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Publication numberUS20030069845 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 09/974,551
Publication dateApr 10, 2003
Filing dateOct 9, 2001
Priority dateOct 9, 2001
Also published asCA2406761A1, US7668779, US20060287954
Publication number09974551, 974551, US 2003/0069845 A1, US 2003/069845 A1, US 20030069845 A1, US 20030069845A1, US 2003069845 A1, US 2003069845A1, US-A1-20030069845, US-A1-2003069845, US2003/0069845A1, US2003/069845A1, US20030069845 A1, US20030069845A1, US2003069845 A1, US2003069845A1
InventorsRichard DeWitt, Nadia Lannie
Original AssigneeDewitt Richard R., Lannie Nadia Hermiz
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Method and system for tracking and verifying billing exceptions
US 20030069845 A1
Abstract
A method and system for verifying charges billed to a customer by a vendor is disclosed. A set of billing data associated with the charges is loaded into a billing verification system that is accessible by both the customer and the vendor via a distributed computer network. The customer reviews the billing data via the billing verification system to identify billing exceptions associated with any disputed charges. A billing exception record is generated in the billing verification system for each of the billing exceptions. The vendor is then notified of the billing exceptions. The vendor reviews and responds to the billing exception records via the billing verification system. A billing exception response record is generated for each vendor response. The customer is then notified of the reviewed billing exception response records.
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Claims(24)
1. A method of verifying charges billed to a customer by a vendor, comprising:
loading a set of billing data associated with the charges into a billing verification system that is accessible by both the customer and the vendor via a distributed computer network;
facilitating customer review of the billing data via the billing verification system to identify one or more billing exceptions associated with one or more disputed charges;
generating a billing exception record in the billing verification system for each of the billing exceptions;
notifying the vendor of the availability of the billing exception records;
facilitating vendor review of and response to the billing exception records via the billing verification system;
generating a billing exception response record for each of the vendor responses; and
notifying the customer of the availability of the vendor response records.
2. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, wherein:
the vendor provides the set of billing data in the form of an electronic data file; and
the set of billing data is loaded into the billing verification system from the electronic data file.
3. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, wherein:
the vendor provides the set of billing data in the form of a hardcopy bill; and
the set of billing data is loaded into the billing verification system by an operator that manually enters the billing data from the hardcopy bill.
4. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, wherein the set of billing data represents one or more invoices from the vendor.
5. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 5, wherein the disputed charges consist of one or more line items selected from the vendor invoices.
6. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 5, wherein the disputed charges consist of all line items selected from one or more of the vendor invoices.
7. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, wherein each of the vendor responses corresponds to an action selected from the group consisting of:
allowing the billing exception;
disallowing the billing exception; and
partially allowing the billing exception.
8. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 7, wherein the partial allowance of the billing exception includes identifying a partially allowed dollar value.
9. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, further comprising:
incorporating customer comments in the billing exception record.
10. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, further comprising:
attaching customer supporting electronic documentation to the billing exception record.
11. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, further comprising:
incorporating vendor comments in the billing exception response record.
12. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, further comprising:
attaching vendor supporting electronic documentation to the billing exception response record.
13. A method of verifying vendor charges billed to a customer by a vendor as in claim 1, further comprising:
automatically generating a credit for an allowed billing exception dollar value against a vendor account in a customer accounts payable system.
14. A method of verifying repair facility charges billed to an equipment owner by a repair agent, comprising:
loading a set of repair billing data associated with the repair charges into a computer-based billing verification system that is accessible to both the equipment owner and the repair agent via a distributed computer network;
facilitating equipment owner review of the repair billing data via the billing verification system to identify one or more billing exceptions associated with one or more disputed repair charges;
generating a billing exception record in the billing verification system for each of the billing exceptions;
notifying the repair agent of the billing exceptions;
facilitating repair agent review of and response to the billing exception records via the billing verifications system;
generating a billing exception response record for one or more repair agent responses; and
notifying the customer of the repair agent responses.
15. A method of verifying repair charges billed to an equipment owner by a repair agent as in claim 14, wherein facilitating repair agent review further comprises facilitating review by a repair agent managing representative of all billing exception records.
16. A method of verifying repair charges billed to an equipment owner by a repair agent as in claim 14, wherein facilitating repair agent review further comprises facilitating review by a repair agent field representative of only those billing exception records that are associated with a field repair facility for which the field representative is responsible.
17. A method of verifying repair charges billed to an equipment owner by a repair agent as in claim 14, wherein the billing exception records are displayed in a format that complies with the Association of American Railroads Interchange Rules governing billing repair cards.
18. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer, comprising:
a billing verification database;
means for loading a set of billing data associated with the charges into the database;
a customer graphical user interface in communication with the database and operable to facilitate customer review of the billing data to identify a plurality of billing exceptions associated with a plurality of disputed charges and to generate a billing exception record in the database for each of the billing exceptions;
a vendor graphical user interface in communication with the database and operable to facilitate vendor review of the billing exception records to generate a billing exception response record in the database for each of the reviewed billing exception records.
19. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer as in claim 18, wherein each billing exception response record is contained within the corresponding billing exception record.
20. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer as in claim 18, further comprising:
a server in communication with the billing verification database, and operable to generate a plurality of custom web pages; and wherein
the customer graphical user interface and the vendor graphical user interface each include at least one of the plurality of custom web pages generated by the server.
21. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer as in claim 20, wherein the customer graphical user interface is displayed on a customer computer workstation that is in communication with the server via a distributed computer network.
22. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer as in claim 20, wherein the vendor graphical user interface is displayed on a vendor computer workstation that is in communication with the server via a distributed computer network.
23. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer as in claim 18, further comprising:
a mainframe accounting system operable to store the set of billing data; and wherein
the means for loading the set of billing data transfer the set of billing data from the mainframe accounting system to the billing verification database.
24. A system for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer as in claim 18, wherein the server is in communication with a customer accounts payable system.
Description
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to billing exceptions. In particular, this invention relates to methods and systems for verifying charges billed by a vendor to a customer and for processing the customer's exceptions to those charges. Although it is applicable to a wide variety of industries, the invention will be described with a particular emphasis on billing for railcar repair services in the railroad industry.

