BidEnergy signs electricity bill automation deal with Origin Energy, former chairman sues for unfair dismissal

BidEnergy Origin Energy ASX BID ORG Baillieu
BidEnergy has signed a three-year agreement with Origin Energy to deploy its robotic process automation platform to Origin's commercial and industrial customers.

Automated energy bill management company BidEnergy (ASX: BID) has signed an agreement with Origin Energy (ASX: ORG) to deploy its white-labelled Robotic Processing Automation (RPA) platform to customers within Origin’s commercial and industrial database.

The three-year agreement will provide Origin customers with an easy-access portal for bills, meter data, customised reports and analytics, and online communications.

It follows Origin’s successful trial of the platform earlier this year with more than 14,500 of its commercial and industrial customers and is expected to be rolled out across 28,000 energy meters by December.

BidEnergy managing director Guy Maine said Origin is one of the first energy retailers globally to adopt an RPA-enabled customer facing platform.

“This is our first agreement [focused on helping] a significant energy retailer to provide a friendly, data-rich experience for their customers in a dynamic and highly-competitive marketplace,” he said.

“It is a key step [in our RPA platform] becoming the industry standard for excellence in managing utility bills worldwide.”

Speedy and accurate

RPA technology collects bills issued to customers and validates the usage, rates and charges against contracts, meter data, and network and utility tariffs.

Capable of processing thousands of bills in minutes, the cloud-based platform is devoid of human intervention and promises to deliver speedy and accurate outcomes which cannot be achieved by manual or semi-automated systems.

Mr Maine said organisations with large and diverse customer portfolios can be ideal RPA end-users.

“We are seeing global interest in aspects of our platform from utility companies, energy brokers and other market participants where an RPA solution can solve unique data management challenges,” he said.

“The agreement with Origin reinforces our strategic sales channel that delivers revenue “as a service” through white labelling with one partner and the provision of services to many customers.”

Planned transparency

An important feature of BidEnergy’s strategy is its ability to tailor a clear plan for business customers using sophisticated analytics, machine learning and reporting.

The company was the first to offer a flat-rate subscription model for energy spend management, with “no misaligned commissions or so-called ‘out-of-scope’ consulting fees”.

The approach is pertinent in light of the 2017 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry into electricity supply and prices, which highlighted a lack of transparency in the energy market particularly with relation to discounts and tariffs.

The inquiry reported that consumers and businesses are faced with a multitude of complex energy offers which cannot be compared easily.

“Many of these issues arise from unnecessarily complex and confusing behaviour by electricity retailers [and] there is little awareness of the tools available to help consumers make informed choices or seek assistance if they are struggling to pay their bills,” it said.

The inquiry also found one in two businesses are paying more for electricity than they should in an environment where local energy prices have increased 55% in a decade.

“It is no great secret that Australia has an electricity affordability problem … price increases over the past 10 years are putting businesses and consumers under unacceptable pressure,” the report said.

“Many small to medium businesses operate on very small margins, and cannot afford the increases to their costs that have occurred over past years.”

In BidEnergy’s 2018 annual report, now-former chairman and prominent Melbourne investor James Baillieu said the ACCC’s findings were timely.

“This inquiry has added to consumer awareness of rising energy costs,” he said at the time.

“[We believe] BidEnergy is uniquely placed to offer an innovative solution for large and small business, as well as residential customers.”

Unfair dismissal

Mr Baillieu was chairman and non-executive founding director of BidEnergy, leading a $6.5 million capital raising in 2017, supplemented by $1 million of his own funds.

He left the role in February, with BidEnergy citing an apparent “difference of opinion” with board members regarding leadership of the company – claims Mr Baillieu went on to dispute in an unsolicited letter sent to shareholders in April.

In the letter, he claimed his removal from the board was a case of unfair dismissal, and part of a “secret scheme” to oust him which could have “significant implications for the current operation and management of BidEnergy”.

In July, Mr Baillieu launched legal action against Mr Maine and fellow BidEnergy directors Andrew Dyer and Leanne Graham for disclosing “factually incorrect and misleading” information regarding his departure and Mr Dyer’s industry experience.

Reports last week claimed Mr Dyer had requested Mr Baillieu consider dropping the lawsuit or potentially face criminal prosecution.

Track record

Mr Baillieu is no stranger to litigation, having displayed a decent track record for boardroom battles in Australia’s business circles.

With the BidEnergy lawsuit, he is believed to be attempting to recoup about $4.6 million lost on the sale of a parcel of the company’s shares.