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Background on the Prepaid Vending System
  1. Introduction:           
  • Eskom has been experiencing performance problems with its online prepaid vending system with customers not being able to purchase prepaid electricity.
  • Following these problems, Eskom established a special task team to manage the situation and called in external experts and consultants to assist in finding the cause and resolving the issue.
  • A recovery team, led by Eskom�s Finance Director  Paul O�Flaherty worked in parallel with the task team to resolve this problem and ensure that we do not experience similar problems in the future
  • This is an IT related issue and is unrelated to power capacity issues.
  • The problem is national, with significant complaints received from customers in the Western Cape
  1. Progress Update
  • The team investigating problems with the online vending system for prepaid customers has recommended that the system be replaced with a larger, faster system that will have increased functions.
  • Following this recommendation by the team, Eskom will be replacing its entire prepaid vending system, which is used by customers to purchase prepaid electricity coupons, with a more convenient, stable and reliable system.
  • The development and installation of the new prepaid vending system will take 12-18 months.
  • In the meantime, the existing vending system may be intermittent, slow or unstable. However, Eskom has proactively developed a number of solutions to ensure that customers can continue to purchase coupons.
  • Eskom will communicate the specific details of these temporary solutions as soon as customers need to know when, where and how to purchase the coupons.
  1. Background:
  • Eskom�s current online vending system is five years old.
  • There are 4,7 million prepaid customers, most of whom are rural and low-income earners.
  • Customers have been experiencing problems with purchasing electricity from six possible vendors namely Cigicell, Easypay, Q Amps, Itron, Conlag and FNB.
  •  Of the six vendors, Cigicell, EasyPay and Q Amps supply the bulk of customers with Cigicell supplying 50% of customers, EasyPay 21% and Q Amps 21%.  Itron, Conlag and FNB range between 5% to 1% of customers.
  • Cigicell channels include ATM�s, Spar, internet, service stations, cellphones, vendors, seven eleven stores,
  • EasyPay channels include Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Checkers, Woolworths, Engen, Internet, cellphone. Interesting to note, most of the customers in the Cape purchases prepaid electricity via Easypay.
  • Q Amps channel includes internet, spaza shops in urban townships
  • Itron mirrors Cigicells channels however, on a very small scale
  • Conlag services approximately 200 000 KZN users through its independent units
  • FNB services 2% of customers through ATMs, online banking and within its banking halls
  • On average 1,200 pre-paid token purchases are made per minute with peak in demand experienced at month end.
  • The online vending system experienced technical difficulties in November 2011 for several days. At this point, Eskom had replaced the hardware system and created a back-up at Megawatt Park.
  1. Outline of the recent problem
  • On 31 January 2012 Eskom experienced a degradation in performance of the system with customers experiencing problems with the system since Tuesday 1 February 2012.
  • Customers were unable to purchase electricity or experienced slow service at various vending stations.
  • On 02 February 2012 Eskom experienced a component failure in the prepaid system. The system was switched over to the backup and the failed component was replaced.
  • Since replacing the component the systems performance on Eskom�s side has improved and the volume of transactions being processed increased. However customers continued to experience technical difficulties when attempting to purchase electricity.
  • We estimate that approximately 1 million customers are impacted by this problem
  • We identified that three of the vendors namely Cigicell, EasyPay and Q Amps experienced connectivity problems and were unable to service customers.
  • Itron, Conlag and FNB operated with little or no problems.
  • The key issues identified were Datalog, Vendor connectivity and hardware problems with the system, which occurred simultaneously during this stage
  • Datalog is experienced whereby customers are dropped from the system during the verification stage of the process.
  • Customers were frustrated, irate and were unable to purchase electricity. They used various channels to complain: media, social media sites, calling and visiting Eskom contact centres, email and calling the Chief Executive at head office
  • We�ve seen significant increase in our call centre volumes when the system was down
  • We continuously informed and apologised to affected customers about the problem through various media and updated them on the developments around the challenges.  We have also ensured that we sensitise customers about the dangers of illegal connections done through bypassing the system.  There are stringent security measures that Eskom put in place to protect our staff members that work in the affected areas.
  • Our communication key objectives included creating space, sharing our actions, sharing our solution and implementing the solution. We communicated that we understand that the communication cannot solve the problem until technical solutions are identified. In addition we resolved to keep all stakeholders updated.
  • We have also been communicating with our Vendors to keep abreast with the latest developments.
  1. Conclusion:
  • We are working hard to install the new system
  • We will continue to share with you all information about the progress in the installation of the new system.