[0002] The railroad network in the United States includes a number of railroad systems that are owned by different companies. Together, these systems comprise a complete railroad network that connects locations across the nation. Although some railroad companies also own their own railcars, many railcars are owned by other companies that do not own any part of the railroad network itself. To move from one location to another, therefore, one company's railcars frequently need to travel over another company's railroad system.

[0003] Repair facilities are positioned at various locations throughout the railroad network. These facilities are available to perform any necessary repairs to railcars in the area. The repair facilities are owned and operated by various railroad companies and independent repair contractors. When a railcar repair becomes necessary, it typically is performed at the nearest repair facility. Under limited authority granted by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Interchange Rules, the owner of the repair facility acts as a repair agent for the owner of the railcar needing repair. In this way, the owner of a given repair facility may act as a repair agent for a number of different railcar owners. Likewise, a given owner's railcars may be repaired by a number of different repair agents as those railcars travel the railroad network. In these situations, the repair agent is a vendor of services provided to its customer, the railcar owner.

[0004] Like many other types of vendors, repair agents typically bill railcar owners for repair services on a monthly basis. Billing for railcar repairs is generally governed by the AAR Interchange Rules. A typical monthly bill may include charges for all repairs performed on the owner's railcars at all of the repair agent's facilities. A billing repair card is included for each repair. Each billing repair card indicates, among other things, the date of repair, the railcar number, the type of car, the repair location, and a description and cost of the repair, including parts and labor. If not governed directly by the AAR Interchange Rules, the cost of repair may be governed by one or more repair agreements between the repair agent and the railcar owner.

[0005] In some instances, a railcar owner may wish to dispute charges billed by a repair agent. For example, the repair agent may have charged the wrong railcar owner, charged more than is allowed by the applicable repair agreement, or failed to justify the charge for a given repair. These situations also are governed by the AAR Interchange Rules. In these cases, the railcar owner generates an “exception” to the repair bill, explaining the reasons for disputing the particular repair charges. According to existing practices, the railcar owner prepares an exception packet, which includes an exception letter, copies of the billing repair cards for which exceptions are taken, and any necessary supporting documentation. The railcar owner indicates the reasons for the exceptions on the billing repair cards. The owner sends the entire exception packet to the repair agent. The repair agent reviews the exception packet and approves or disapproves each exception. For each exception approved or accepted by the repair agent, the appropriate repair charges are credited to the railcar owner's account or counter-billed bto the repair agent by the railcar owner. In some cases, the repair agent may approve only a portion of an exception, in which case only a portion of the repair charges are credited.

[0006] The existing system for processing exceptions is inefficient and paper-intensive. The railcar owner must wait to receive an exception approval from the repair agent before its account is credited. The repair agent, however, must investigate the repair to which an exception is taken to determine whether the charges are appropriate. In many cases, a manager of the repair agent separates the billing repair cards according to the facility that performed the repairs. The manager then distributes the billing repair cards to field representatives at the various repair facilities for their comments. Once the manager receives comments from all of the field representatives, the manager makes a final decision to approve, disapprove, or partially approve each exception. The manager then sends these responses to the railcar owner. This process typically requires months to complete. Moreover, the shipping and handling associated with all of this correspondence is expensive for both the repair agent and the railcar owner. Accordingly, there is a need for a more efficient and less expensive method and system for tracking and processing billing exceptions.

