Water bill to go digital?

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 Many sectors have been affected by the growing paper shortage in the country; forcing them to move to digital platforms. Paperwork has been reduced, thanks to developments in technology, providing cost-effective ways to conduct business.

Printing and issuing paper-based utility bills is the standard practice in Sri Lanka. But with technological advancements and the paper shortage, the public is quickly adopting to digital systems

NWSDB’s plans

Recently, the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) said they will introduce ways to issue bills digitally instead of paper bills. Accordingly, the payments also can be made via online platforms.

Speaking to the Deputy General Manager (Commercial), G. A. Piyal Pathmanatha, noted that they only have printing material for three months and won’t be able to issue paper bills after these stocks are depleted.

“Instead of printed bills, we have decided to introduce three digital methods, including SMS service, E-billing system, and mobile printer service. The customers will be provided with a small size printed bill along with meter reading and the cost of the mobile printer service. Also, NWSDB is planning to issue a digital customer account statement for people who need them,” Pathmanatha said.

While describing the process, he noted that one needs to send their water bill account number and email address to 0719399999 to register for the service to receive their bills on their phone and email. The mobile printer service is for the people who don’t have a phone, he said.

He further noted that planning and discussions in this regard are underway and the implementation of this system will begin next week before the country will face a huge paper shortage. “We have already started testing the services and people were asked to register for SMS and e-billing services. At present, several users have started using the system and some of the active users have already started receiving bills on their mobile phones.

In the meantime, we have not taken any final decision to implement the mobile printer system. Several discussions need to be conducted in order to check whether we need to go for a tender call”.

So far, around 70,000 have registered for e-billing whereas around 2.1 million citizens have registered for SMS services.

Reason  

Meanwhile, NWSDB Area Engineer for Kelaniya, G. S. Pradeep, noted that the country will face a huge paper shortage soon. “The paper shortage has been identified as a national issue and is the major reason for the quick decision of the NWSDB,” he said and added that companies who import papers for printing utility bills are facing numerous difficulties due to the dollar shortage.

Is it practical?

 Pradeep further said that not everyone owns a mobile phone and this will not be practically possible. “There’s only a fifty-fifty chance that it will be practical”. 

“Some people are used to hard copies and shifting them to the digital system will not be possible. Requesting people to pay the bills without issuing a bill will be another issue. Some Government organisations need printed bills as they follow filings for all their expenses. In this case, issuing a digital bill will not be practical. Even though issuing manual bills costs a lot, sometimes we need to keep doing it in order to make the customers pay it,” he said.  

While commenting about the effectiveness of the system, Pathmanatha noted that implementing digital systems will be cost-effective. However, not everyone in the country is used to that, and still; some government institutions prefer manual bills to digital e-bills.

By Eunice Ruth