An IT system that was supposed to make British Gas the darling
of consumers nationwide in the UK, has, instead, become the
focus of a multimillion-pound legal battle.
British Gas had hoped to consign complaints about the business
to history - but, in the event, it was described by watchdogs
as being in meltdown and thousands of its customers decided
that they had suffered enough and switched to a rival.
Now, the origins of the customer service problems a year
ago, which caused complaints about Britain's biggest residential
energy supplier to rise nearly threefold to record levels,
are at the centre of a £182 million High Court writ.
Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, confirmed
that it was suing Accenture - the global consultancy
group - about the state-of-the-art IT system. It claims that
the 'Project Jupiter' system reduced British Gas's
customer billing process to such a mess that the energy supplier
had to hire 2,500 extra staff and invest millions more pounds
to fix the problems and make it work.
The showdown promises to last for months as each company
fights to prove that it was not to blame for inaccurate bills
sent to homes across the UK. Complaints to Energywatch, the
UK watchdog, about British Gas hit a record 14,001 in March
Accenture has vowed to fight its corner, stating - "We
are confident, based on the facts of the situation, that this
claim is baseless and without merit. Centrica is only trying
to shift the blame for a situation it created."
Centrica hired Accenture to provide the new billing system
seven years ago. It was to bring together the records of British
Gas's 12.5 million gas and electricity customers onto one
platform capable of handling 250,000 meter readings and 200,000
bills a day. The £317 million fee would come from the
£397 million of savings that British Gas expected to
obtain from the project.
Centrica claims that, after a number of glitches, in March
2006, Accenture guaranteed a software upgrade that would work.
Centrica argues that, instead, the system continued to struggle
and generated a high level of 'exceptions' - billing
issues that required manual intervention.
Centrica also claims that Accenture failed to provide adequate
computer hardware and did not integrate the system properly.
The energy supplier formally notified Accenture that it was
in breach of contract in February 2007.
In the past year, since British Gas fixed the system itself,
complaints to Energywatch about the supplier have fallen 85
per cent, a British Gas spokesman said.