[0007] It is, therefore, an object of the present invention to provide an improved method and system for efficiently tracking and verifying charges billed to a customer by a vendor. It is another object of the present invention to provide an improved method and system for efficiently tracking and verifying charges billed by a repair agent to an equipment owner, preferably in a manner that complies with the AAR Interchange Rules.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0008] In accordance with the present invention, a method and system are described for verifying charges billed to a customer by a vendor.

[0009] According to one aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of verifying charges billed to a customer by a vendor. A set of billing data associated with the charges is loaded into a billing verification system that is accessible by both the customer and the vendor via a distributed computer network. The customer reviews the billing data via the billing verification system to identify billing exceptions associated with any disputed charges. A billing exception record is generated in the billing verification system for each of the billing exceptions. The vendor is then notified of the billing exceptions. The vendor reviews and responds to the billing exceptions via the billing verification system. A billing exception response record is generated for each vendor response. The customer is then notified of the vendor response.

[0010] According to another aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of verifying repair charges billed to an equipment owner by a repair agent. A set of billing data associated with the repair charges is loaded into a billing verification system that is accessible by both the equipment owner and the repair agent via a distributed computer network. The equipment owner reviews the billing data via the billing verification system to identify billing exceptions associated with any disputed repair charges. A billing exception record is generated in the billing verification system for each of the billing exceptions. The repair agent is then notified of the billing exceptions. The repair agent reviews and responds to the billing exceptions via the billing verification system. A billing exception response record is generated for each repair agent response. The equipment owner is then notified of the repair agent responses.

[0011] According to another aspect of the present invention, a system is provided for verifying vendor charges billed to a customer. The system includes a billing verification database and means for loading a set of billing data associated with the charges into the database. A customer graphical user interface is in communication with the database and is operable to facilitate customer review of the billing data to identify a plurality of billing exceptions associated with a plurality of disputed charges and to generate a billing exception record in the database for each of the billing exceptions. A vendor graphical user interface is in communication with the database and is operable to facilitate vendor review of the billing exception records to generate a billing exception response record in the database for each of the reviewed billing records.

[0012] The invention, and its objects and advantages, will become more apparent in the detailed description of the preferred embodiment presented below.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0013] The subsequent description of the preferred embodiments of the present invention refers to the attached drawings, wherein:

[0014]FIG. 1 shows a block diagram depicting a billing verification system according to one presently preferred embodiment of the invention;

[0015]FIG. 2 shows a block diagram depicting a billing verification system according to another presently preferred embodiment of the invention;

[0016]FIG. 3 shows a flow diagram illustrating a method of verifying charges billed by a vendor to a customer according to another presently preferred embodiment of the invention;

[0017]FIG. 4 shows a flow diagram illustrating, from an equipment owner's perspective, a method of verifying repair charges billed by a repair agent to the equipment owner according to another presently preferred embodiment of the present invention;

[0018]FIG. 5 shows a railcar owner menu screen display from an equipment owner graphical user interface of a billing verification system according to another presently preferred embodiment of the invention;

[0019]FIG. 6 shows a billing exception header screen display from the equipment owner graphical user interface;

[0020]FIG. 7 shows a billing exception record screen display from the equipment owner graphical user interface;

[0021]FIG. 8 shows an exception document attachment screen display from the equipment owner graphical user interface;

[0022]FIG. 9 shows a flow diagram illustrating, from a repair agent's perspective, a method of verifying repair charges billed by the repair agent to an equipment owner according to another presently preferred embodiment of the present invention;

[0023]FIG. 10 shows a repair agent menu screen display from a repair agent graphical user interface of a billing verification system according to another presently preferred embodiment of the invention;

[0024]FIG. 11 shows a billing exception header screen display from the repair agent graphical user interface;

[0025]FIG. 12 shows a billing exception response screen display from the repair agent graphical user interface;

[0026]FIG. 13 shows a response comment screen display from the repair agent graphical user interface; and

[0027]FIG. 14 shows a summary report screen display from the repair agent graphical user interface.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0028] Referring now to the accompanying drawings, FIG. 1 shows a block diagram depicting an exemplary billing verification system 100 according to one presently preferred embodiment of the invention. In this embodiment, the billing verification system 100 preferably is controlled and operated by a customer, represented for purposes of this figure as a dotted block 102. The customer is billed for goods or services by one or more vendors 104 that interface with the system via computer workstations. The system 100 is useful for customers 102 and vendors 104 from a wide variety of industries. For example, the customer 102 may be an equipment owner whose railcars are repaired by one or more repair agents acting as vendors 104.

