paul Massara in Swindon, explaining the situation and demanding immediate resolution or a deadlock letter. Once you have the deadlock letter you raise the complaint with the energy ombudsman who has the power to force a solution on the supplier, OR if the complaint hasn't been resolved within eight weeks of first being raised with the energy supplier, then you can approach the energy ombudsman without a deadlock letter.

http://www.ombudsman-services.org/what-can-we-deal-with-energy.html

For your own scenario with the double meter system, not sure why that's a problem, largely because I don't follow what you mean - is that two meters and a single MPAN? Even that shouldn't stop you switching supplier, as it's unusual but not unheard of. I'd phone up your choice of alternative supplier, try and change, and then persist in identifying why they can't do it, and then seek to overcome that. Note that separate to your complaint about npower, the energy ombudsman can deal with complaints about switching, so if a supplier says they can't take you on, tell them that you'll take THEM to ombudsman, and if (as is likley) they don't budge, then report them as well.

Don't expect a quick solution from the ombudsman - with the volume of complaints npower in particular are generating they are probably swamped.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

It is a very complicated business indeed

I agree with previous comments - you would think it was simple but it isn't. I think the main reason for this is that the systems have to cater for the most complex customers, with odd meters, 'legacy tariffs' and so on. Prepayment meters are another significant complexity. if you split your Customer base up and spread it across different billing systems you get a different kind of chaos so please don't suggest that.

As someone rightly said earlier, there is nothing wrong with SAP per se - all of the problems will come back to bad decisions and penny piching. NPower seem to be using their customers as "live guinea pigs" who will eventually flush out all of the system and process problems for them. That's not on. I work for one of the big six (won't say which) but we do our utmost to avoid that as it is a false economy. 800 additional staff? Blimey. A fraction of that cost invested wisely on proper analysis, design and testing could have averted this disaster.

0
0
Bronze badge
Coat

That explains everything

Why my bill seems to be generated every 2 weeks although apparently it supposed to be every 3 months.

0
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.