Mobile technology for meter reading and billing

► Winning entry submitted by Wonderkid Multimedia (Kenya)

The concept is a mobile-based system that improves metering and billing in water utilities, thus reducing commercial losses. Using the Mobile Field Assistant (MFA) software, meter readers use basic GPS-enabled smartphones to read meters and send readings directly to the utility’s billing system. A bill is then generated and the customer is alerted by SMS. This reduces opportunities for error and fraud and cuts billing-cycle times.

The technology has a proven track record. It is designed for the reading of traditional (non-networked, non-smart) meters, which are much more common in developing countries. In 2014 and 2015, within just one year of deployment at Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), MFA resulted in a significant reduction in commercial losses and improved revenue collection. The platform, based largely on open-source software, is also used in seven other water utilities in Kenya.

Although comparable systems exist elsewhere, the MFA system is, and will continue to be, continually adapted to local operating conditions and capabilities so that it can function well with water companies of different sizes and with different data challenges.

To get around the difficulty for many water utilities of finding funds to put such a system in place, the service provider finances 75% of the set-up costs of the system – through a loan from a commercial bank. (The other 25% of set-up costs and an annual fee will be paid by the water utility.) The service provider recovers the 75% from the water utility only if MFA performs well enough to bring in sufficient additional revenue to the water utility, as verified by (roughly) the difference between average revenue per customer before and after the introduction of MFA. The concept therefore goes beyond a simple service contract: the provider provides financing and bears a substantial part of the risk of non-performance.