[0029] In the embodiment of FIG. 1, the customer 102 maintains a server 106 and a database 108. The database 108 in the present embodiment contains billing data relating to charges billed by the vendors 104 to the customer 102. The data includes billing exception records and billing exception response records, as described more fully below. The billing data is accessible by the customer 102 and, perhaps to a more limited extent, the vendors 104, via the server 106. The billing data, which is based on bills sent by the vendors 104 to the customer 102, may be loaded into the database 108 in a number of ways. For instance, a vendor 104 may provide the bill in an electronic file that is uploaded to the server 106, which loads the billing data from the electronic bill file into the database 108. Alternatively, the customer 102 may load the billing data into the billing verification system 100 from a bill received from a vendor 104. The vendor 104 may provide the bill in traditional hardcopy format, or it may provide the bill in an electronic bill file stored on a magnetic tape or other storage media. If the bill is provided in hardcopy format, a customer operator manually enters the billing data into the database 108. In the case of an electronic bill file, the billing data may be automatically transferred from the magnetic tape to the database 108.

[0030] Once the billing data is loaded into the database 108, the customer accesses the billing data via a workstation 110 that is connected to the server 106 via a distributed computer network 112, such as an intranet, local area network, or, preferably, the Internet. Alternatively, the customer workstation 110 may be connected directly to the server 106. Access to the server 106 preferably is controlled via an authentication and access control procedure. Through the workstation 110, the customer is able to review the billing data and generate exceptions, as described more fully below. Preferably, the server 106 generates a customer graphical user interface in the form of custom web pages that provide access to the billing data. These web pages are viewable by the customer via a browser application resident on the customer workstation 110. The server 106 also communicates with the customer accounts payable system 114, preferably via the internal distributed computer network 112.

[0031] Although only one customer workstation 110 is shown in FIG. 1, the system 100 may be accessible to various customer representatives via a number of different workstations 110. For instance, if it is necessary or helpful for customer field representatives in remote locations to review the billing data, they may do so via customer workstations 110 connected to the server 106 via a distributed computer network 112, such as the Internet. In this way, various customer employees are provided convenient and efficient access to the billing data for purposes of expedited review.

[0032] As an alternative to loading the billing data directly into the database 108, the customer may first load the billing data into a mainframe accounting system 116. This alternative provides a transition system for customers that have traditionally processed vendor billing data via a mainframe accounting system 116. For instance, the customer 102 may first review the billing data and generate exceptions on the mainframe accounting system 116. The resulting processed data is then loaded into the database for review by the vendors 104. After a transition period, the customer 102 may eliminate the mainframe accounting system 116 and process all billing data via the server 106 and the database 108.

[0033] When the customer 102 generates exceptions to billing data, billing exception records are created and eventually stored in the database 108. Once the customer 102 has generated exceptions to billing data provided by a particular vendor, the exceptions are released, or made available, to that vendor via the server 106. The vendor then reviews the relevant billing exception records by accessing the server 106 via an external distributed computer network 118, such as an intranet or preferably the Internet. Again, access to the server 106 preferably is controlled via an authentication and access control procedure. The server 106 provides a vendor graphical user interface, preferably in the form of custom web pages that are viewed by the vendor 104 via a browser application resident on a workstation maintained by the vendor 104. The server 106, restricts vendor access to only those billing exception records that relate to billing data for that particular vendor. The authentication and access control procedure ensures that one vendor is not allowed access to other vendors' billing data. After reviewing the billing exception records, the vendor may approve or disapprove the exceptions, as described more fully below.

[0034] The system depicted in FIG. 1 preferably is controlled and operated by the single customer 102, but provides access to multiple vendors 104. Each vendor may have a variety of employees that require access to the billing verification system 100. For instance, if it is necessary or helpful for vendor field representatives in remote locations to review the billing exceptions in order to confirm or deny their legitimacy, they may do so via computer workstations that connect to the server 106 via a distributed computer network 118, such as the Internet. In this way, various vendor employees are provided convenient and efficient access to the billing data for purposes of expedited review of the billing exceptions.

[0035] The block diagram shown in FIG. 2 depicts an alternative billing verification system 200 according to another presently preferred embodiment of the invention. The billing verification system 200 depicted in FIG. 2 provides billing verification services to a number of different customers 102. In this way, the billing verification system 200 of FIG. 2 may act as an industry-wide clearinghouse for billing exceptions. The billing verification system 200 itself may be controlled and operated by a customer 102 or by a third-party service provider.

