The energy giant Centrica has launched a writ against the consultancy group Accenture, demanding £182m in damages after the alleged failure of an IT system which Accenture built and installed for Centrica's British Gas division.
Centrica claims that problems with the IT system were at the root of a collapse in British Gas's customer service levels during 2006 and 2007 – a breakdown that cost the company thousands of customers. In 2006 alone, the group is estimated to have lost 1 million customers.
The company claims that it can trace the root of the problems back to the installation of a new IT system by Accenture, known as "Project Jupiter", which it was hired to create and install in 2001. Accenture vigorously denies the accusations, describing them as "baseless and without merit". Centrica said: "In 2001, British Gas employed Accenture to undertake the design and implementation of a new customer billing system. However, when this new system was rolled out during 2006-07, it became apparent that there were problems with the system which severely impacted on British Gas's customer service operations.
"A subsequent independent analysis of the billing system has concluded that Accenture was responsible for fundamental errors in the design and implementation of the system. As a direct consequence, British Gas was forced to make significant investments to address the system failures and these investments are ongoing. It also incurred significant additional staff costs to manage the customer service issues."
A spokesperson for Accenture said it had met all the commitments and specifications set by Centrica, and had delivered the project on time and within budget. It added that Centrica had also conducted extensive testing of the new system before formally accepting it.
"Accenture rejects responsibility for the situation Centrica created," an Accenture spokes-man said. "Centrica directed the design, build and implementation of the Jupiter system and insisted on many of the features they now find problematic. At their own choice, after extensive testing, in March 2006, Centrica took over total control over all aspects of the system about which they now complain and has operated the system themselves for over two years.
"Centrica is only trying to shift blame for a situation it created."
Centrica paid a total of £317m for the implantation of the system.
Meanwhile, British Gas is expected to update consumers on rocketing wholesale gas prices at its annual general meeting today. It is thought that gas bills could go up by another 30 per cent this year due to the continued increase in wholesale prices.