Utility Week

Utility Week 28th November 2014

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Page 27 of 31

28 | 28th November - 4th December 2014 | UtILItY WeeK Event Roundtable report The connected customer, 20th November Preparing for the land rush D uring an aernoon of animated discussion at Utility Week and Accenture's roundtable, attend- ees identified possibilities for, and potential barriers to, optimis- ing the connectivity of consumers, in order to carve out value-add propositions in the water and energy sectors. The natural assumption was that energy companies understood the connected cus- tomer better, but talk of technology innova- tions soon revealed that water companies have a real opportunity to leapfrog them. Jacob Tompkins, managing director of Waterwise, talked about a new Kickstarter- funded research project his organisation is involved with in Switzerland. "Rather than using smart meters, we're experimenting with fitting smart micro-sensors into appli- ances," he explained. The data from the sensors feeds into the consumer's mobile phone via Bluetooth, bypassing the water company and putting consumers directly in control of their data. "Soon we'll be getting together customer forums so that the people involved can com- pare their data and use that to discuss how their water is managed," Tompkins went on. With little support for the rollout of smart meters in the UK water sector, it was agreed that this kind of technology provides a sound alternative route to smart services – and energy representatives at the meet- ing said it might be a better way than the technology mandated by the energy smart meter programme, which faces the danger of becoming technologically redundant before it has really begun. An example of a challenger technology that might force this redundancy is Loop. This phone app delivers information about elec- tricity and gas use and could potentially dis- place in the in-home display mandated by ~ Decc's rollout, according to some attendees. The app also links with Uswitch, so users can quickly identify opportunities to switch. News of Loop raised eyebrows around the table, although it was acknowledged that the ability to offer in-home displays to customers without smart phones remained important. This recognition of different requirements from customers with different levels and means of connectivity led to further discus- sion of the nuances in future utility service models. Distinctly different visions were described for urban and rural communities. In the rural environment, it is anticipated that community ownership and local interest will sway the development of infrastructure and service delivery, perhaps requiring niche bundling and collaborative partnerships. Cit- ies are more likely to result in a marketplace for data aggregation services and the inter- vention of new entrants in utilities' manage- ment. These new competitors are likely to be looking to extend existing relationships with customers, said attendees: Google, Amazon and Sky were all mentioned speculatively. Contributors to the roundtable were keenly aware of the competitive threat this might pose to the traditional utility, distanc- ing it from its customers and their percep- tion of value. However, it was also pointed out that new entrants would need to have a significant appetite for brand and reputa- tional risk in order to brave a sector in which mistakes are harshly punished. "There is too much to lose in terms of reputation and not enough to be gained for the likes of Google in this market," said Yorkshire Water director of customer service and networks Nick Topham. There was little doubt, though, that should such companies want to enter the market, they would be bet- ter trusted than utilities. The importance of trust highlights a tricky chicken and egg dilemma for utilities. Which comes first, trust or innovation? The former is needed in order to provide the data and buy-in for the latter to be effective. But innovation is also sorely needed for utilities to change negative public perceptions. Setting the scene Across sectors, companies large and small are nervously shuffling their feet, edging up to the start line and, perhaps, plotting where exactly they will trip their neighbours when the race for digital utilities territory begins in earnest. It may be a messy dash. Favourites could fall and outsiders seize unexpected ground. Technology enthusiasts and futurologists will feel they have a head start, but the consensus among attendees at Utility Week and Accenture's roundtable discussion on the opportunities and threats posed by big data, smart technology and the connected consumer was that while a lot of preparation and experimentation is afoot, definitive stakes have not yet been claimed by players old or new. Consequently, there is still everything to play for. Brought to you in association with Source: The new energy consumer: Architecting for the Future, Accenture, 2014 The majority of consumers are interested in discounted electricity with limited customer service options: Mentioned in top three Electronic billing only (no paper bill) Preauthorised payment plans where bills are automatically withdrawn from your bank account Phone support only available between 10:00-14:00 Monday to Friday Online customer support with the option of pay-per-call phone support Phone support is provided by representatives outside of your home country Minimum 20-minute wait time to speak with a representative on the phone Would you be interested in receiving discounted electricity prices if it meant receiving limited customer service? Very/somewhat interested Not very/not at all interested 76% 24% 88% 68% 55% 46% 20% 10%

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