[0036] Operation of this billing verification system 200 is similar to that of the system 100 shown in FIG. 1. Billing data is uploaded to the database 108 either by a customer 102 or a vendor 104. The customer 102 then accesses the billing verification system 200 via a distributed computer network 118, such as the Internet. The customer 102 then reviews the billing data, and generates any necessary billing exception records through use of the customer graphical user interface. The vendor 104 also accesses the billing verification system 200 via the distributed computer network to review the billing exception records via the vendor graphical user interface. As described above, the authentication and access control procedure restricts customer and vendor access to only the billing data that relates to that customer 102 or vendor 104. Again, multiple employees of both the customers 102 and the vendors 104, perhaps in remote locations, may access the billing verification system through workstations connected to the server 106 via the Internet.

[0037] Operation of these billing verification systems 100, 200 will now be described with reference to FIGS. 3-13. Unless otherwise noted, the discussion will be applicable to both the billing verification system 100 of FIG. 1 and the billing verification system 200 of FIG. 2.

[0038] The flowchart shown in FIG. 3 illustrates a method of verifying charges billed by a vendor 104 to a customer 102 according to one preferred embodiment of the invention. The following description of the method refers generally to customers 102 and vendors 104. Because the method is applicable to a wide variety of industries, the vendors 104 may represent parties that provide any of number of different products or services to the customers 102. The method involves a billing verification system 100, 200, as described above. For purposes of this method, the billing verification system 100, 200 may be controlled and operated by a customer 102, a vendor 104, or a third-party.

[0039] First, the billing data is loaded into the billing verification system 100, 200 in step 302. Depending on the format in which the billing data is provided by the vendor 104, the data may be loaded automatically from an electronic bill file or it may be entered manually from a hardcopy bill. Except in the case of the transition system described above, the billing data resides in the database 108 once it is loaded. The customer then accesses the database 108 and reviews the billing data to identify any billing exceptions in step 304. Customer review of the billing data in step 304 may be performed manually by a customer audit representative, automatically by a computerized auditing system, or by a combination of both manual and automatic review. In addition, multiple customer employees, such as field representatives in remote locations, may access the billing verification system 100, 200 to review the billing data. In step 306, for each billing exception identified by the customer, the billing verification system 100, 200 generates a billing exception record in the database 108. The billing exception record may contain information identifying the bill to which an exception is taken, the amount of the exception, and the reasons justifying the exception. The vendor 104 is then notified of the customer's billing exceptions in step 308. Preferably, this notification is via an electronic mail message generated by the billing verification system 100, 200 and sent to the vendor 104.

[0040] The vendor 104 then accesses the database 108 and reviews the billing exception records in step 310 to identify acceptable billing exceptions. Like the customer review, vendor review may include review by a number of vendor employees, such as field representatives in remote locations. The vendor may approve, disapprove, or partially approve each billing exception. In each case, the billing verification system 100, 200 generates a billing exception response record in the database 108. The billing exception response record may contain information indicating whether the exception has been approved or disapproved, as well as a reason for the approval or disapproval. If the exception is partially approved, the billing exception response record also may include the partially approved dollar value. The billing verification system 100, 200 then notifies the customer of the vendor's billing exception responses in step 314. Like the vendor notification, customer notification preferably is via an electronic mail message generated by the billing verification system 100, 200 and sent to the customer.

[0041] In another preferred embodiment of the present invention, the billing verification system 100, 200 is used in the specific industry of railcar repair. In this embodiment, the billing verification system 100, 200 is used to process billing exceptions for railcar repair charges billed by a repair agent to a railcar equipment owner. The repair agent serves as a vendor 104 of repair services to its customer 102, the railcar owner. This embodiment of the invention, as viewed from the railcar owner's perspective, will now be discussed with reference to FIGS. 4-8.

[0042] The flow diagram shown in FIG. 4 illustrates a transition method of verifying repair charges using both a mainframe accounting system 116 and the billing verification system 100, as described above with reference to FIG. 1. The method begins with the step 402 of loading billing data from billing repair cards into the mainframe accounting system 116. Repair agents provide billing data to railcar owners in the form of billing repair cards. A billing repair card indicates, among other things, the railcar number, the kind of car, the repair date and location, and description and cost of the necessary parts and labor. The format of billing repair cards is governed by the AAR Interchange Rules.

[0043] As described above, the billing data may be loaded into the mainframe accounting system 116 in a number of ways. If the billing repair cards are provided in hardcopy format, the railcar owner may manually enter the billing data via a data entry interface. If the billing repair cards are provided in an electronic file, the billing data may be uploaded to the system automatically.

