The thought of offering value-added services (VAS) to its captive market of consumers is making utilities absolutely giddy. Instead of forcing consumers to ferret out and individually purchase specific solutions for security, energy management, or home control; utilities are finally joining forces with communication services providers to offer one-stop-shopping for any home-related connected service. Individually; neither the utility nor the network operator would be able to put together a complete package that is easy to use and transferable between fixed and mobile devices or users. Together the two should be able to outshine any and all competitors.
The key word being should. Utilities aren’t exactly accustomed to offering a huge lineup of products or supporting customers as they ask technical questions that should be handled by IT people. The focus of utilities has been pretty simple – keep the lights on. That being said, it’s hard to ignore the opportunity-rich environment that now exists for utilities. Utilities are connected to every home, business, building, stop light, billboard, park, and public area there is. They have unprecedented access to customers, even more so than communication providers. The problem is that utilities are invisible. Invisible. Power is at every outlet, water is there every time we turn the faucet, the heat comes on with a flip of a switch, and we don’t give it a second thought. We pay the bill every month without ever looking at how many KWHs or gallons or therms we use.
Sell Baby Sell
So utilities have to educate their customers as to the value of these additional services and then what? They have to sell to them through a variety of channels, provision the service for each customer, measure usage, and bill accordingly. Utilities have to put people, processes, and systems in place to support customers when they order new services or call in to find out how to get the garage door open after they configured their security system wrong. People, processes, and systems. Fortunately, those of us who have spent our careers defining those processes and building those systems know a few things about what that takes.
Utilities are starting to recognize that the telecommunications industry has made just about every mistake you can with regard to defining, delivering, supporting, and billing for connected services. We’ve had 100 years to work out the kinks and the systems we’re bringing to market solve a lot of the problems that utilities are running into and some that the utilities haven’t even encountered yet. We’ve got product catalogs that support sales, CRM, and self-care. We’ve got billing that is transaction-based and reports usage in real time. We’ve got fulfillment that is orchestrated and automated from the portal where the customer hits ‘enter’ to when the light turns green on the connected device. In a short period of time, with off-the-shelf systems, utilities can be positioned to not only sell, but deliver and manage value-added services for their customers.
Getting Out of Their Own Way
Utilities, like network operators, are engineering-led companies. To build the scale and reliability that each has over the past century took innovation and invention. So while there is no longer a need to figure out how to run power or gas lines across the Alps, there are still plenty of serious technical challenges that lie ahead. Things like demand response, integrating new power sources, and storage. But those challenges don’t include the network and they don’t include the IT and systems required to operate the network, deliver services, or support customers. Those systems exist and have been proven through years of usage and refinement. Even security, which utilities used to guarantee by building closed networks, is no longer valid as energy is traded and every utility is on-line. But network operators know about security, they spend billions to keep the network safe and intrusions to a minimum and no utility can do that on its own.
To deliver VAS to consumers, businesses, and government; utilities need to focus on customer education and engagement to become more visible and be viewed as a true retail provider of something other than the juice at the end of the plug or the water that goes down the drain. Rather than worrying about the technology and IT aspects of making that happen, utilities need to engage their network and IT engineers in integrating partners and developing unique applications that customers want and expect from utilities.
There is an opportunity here for utilities and network operators to offer and monetize every building-related service they can think of and those yet to come. But when it comes to enabling delivery of those services – we’ve already got that covered.