Confusion to Clarity: A Smarter Way to Mine Data

By Avi Greenfield, HP

Smart grid data enables utility providers to uncover consumer energy usage and spending habits. By interacting on a consistent basis with customers, companies can take advantage of the unique opportunity to listen to their customers’ needs and wants and provide personalized information. This information can include conservation tips to each customer based on his or her consumption. Imagine how a customer might feel if his local utility company contacted him about a recent spike in his power usage before the billing cycle closed.

As smart grid technologies are deployed, smart meters, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and meter data management (MDM) will be key components. These systems and devices will generate vast amounts of new data, and, with it, opportunities for utilities to proactively communicate with consumers and increase their awareness about power usage. Customer communications, including statements, correspondence and notices are vital to utilities’ health and success. Consumer expectations for real-time information are increasing, along with an expectation for immediate delivery to a variety of electronic delivery channels including Web and mobile devices.

Tremendous business benefits exist associated with streamlining the design, creation and distribution of customer communications. With the right communication technology, utilities can begin to drive consumer behavior and energy demand with efficiency programs and pricing incentives. Solutions are needed to easily create and deliver new messages and timely, relevant communications that are designed with the flexibility to rapidly respond to market and environmental changes. 

Examining Communications Technology 

Most utilities do not have the right communication technology to leverage the coming flood of AMI data and MDM analytics. High-volume printed bills and statements are the primary vehicle for customer communication for most utilities. The systems and processes that produce these documents are often outdated and inflexible. They cannot handle the wave of new communications that will be necessary to fully capitalize on AMI data. The growing number of customers who prefer to receive billing information via Web, email and mobile channels is changing the dynamics of how utilities communicate and interact with them. Meeting the increasing demand to provide information electronically through a customers’ preferred method of communication, while continuing to maintain printed output, will be challenging.

Many utilities do not have a comprehensive customer communications platform, with separate systems used to create and deliver statements, notices, welcome kits, call center correspondence and multichannel messages like e-mail and SMS texts. Operating with multiple, disparate communication and messaging systems that handle communications from different parts of the organization creates inefficiencies. Maintaining and managing these systems can be costly and time intensive, overburdening staff and slowing document production and time to market with vital communications. Streamlining processes and having a single software platform connection to any business process and content source will help eliminate siloed point solutions for creating documents. This will significantly reduce costs and ensure consistency across all customer communications. 

Deploying Systems with Headroom for Growth 

In a smart grid world, utilities require enterprise customer communication platforms that are scalable and flexible to meet their growing needs and consumers”Ëœ demands. Those solutions can be used to produce higher-quality, clearer customer communications that are easier to read, contain only relevant content, and make use of color, charts and graphs, and targeted messages. The solutions will clarify information at the point of need and reduce expensive customer inquiries.

Utilities also can use AMI data to drive customer behavior. For example, detailed information about usage of certain appliances, such as heating and cooling devices, during peak hours, provides utilities with an opportunity to consult with the consumer. The utility can help the customer understand why peak hour usage costs are higher and how small behaviorial changes can lead to lower usage and costs. A utility can streamline development processes, reduce costs and communicate more effectively with a personalized, multichannel customer communications strategy across its organization. 

On-Demand Multichannel Communications 

Consumers have become conditioned to expect around-the-clock, personalized interaction with their business providers such as phone companies and banks, and increasingly expect the same from their electric utilities. They are accustomed to accessing current, relevant information via their PCs and mobile devices, including smart phones. Electronic delivery channels like e-mail and SMS texts can be used to deliver real-time information to customers who may be experiencing power outages, potential brownout situations or other unusual situations. A utility can notify customers within moments of a power outage due to a downed tree in their neighborhood to let them know that it is addressing their concerns and power will be restored within a specific time. Not only would this minimize the number of calls coming into a call center, it also would allow the utility to engage its customers and let them know it is correcting the problem.

Providing customers with timely information through preferred communications methods, allows utilities to create a personalized dialogue with their customers and decrease the time it takes to deliver important information. Real-time multichannel communication offerings can differentiate one utility from another.

Avi Greenfield is Hewlett-Packard’s product manager for HP Exstream, its enterprise customer communication solution.

For additional information, visit www.hp.com/go/SmartMeter

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