[0044] After the billing data is loaded into the mainframe accounting system 116, the railcar owner reviews the billing data for any incorrect, or disputed, repair charges in step 404. For each disputed repair charge identified in step 404, a billing exception record is generated in step 406. In step 408, the railcar owner determines whether all billing repair cards for a particular time period have been reviewed. If not, the railcar owner returns to step 404 to review the next billing repair card. Once the railcar owner has reviewed all billing repair cards, the method proceeds to step 410 in which the billing exception records are transferred to the billing verification system 100.

[0045] Using the billing verification system 100, the railcar owner may perform a final review of the billing exception records in step 412. The railcar owner accesses the billing verification system 100 via a railcar owner graphical user interface. The graphical user interface displays information and allows the railcar owner to interact with the interface by using a pointing device to click on buttons and hypertext links. A similar graphical user interface is provided for the repair agent, as described more fully below.

[0046] An example of a railcar owner menu screen display 500 from an exemplary railcar owner graphical user interface is shown in FIG. 5. Under the Auditor Review section 502, the railcar owner may click on hypertext links to select and view billing exception records for various repair agents and time periods. The billing verification system 100, 200 may contain billing data for all repair agents that perform repairs for the railcar owner. Selecting billing exception records for a particular repair agent and a particular time period preferably causes the railcar owner graphical user interface to display a billing exception header screen display 600, an example of which is shown in FIG. 6. A header area 602 of the display 600 shows summary information relating to the billing repair cards and billing exceptions, including bill number, account date, received date, total bill amount, and total exception amount. A search area 604 provides options for selecting billing exception records that correspond to certain criteria, such as car number, exception amount, and repair location (SPLC). When the railcar owner clicks on the “SEARCH” button 606, the graphical user interface displays a billing exception record screen display 700, an example of which is shown in FIG. 7. A repair header area 702 of the display 700 shows, among other things, the railcar number, the date of repair, and the location at which the car was repaired. A repair description area 704 of the display 700 shows line item descriptions of the parts and labor required for the repair. Each repair line item begins with a repair line number that is used to reference billing exceptions. A billing exception area 706 of the display 700 shows exception line item descriptions of any exceptions to the repair charges. The exception line item begins with an exception line number that references the repair line number associated with the repair line item to which an exception is taken. For instance, in the display 700 of FIG. 7, an exception is shown for repair line item number seven, which is described as “LABOR, JACK CAR”. The exception line item description indicates that an exception is taken because the repair agent provided no justification for jacking the car.

[0047] The repair header area 702, repair description area 704, and billing exception area 706 preferably are formatted in a manner that complies with the AAR Interchange Rules governing billing repair cards. A navigation area 708 is also included in the billing exception record screen display 700. By clicking the buttons in the navigation area 708, the railcar owner is able to navigate between different billing exception records.

[0048] If necessary, the railcar owner may attach electronic documentation to support an exception in step 414 of the method illustrated in FIG. 4. This may be accomplished by clicking the “MATL”, “DUP”, or “OTH” hypertext links in the appropriate exception line item of the exception area 706 shown in FIG. 7. Clicking these links causes the graphical user interface to display an exception document attachment screen display 800, an example of which is shown in FIG. 8. The railcar owner locates and selects the document to be attached, or enters the location of the document in the path field 802, and then clicks the attach button 804. In this way, the railcar owner may attach emails, drawings, reports, and scanned documents to the exception line item. Preferably, the “MATL” hypertext link is used to attach copies of a materials requisition that show the railcar owner already paid for the parts billed. Similarly, when a repair agent inadvertently bills a railcar owner twice for the same repair, the “DUP” link may be used to attach copies of the duplicate billing repair card. The “OTH” link may be used to attach any other form of supporting documentation.

[0049] The hypertext links labeled “MATL”, “DUP”, and “OTH” in repair line item number seven of the repair description area 704 shown in FIG. 7 indicate that supporting documentation of all three forms has been attached to the billing exception record associated with that repair line item. Clicking on any of these three links causes the graphical user interface to display the corresponding attached documentation.

[0050] In step 416 of the method illustrated in FIG. 4, the railcar owner determines whether all necessary documentation has been attached to the billing exception record. If not, additional documentation is attached in step 414. Once all documentation has been attached, the method proceeds to step 418, in which it is determined whether all billing exception records have been reviewed. If not, the railcar owner returns to step 412 to review the next billing exception record. Once all billing exception records have been reviewed, the railcar owner releases the billing exception records to the repair agent in step 420 by clicking on the “RELEASE” button 608 shown in the billing exception header screen display 600 of FIG. 6. Until this time, the billing exception records are not accessible by the repair agent. Once released in step 420, however, the billing exception records become available to the repair agent via the billing verification system 100, and the repair agent is notified of their availability in step 422. Preferably, the billing verification system 100, 200 provides notification by generating an electronic mail message and sending the message to the repair agent.

