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Part of the commercial facts of life for Yorkshire Electricity - a business with a turnover of over u1.3 billion - is that legal issues have to be taken seriously.
Yorkshire Electricity's Group Legal Services acts on behalf of all group businesses, and the bulk of its time is spent dealing with cases of customers who cannot, or will not, pay their electricity bills. Of 25,000 cases that may be in arrears on any one occasion, over 2,000 will be passed on for legal action.
To support this process, the legal department has implemented OpenCMS - a PC-based product from Tenhill Computer Systems. It uses a Windows graphical user interface, is more friendly than its mainframe predecessor and responds quicker. There is also more flexibility, with many parameters defined by users, making it easier to control.
The new system had to fulfil a number of requirements: it had to permit links between the Unix and mainframe systems; it had to handle a certain volume of cases, comply with Law Society requirements and come from a reliable supplier.
Unlike some of its competitors OpenCMS delivers productivity without being overbearing.
Much of the process of civil litigation can now be handled automatically and individual members of staff are involved only where necessary. The OpenCMS system lets cases be managed by exception - action is prompted where cases may be disputed or contact is required with the court to get matters moving. The system allows us to dominate the process, dealing with the volume of debt while still treating people as individuals. Benefits from added efficiency are seen in terms of improved service and productivity, rather than reduced costs. We prefer to convince people to pay - talking can often be more productive.
The benefits delivered by the new system depend on the management information produced by the system itself. Detailed reports can provide information on the performance of individual members of staff. This need not become a coercive measure of performance, but it does offer a measure of internal performance and management control. It monitors the need for staff training.
Access to management information allows the performance of the department to be measured. We can state our success in generating responses from pre-court letters or calculate payments and judgments resulting from summonses issued. It also allows us to gauge the effect of severity of cases on our success. We might highlight that a group client is hanging on to cases too long; passing them to us when it is too late to achieve a result. It is vital that we should be able to demonstrate good value for money to our group clients.
Richard Bean is Yorkshire Electricity's group solicitor.