Trusting Automatic Bill Payment….Where’s The Proof?

Pay BillsI like to pay my bills.  That statement alone typically results in some odd stares.  But it’s true.  To me it’s simply proof that I’m on top of things.  It also keeps my credit score high, but that’s a secondary benefit.  Keep in mind that I don’t like receiving bills in the mail any more than the next person.  I know they’re coming, that I (generally) owe the indicated amount, and I receive personal satisfaction paying them on time, every time.

Based on that introduction you may have guessed that I’m also a bit obsessive with the associated paperwork trail.  I use a double-entry system for tracking payment . There is the old-fashioned checkbook register, as well as an Excel-based table for automatic balance calculation.  Actually, it’s a triple-entry system if you include my online checking account, from which the vast majority of bill payments are distributed.  Admittedly it is more work, but I have full visibility into incoming bills, the ability to verify amounts owed, and control over when payments are sent out, etc.

Could I streamline the bill paying process and remove some of this effort?  Absolutely.  I could set up automatic bill payment so that when a bill is received, the amount due is automatically distributed from my checking account.  But I won’t do this, at least not yet anyway.  What is the primary reason?  I’ve found billing errors in the past.  And as I’m sure many of you know it can take many weeks or months for a correction or credit to be made at the utility or credit card company.   That is assuming you catch their mistake.  I’m certainly in favor of going with an automated process but want assurance there aren’t errors.  In other words, I want proof.  I certainly don’t want to have to constantly log into each credit card and utility company portal to verify status.

You might be asking why the view into my personal bill-paying habits in an IT-based blog on management?  Well, there’s an interesting link between visibility into accuracy of charges, payment, and automation for utility bills and data protection management.

There’s an electric utility company in Missouri that gets it right.  Central Electric Power Cooperative is an electric utility that provides high voltage transmission and wholesale power for member distribution cooperatives in central Missouri.  They were experiencing challenges with visibility into failures in their data protection environment.  When backups failed, administrators had to dig for information on the root cause manually.  This was not exactly efficient or confidence-evoking.

With an understanding of their issues, Central Electric Power Cooperative implemented new backup and Data Protection Management solutions to ensure backups happened on time, every time.  They also gained unified insight into their data protection environment to prove all backup processes completed so they can automate and correctly report backup success, then charge member cooperatives for data protection services they provide centrally.  If desired, Central Electric Power Cooperative can enable their customers with access to the central reporting console to verify service levels.  Either way, with proof of service level delivery, their member cooperatives can be confident they are being billed accurately.  There are other benefits to Central Electric Power Cooperative as well. – The management automation and information provided by their Data Protection Management solution saves Central Electric’s backup operator an hour a day.

Data Protection Management solutions enable users to understand their recovery service levels and remove uncertainty.  They also simplify operational efforts by consolidating data protection information in a centralized console as well as find and anticipate issues affecting recovery and ensure action is taken.  Most importantly they provide proof of protection.

So why can’t my utility providers automatically verify services and amount due prior to billing customers to  avoid these painful errors?

It would certainly help if they enabled their customers with visibility and access to proof before sending the bill.  With that I would certainly take a harder look at automated bill payment.  I will continue with my “trust, but verify” approach until my utility providers and credit card companies can provide services similar to those of a Data Protection Management solution, e.g.:

  • Provide one unified console with comprehensive visibility
  • Provide real-time insight into status
  • Provide automatic alerts if something unexpected occurs, and most importantly
  • Provide proof of data protection

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some bills to pay…

About the Author: Tom Giuliano