[0051] The preceding discussion addressed a transition method of verifying railcar repair charges from the railcar owner's perspective. The transition method is useful for railcar owners as they transition from processing billing exceptions via a mainframe accounting system 116 to processing exceptions solely via a billing verification system 100, 200. Once a railcar owner has completely transitioned to the billing verification system 100, 200, the method illustrated in FIG. 4 may be simplified. The first simplification is that steps 402 through 408 may be performed via the billing verification system 100, 200 rather than the mainframe accounting system 116. As a result, the billing data from the billing repair cards may be entered directly into the billing verification system 100, 200, and the billing exception records may be created directly in the database 108. In addition, the repair agent optionally may upload the billing data from an electronic file directly to the billing verification system database 108. The second simplification is that step 410, transferring the billing exception records from the mainframe accounting system 116 to the database 108, becomes unnecessary. In addition to these simplifications, transitioning completely to the billing verification system 100, 200 enables multiple customer employees, such as field representatives in remote locations, to review the billing data and identify disputed charges by accessing the billing verification system 100, 200.

[0052] The method of verifying railcar repair charges will now be described from the repair agent's perspective with reference to FIGS. 9-13. After the billing verification system 100, 200 sends notification to the repair agent that the billing exception records are available, the repair agent accesses the billing verification system 100, 200 in step 902. A repair agent graphical user interface presents the repair agent with a repair agent menu screen display 1000, such as the example shown in FIG. 10. From this display 1000, the repair agent may select billing exception records relating to a particular railcar owner and time period by clicking on the appropriate hypertext link. The billing verification system 100 of FIG. 1 contains only one railcar owner's billing exception records. The billing verification system 200 of FIG. 2, however, may contain billing exceptions records for all railcar owners for which the repair agent performs repairs.

[0053] After the repair agent clicks one of the hypertext links relating to a particular railcar owner and a particular time period in the repair agent menu screen, the graphical user interface presents a billing exception record header screen display 1100, an example of which is shown in FIG. 11. A header area 1102 of the display 1100 displays information such as the bill number, a control number field 1104, account date, received date, total bill amount, total exception amount, and total CBA amount. A search area 1106 provides options for selecting billing exception records that correspond to certain criteria, such as car number, exception amount, and repair location (SPLC). When the repair agent clicks on the “SEARCH” button 1108, the graphical user interface displays the first billing exception response screen display 1200, an example of which is shown in FIG. 12.

[0054] A header area 1202 of the display 1200 shows, among other things, the railcar number, the date of repair, and the location at which the car was repaired. A billing exception area 1204 of the display 1200 shows a line item description of the exception. The exception line item begins with an exception line number that references the repair line number associated with the repair line item on the original billing repair card to which an exception is taken. The display 1200 also includes a repair agent response area 1206 in which the repair agent may select a response to the exception. Preferably, the repair agent is presented with three possible responses. The repair agent may allow the exception, disallow the exception, or partially allow the exception. If the exception is partially allowed, the repair agent must designate a partially allowed exception amount. The repair header area 1202, billing exception area 1204, and repair agent response area 1206 preferably are formatted in a manner that complies with the AAR Interchange Rules governing billing repair cards.

[0055] Also within the response area 1206, the repair agent may include comments supporting or explaining the response (step 906 of the method illustrated in FIG. 9). This is accomplished by clicking on the “COMMENTS” hypertext link, which causes the graphical user interface to display a response comments box 1302, and example of which is shown in the comments screen display 1300 of FIG. 13. The comments are added to the “COMMENTS” field in the response area 1206 of FIG. 12 after the repair agent clicks the “ADD” button 1304 in the response comments box 1302. The repair agent optionally may attach supporting documentation in step 908 in a manner similar to that in which the railcar owner attaches supporting documentation as described above.

[0056] The billing verification system 100, 200 may accommodate varying levels of review by different representatives of the repair agent. This is particularly useful because field representatives of the repair agent may need to be consulted to confirm certain information related to repairs that were performed in the field. The level of review for different repair agent representatives is governed by the authentication and access control procedure. For instance, a repair agent manager and various repair agent field representatives may be granted different authentication credentials, such as usernames and passwords. Based on these credentials, the authentication and access control procedure preferably grants the manager access to all billing exception records relating to the repair agent. The field representatives, however, are preferably only granted access to those billing exception records that relate to their particular field repair facility or category of appropriate repair. In this case, the manager may notify each field representative when the billing exception records are available for their review. The field representatives then notify the manager when they have completed their review. Alternatively, the billing verification system 100, 200 may generate the appropriate notification messages. Once a field representative has completed review of billing exceptions and prepared the appropriate responses, those billing exception records may become inaccessible to the field representative, although the repair agent manager still may access them. At any time, the manager may review the status of pending billing exceptions according to various categories, such as completed responses, field-completed responses, and in-process responses. For instance, the manager may review an exception processing status report screen display 1400, an example of which is shown in FIG. 14, by clicking the “STATUS RPT” button on the exception record header screen display 1100 of FIG. 11. The display 1400 includes a processing summary area 1402 that indicates how many of the exceptions for each location (SPLC) have been completed, how many have been field-completed, and how many are currently in-process. The summary area 1402 also includes information regarding the dollar amounts of the exceptions that have been allowed, disallowed, and partially allowed. Preferably, the manager reviews all billing exception responses before they are released to the railcar owner, as described below.

