National Grid gets 66.666% confused with 99.999%

By | December 6, 2010

You’ve probably heard the expression “five nine reliability,” which is shorthand for saying that a product, Web site, service, application, or whatever is fully functional 99.999% of the time, the equivalent of less than six minutes of downtime per year.

Most Web sites don’t need to achieve that level of reliability. However, when you’re in the business of critical infrastructure, e.g., the natural gas that people use to cook their food and heat their houses in the winter, you had better be aiming for a pretty serious uptime target.

National Grid apparently thinks otherwise. When I contacted them to find out why there have been several incidents recently when I was unable to view or pay my bill online, here’s how they responded:

Our system goes down every night between 10:30 PM and 6:30 AM for processing. During this time you cannot view bills or take care of other processes for your account like payments or paperless billing. Please try going online during the daytime to view the bill.

In other words, their Web site has planned downtime, let alone unplanned downtime, for a third of every day, so their maximum possible uptime, assuming no other outages ever occur (which, alas, is not the case), is 66.666%. That’s an awful uptime ratio. Really, really awful.

National Grid ought to fire whoever thought it was reasonable for their Web site to be down for eight hours out of every day, not to mention whoever thought it was necessary for their Web site to be down for eight hours out of every day.

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20 thoughts on “National Grid gets 66.666% confused with 99.999%

  1. Steve D

    This is ridiculous. This is the first time I have run into a company that demands your money and makes it so difficult to send it to them.

    I can NOT find the freekin’ access code anywhere!

    I send it in the mail, no longer interested in screwing with them until they get their act together. Big company doesn’t always spell smart company!

    Reply
  2. Confused

    Hi, I’m curious as to why the Access Code, which I cannot for the life of me find on my bill, is required in the first place. Why do you need two-factor authentication to connect an account to a username? What purpose does that serve? It wouldn’t stop someone from hijacking the account because both pieces of information are supposedly on this paper (not that they are) so why require two pieces of information, one of which can apparently only be obtained by navigating your byzantine phone system with its strict hours of operation, thus rendering the online account creation system inoperable? Why am I being punished because one of National Grid’s hands doesn’t know what the other ISN’T doing?

    Reply
    1. Bonnie

      Access code not necessary for upstate NY. That is, not NEW York City. Hope this helps. Make sure area shows properly on your registration as upstate.

      Reply
  3. Phil gallo

    Where is the access code? Online says its in the important section which is not on my bill. This is ridiculous

    Reply
  4. Fred Romero

    Yeah so I was able to open my national grid account over the phone fairly easily. The representative asked me if I wished to enroll in paperless so I won’t receive any bills in the mail, only through my email. I thought well since I will be enrolling in autopay, sure why not. No sense in receiving paper mail for bills I am paying automatically. A week goes by and I receive an email stating that my bill is ready online, but I will need to register first. It takes me to the link that asks me for the account number. Thats no problem because the account number is in the email they sent me. Then it asks me for the ACCESS CODE which can be found on my paper bill. How do I get that if I haven’t received a paper bill, most likely because I selected paperless when I opened the account??? This is outrageous!

    Reply
  5. jarr

    Hi
    today I received my first email from nationalgrid ,it shows my account number and the ammount to pay. but no trace of the departement ,maybe it is not important to know if it is for electricity or gas.
    fortunately the email containes a link to view my bill -at least they recognise my right as a customer to view it- .the point is that I had to struggle for 2 hours just to create an account with a user name and a password ,to discover finally that I have to connect it with my account using a certain access code to get from my bill (that I am unable to view until now, and that I will never receive in paper format as I enrolled paperless)…try to imagin the feeling.
    I decided to pay by phone(yes I got this option). the call lead me to a representative who asked me tons of questions .the result is that I got my aceess code and I got to know that it’s about gas bill.thhen I was sent back to struggle with the system:
    I got all kinds of messages from ‘you are already connected to the system’ to ‘unable to connect you to the system’ BUT NO WAY TO PAY MY BILL ,NO WAY TO PAY MY BILL, NO WAY TO PAY MY BILL,…,RRRRRR…AAAAAA ,OOOOOO…,TRY TO IMAGINE THE FEELING

    Reply
  6. holly dolly doo

    Hi,

    I found that the links on the site (view bill, pay bill, etc.) haven’t worked for me in several months using IE 8. Thought it was my provider. Then, I used Google Chrome and the links worked. Odd.

    Reply
  7. Curtis

    It’s astounding to me that a billion dollar company cannot keep their web site up for any length of time. When I first became a National Grid Customer, I had to log in like any other site. Then the did an upgrade and I had to re-register and change my username and password.
    Since then I’ve contacted National Grid and they let me know that I needed to change yet again, my username and password. What idiots do you have working on your web portal? And you don’t have redundant systems for this, that you have to shut down your systems for 8 hours a day. I’m one person and I have reduntant systems. I guess you should be lucky your a regulated industry since based on current and past perfomance, clearly you’d never make in a compeditive market.

    Reply
  8. Dustin

    I’m having the same exact problem. My bill is now a day late and I’m been trying to pay my bill for over a week online! I told them that they either need to extend my due date or pay the $2.50 to pay over the phone, to which they refused both solutions. Instead they told me to mail a money order in, pay over the phone, or drive a half an hour away to pay it in person and that I would also be charged with a late fee.

    Reply
  9. Mike

    National Grid’s website has been down for at least two days, that’s more than 8 hours a day, lol. Pretty sad that I have to check my online bill 2 weeks before it is due to try and pay it seeing how the website will probably be down for the next 2 weeks. Maybe I will get lucky and I will actually have a minute or two within the next two weeks to pay the bill before they decide to charge me a late fee because there website is up and running about 10% of the time.

    Reply
  10. Kelly

    I cannot log in to pay my bill and it is not after 10 pm eastern standard time. I have attempted to log in during different times of the day and I get the same stupid error message. Monday morning I’m giving Monique a call since she apparently wants everyone to contact her personally about this ridiculous issue. I’m starting to think the window we are allowed to pay bills is exactly four minutes long starting at exactly 8:45 a.m.

    Reply
  11. PF

    when I first read your National Grid post about the site being down, I thought “a littler over the top… sites go down, it was probably just bad timing” I’m glad you posted this follow up. it’s incredible to think, in this day and age, that a major company like National Grid operates their website as if it were an actual store front with open and closed hours. how absurd.

    Reply
  12. Ms.Brown

    Hi Mr. Kamens, my name is Monique Brown. While it is correct that some elements of our customer system in your region are down for scheduled maintenance during this timeframe (such as view my bill), we do provide the capability to pay bills online during this timeframe. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at 718-403-3289.

    Reply
    1. jik Post author

      I can’t pay my bill if I can’t view it. (And no, the summary information available on your site is not enough; before I pay my bill, I want to actually see the whole bill.)
      I can’t view my bill for eight hours every night.
      Therefore I can’t pay it for eight hours every night.
      It’s rude, to say the least, to beg people to switch to paperless billing and then tell them they can’t view their bill online for a third of every day.
      I’ve got a full-time job and five kids. Between 10:30pm and 6:30am is often the only time I have for doing things like paying wills. I’m sure I’m not alone in this among your customers.

      Reply
    2. customer

      Hi Mrs Brown,

      While it is correct that National Grid tries to provide convenient service, it appears that they deliberately create a problem for their users that require them to pay for inconvenience. This is getting into class action lawsuit territory. Fix your fucking site.

      sincerely,

      A customer

      Reply

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