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Why the Quoted Price Of Utility Billing Doesn't Tell The Full Story

Discovering why the quoted price doesn't tell the full story.

It's been ingrained in us that cheaper is better, but it’s also known that you get what you pay for. A more affordable price point may mean more headaches and heartache when figuring out the cost of your next Utility Billing System.

But how can you take everything in to uncover the entire story behind a system's quoted price? How do you compare apples to oranges?


When making any significant capital expenditure within an organization, the most common question to be asked is, "what will this system cost us?" but as anyone knows, there’s more to utility billing system cost than just dollars and cents.

There are costs in time…

…setup and implementation
…rate structures
…user training
…customer usage

The list feels like it could go on and on and on and on….

It can get overwhelming, especially when staring at three comparative quotes from utility billing software vendors.

How are you supposed to know which of these systems will save you time and energy?

They’re all just Billing tools, right? Can’t they be too different?


When comparing the costs of a utility billing system, the price on the bottom line of that system quote is just a starting point. The whole story is often hidden and involves figuring out how to compare the apples to the oranges to the grapes to the plantains.

Determining if you need Apples or Oranges

Getting a great price on a new Utility Billing System is fantastic, but a system may be TOO barebones and not suited to your entity’s needs.

Sometimes it feels almost deceptively simple, but to start comparing different quotes, you need to line up the key features with the key elements of those systems and compare THOSE with what is mission-critical for your organization.

Since Utility Billing software is central to many utility processes, you need a broad and diverse group to find what features are essential for your entire organization, not just the accounting department.

Start by getting together with your team and walking through your billing operation. Talk about each step in the process and then explain how these steps are handled and with what tools.

You may need to use a mind-mapping tool or a large whiteboard to capture the entire process accurately.

There are some basics that every system should include, such as a robust billing engine, customer portal, and redundant infrastructure. Still, mapping out the processes with a large team may uncover areas where one system has strength compared to another.

Maybe you find out that your support team likes to send out mass notices via email when payment deadlines are coming up to avoid late payment notices. They state that they find a better response to emails than sending physical notifications. If that's the case, you need to look for a system that handles this feature functionality.

Perhaps you need a system that can handle metered and non-metered usage across the same or different parcels, all tracked in the same system, with an easy user interface that your customer support team can utilize when handling phone calls.

Suppose something works great for your team AND promotes efficiency in your billing operation. In that case, you'll want to carry those elements into a new Utility Billing System.


Features like these are where you'd want to consider them regarding your upcoming big purchase. However, if you're looking to upgrade, it probably means that there are things your current system doesn't have that you would like to include.

During this same billing operation, walkthrough with your team and make a sort of pros and cons list where you can identify the features your team likes and the ones they don't find helpful, efficient, or user-friendly.

Maybe you have a big whiteboard in your office, that would be great!

Then, when you're looking at these new potential systems you may purchase, you might notice that some of the cheaper options don't include features your team needs. Or, more likely, you have access to the same quality set that your current system may already include, in which case… why are you upgrading to that system?

It's easy to be swayed by a “low” quoted price without fully understanding what you're getting. Mainly if that quoted price saves you more money than you're already paying now. Only to find out you're losing some of those features your team loves.

Turning Oranges to Apples: Comparing features to functions to benefits

From that pros and cons list you just made, you can now start to build out a Utility Billing System requirements checklist!

This will be your secret weapon for cutting through the marketing jargon, taking all of those shiny features, and comparing it across those different systems you’re getting quotes for.

First, open up an Excel workbook or Shared Google sheet and create one column for your requirements. Add in features you know you will need and your current system's deficits based on your con list.

Then, add another column with your current solution and fill in the details with what you currently have. This will be your baseline column. That will help you avoid potentially purchasing a system that doesn’t get your organization any additional benefit.

Repeat that process for each new system you analyze. Through the process, if you find that one system has a feature that could benefit your organization, such as notes or flags on a customer record, include that as a row!

Here are a few examples of some features you may want to include based on current issues you may be having.

  • Managing and resolving customer calls and issues monopolizes your team's time. Find a system that can utilize a Customer Support center to handle all customer calls.

  • With current increases in USPS delivery times and mailing rates, you're finding that your billing operation is being delayed additional time due to delivery and processing. Find a system that offers digital billing and accepts online payments to enroll your customers in eBilling.

  • Your team only stores and accepts in-house payments, which overcomplicates the billing operation. Look out for a system that uses an online customer portal to accept payments directly, allowing your organization to recognize the revenue instantly rather than waiting on a check in the mail.

This checklist will be the baseline for comparing these different systems' functions and features.

This checklist is also a great baseline when presenting the solution to your boss or the board.

But as you know, only some features and services may save your entity money. There are SO many hidden factors and costs that can go into the long-term cost of a utility billing system.

Is the Apple Rotten: Rooting Out Your Hidden Costs

One of the best places to start when comparing the price of those different systems is to get each one onto a level playing field.

The problem with comparing only quoted prices alone is that there are so many costs hidden in any system's usage and maintenance.

If you’re not careful, any of the price savings you get immediately will cost your entity even more overtime.

A full Total Cost of Ownership analysis will help highlight what you'll be paying over time versus what is shown to you on that quote. That will be the best way to identify if the low cost on a quote will cost you more over the system's lifetime.

Luckily, we’ve gone into great depth in a previous blog for calculating your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which will be a full 360 view of those costs.

If you don’t have the time for a complete TCO analysis, a more straightforward place to start would be to view your maintenance costs, support costs, add-on costs, and cost of labor and try to forecast other price-sensitive costs that may come with the new Utility Billing Systems.

  • Maintenance Cost: This covers all the maintenance your system will require for general upkeep, resolving system errors, and any necessary updates to the system. If you are using a SaaS vendor, this is included in your monthly costs.

  • Support Cost: Post-sale, your organization will usually be partnered with post-sale support that your new provider assigns. After the initial implementation, if any needed support comes up on your team's end, this cost covers their support. If you’re self-hosting, you must add the internal resources needed for support costs, IT system admins, training and development staff time, and management overhead.

  • Add-On Costs: This includes any additional features your team may find necessary to add to your current system later to keep up with your billing process. Maybe your operation has grown, and you need additional support features, or perhaps you've noticed a spot for better efficiency; whatever it is, these add-ons will cost your organization to implement them. Consider items your entity may grow into or may be required by law to include in your billing system over time.

  • Cost Of Labor: How long it takes your team to learn your new software, how long it takes to run through your billing operation, and how easy your new system is to use are all components used to measure your labor cost. The duration at which it takes for a team member to fulfill their tasks at their current pay rate.

  • And any additional costs...

A great quoted price and a reasonable TCO calculation can mean something other than that the system you're looking at has everything included within it that your organization requires for its billing operation.

That's because before looking at your TCO, you'll want to break down that quoted price by what features it includes.

In Conclusion

It's straightforward in an organization to see where you can cut costs to save money throughout your finances. With such a significant expense like a Utility Billing System, seeing a lower quoted price elsewhere feels like a no-brainer.

But by taking off your financial glasses and putting on your full-feature glasses, you can begin to identify what that lower quoted price will affect in the long haul. Will you save your organization money or take away the key features your team requires for their billing operation?

Not only that, by presenting a feature-to-feature comparison with the related cost savings to your boss or the board, you will not only look like a hero, but you will also surely go into that purchase decision fully confident that you are making the right long-term move.

Whatever it may be, you can now adeptly compare your apples to oranges between systems to fully understand the total cost of a utility billing system…and your quote tells an entirely accurate story.