Philadelphia amends contract for water-billing system

Philadelphia officials announced Wednesday an agreement in principle with Oracle Corp. to restart a suspended water-billing system initiative called Project Ocean at no extra cost to the city.

An amended contract between the city and Oracle calls for additional off-the-shelf utility billing software, said City Solicitor Romulo Diaz Jr.

"We'll have the functionality that the city requires and be able to meet budget requirements and have the billing system up and running sometime in the fall of 2007," Diaz said in an interview. That means the system should be working before the end of Mayor John Street's administration at the end of 2007.

The project is still expected to cost about US$18 million, even with the addition of billing software, said outgoing Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff in a separate interview. She leaves Friday to become a municipal wireless consultant, and the city has named Terry Phillis as acting CIO.

Neff and other officials would not name the new billing software vendor until the amended contract is finalized. But Neff said it is a well-known package that the city has already evaluated and found to be workable. The vendor is one of Oracle's many recognized business partners, she said.

Neff defended the $18 million cost, which is about double the anticipated price tag when the project was conceived in 2003. She said the industry average cost for a modern sophisticated utility billing system serving Philadelphia's 600,000 water customers could be expected to exceed $32 million.