The new Bilaterals Hub is the future for the UK water retail market, but does it mean for customers? Nic Clay-Michael, Gentrack Water expert considers the implications.
It’s likely you’ve heard the term Bilaterals Hub a lot recently. That’s because it’s at the heart of changes being made in the UK’s non-household water market thanks to a mandate issued by water regulator Ofwat to Market Operator Services Limited (MOSL).
While the term may sound quite dry, the Bilateral Transactions Programme is considered to be “the most fundamental development since the retail water market opened in 2017”.
To help you understand the incoming bilateral transaction agreements, in this blog, we break down what you need to know about the changes to regulation, how it will benefit customers and how Gentrack can help the water retail market make the most of the changes.
Although there has already been much development in the market since the retail water market opened, many operators – and the regulator – now want to make the non-household market an “easier place to do business”. That’s great news for customers, with visibility and communications between retailers, wholesalers and customers set to improve.
Applying modern workflow management techniques to more water industry processes, the changes will make it possible for retailers to handle the majority of remaining customer interactions with a single central system in England. It means that water retailers will finally have a single view of their business customers for the first time.
What you need to know about bilateral transaction agreements
The need for consistency in bilateral transactions between retailers and wholesalers in the retail water market isn’t new; in fact, it was recognised prior to the market opening in 2017. However, the programme was taken out of scope so as not to interfere with the successful delivery of market opening. While this is understandable, it has today resulted in 25 wholesalers and over 30 retailers using different methods to connect and share information, without a central information or reporting source between them.
It’s easy to see how that has led to problems, with hundreds, or even thousands of combinations in the market. To tackle this, MOSL has developed the Bilaterals Hub –a central record repository to be followed and monitored by all in the industry. Businesses that don’t comply will also face penalties to ensure that everyone is working together.
MOSL plans to implement the new process between now and November 2022, meaning businesses must make the changes they need over the next 18 months. By November 2022, MOSL aims to have reviewed most of the frequently used processes and built them into the Bilaterals Hub. Day-to-day processes such as switching, meter reads and settlements are already automated in the Central Market Operating System, (CMOS) so this new Hub will extend automation to more out of the ordinary, less frequent events.
Overall, MOSL intends the Bilateral Transaction Programme to help the industry:
- adopt a consistent approach to raise and respond to bilateral requests between wholesalers and retailers
- facilitate simpler, leaner, and faster operational processes
- increase automation, making better use of central data and reducing the number of bilateral transactions that are rejected
- require trading parties to use fewer user accounts and logins, reducing the need for manual intervention
- enable more transparent performance levels that are easier to compare and report, helping to drive continued improvements in the industry’s performance.
Customers are the real winners
At the centre of these changes is the positive impact they will have on customers. Currently, the relationship is between the customer and retailer; however, the retailer cannot do everything. Instead, they need to act as a go-between for both the wholesaler and the customer. Because of that complex communications triangle, it’s clear that a multi-lateral approach is the way forward for the retail water market.
The Bilaterals Hub will enable all parties – retailers, wholesalers and therefore customers, to have access to the information that is needed, such as progress on Installing and repairing meters, connections and disconnections, Trade Effluent Consents and Allowances. A central repository will also replace dispersed content assets, such as individual documents or spreadsheets.
Ultimately, the customer can rest assured that information will be available to those who need it, (in accordance with best practices around data security and governance, of course) so reducing friction and waiting times and giving the best possible service when it’s needed.
How we can help water retailers make the transition
At Gentrack, we want to ensure that excellent customer service is the norm for all water retailers. Our customer care and billing solution for water retailers enables the management of all three central market systems in one place and provides a single view of the customer to the market, enabling excellent and efficient customer service.
By using such a system, there’s no need for agents to switch between several platforms, which frequently causes delays while communicating with the customer – leaving both parties frustrated.
With the biggest change to the retail water market set to accelerate in the coming months, it’s essential retailers now adopt a transparent, bilateral customer care and billing solution to allow them to communicate with customers more smoothly.
Thanks to the bilateral transactions programme, businesses will be able to locate even more of the information they need quickly from one place, reduce the amount of time wasted and ensure customers are happy.