[0057] In step 910 of the method illustrated in FIG. 9, the repair agent submits the exception response by clicking either the “SUBMIT” button 1208 or the “SUBMIT/NEXT” button 1210 on the billing exception response screen display 1200. The “SUBMIT/NEXT” button 1210 also causes the graphical user interface to display a billing exception response screen for the next billing exception to be reviewed. After the repair agent clicks on either of these two buttons, the billing verification system 100, 200 generates a billing exception response record in the database 108 (step 912 of the method illustrated in FIG. 9). It will be understood in the art that the billing exception response record may be an independent database record or it may be contained within the corresponding billing exception record.

[0058] The next step 914 is to determine whether the repair agent has reviewed all billing exception records. If not, the method returns to step 904, in which the repair agent reviews the next billing exception record in the same manner as described above. Once the repair agent has reviewed all of the billing exception records for a particular railcar owner and time period, the repair agent completes the exception review process in step 916 by clicking the “COMPLETED” button on the exception header review screen display 1100 of FIG. 11. The railcar owner is then notified of the billing exception responses in step 918. At this time, the billing exception response records become available for review by the railcar owner. The railcar owner accesses the billing exception response records via the “RAILROAD COMPLETED” hypertext link 504 on the railcar owner menu screen display 500 shown in FIG. 5.

[0059] Preferably, before the railcar owner is notified that the billing exception response records are available for review, the repair agent designates a control number, or credit billing authority number, to be associated with the bill and its corresponding billing exceptions. For instance, the repair agent may designate a control number in the control number field 1104 of the billing exception header screen 1100 shown in FIG. 11. The repair agent may update the control number by clicking the “UPDATE CBA” button 1110. The railcar owner then uses this control number to take a credit on its repair charge account with the repair agent or to counter-bill the repair agent in accordance with the credit billing authority procedures provided by the AAR Interchange Rules. For example, the billing verification system 100, 200 may generate a message that is sent to the railcar owner's accounts payable system 114 indicating that the appropriate credit may be deducted from the next bill paid to that repair agent.

[0060] If necessary, the methods described above may include a number of review iterations by both the customer (i.e. railcar owner) and the vendor (i.e. repair agent). For instance, if a vendor disapproves a customer's billing exception, the customer may reply with further documentation supporting the exception. The vendor may then provide an additional response. This iterative process may continue until all disputed charges are resolved.

[0061] The invention has been described in detail with particular reference to preferred embodiments thereof and illustrative examples, but it will be understood that variations and modifications can be effected within the spirit and scope of the invention.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7792762Jun 30, 2008Sep 7, 2010Canadian National Railway CompanySystem and method for providing a price quotation for a transportation service providing route selection capability
US7814028 *Mar 5, 2008Oct 12, 2010Canadian National Railway CompanySystem and method for providing a price quotation for a transportation service based on equipment ownership
US7904354May 4, 2007Mar 8, 2011Validas, LlcWeb based auto bill analysis method
US7979328 *Oct 11, 2002Jul 12, 2011Cisco Technology, Inc.Method and system for interactive invoice inquiry
US8666849Feb 1, 2011Mar 4, 2014Validas, LlcComputer implemented method for bill analysis over the internet
US8700500Nov 11, 2010Apr 15, 2014Canadian National Railway CompanySystem and method for providing a price quotation for a transportation service providing equipment selection capability
Classifications
U.S. Classification705/40
International ClassificationG06Q30/00
Cooperative ClassificationG06Q20/105, G06Q20/102, G06Q40/00, G06Q30/04, G06Q20/108
European ClassificationG06Q30/04, G06Q20/108, G06Q20/102, G06Q20/105, G06Q40/00
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Jan 28, 2002ASAssignment
Owner name: TTX COMPANY, ILLINOIS
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:DEWITT, RICHARD R.;LANNIE, NADIA HERMIZ;REEL/FRAME:012525/0510
Effective date: 20020107