City of Cape Town’s AnneMarie Groenewald on AMI and efficiency to ensure a reliable supply

At the 2013 SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach, I met up with AnneMarie Groenewald who works for the City of Cape Town’s Electricity Services Department in South Africa. AnneMarie gave a talk at the event about their SAP AMI implementation. I caught up with AnneMarie after her talk and asked her how it benefited the city, especially in light of the rolling blackouts which had been an issue in South Africa in years past.

Here’s a transcription of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hey everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV, I am here at the SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach, I’m with.

AnneMarie Groenewald: AnneMarie Groenewald, I’m from the city of Cape Town in South Africa, I’m the head of the ERP Revenue team looking after the SAP implementation for that part.

Tom Raftery: Okay, so you’ve got a few interesting challenges in South Africa. For years, you’ve been having rolling blackouts and these kinds of things, what are you doing to address such kinds of issues?

AnneMarie Groenewald: It’s because we had those rolling blackouts and we only have one utility company, providing electricity for the whole of South Africa, there’s actually now legislation in place that we must manage the electricity consumption better and we must inform our customers of the electricity consumption.

So now we have implemented SAP AMI solution. It’s automated meter reading interface, it gives the customers, they can login through a web portal where they can see their consumption on a half hourly basis, and it entitles them to manage the electricity better, may be they also decide they want to use the electricity more off peak, so that they can get a better rate as well.

Tom Raftery: Interesting. So you were saying earlier that there is not just the ability for them to see their own information but there is also tariff comparisons that they can do.

AnneMarie Groenewald: Yes, the tariff comparison that they can see their use, most of the electricity or they can swift — using most of the electricity may be at night so that they can have an off peak tariff that is more favorable then during peak hours when everybody is using electricity.

Tom Raftery: And how is that helping with the rolling blackouts?

AnneMarie Groenewald: Well, at the moment, since 2008-2009 rolling blackouts are under control. I don’t think it’s yet because of this implementation but people are just more aware because the governments are also making us a lot of aware publicly of electricity usage.

Tom Raftery: And are there efficiency programs rolled out as well?

AnneMarie Groenewald: Yes, they constantly — there is media releases, that’s on the radio constantly telling people replace your bulbs with bulbs that use less electricity, switch off your geyser during peak hours and that’s how there is public awareness is going out a lot. And I think people are actually adhering into it.

Tom Raftery: Okay and how does this program that you’ve rolled out, how does it compare with the rest of Africa?

AnneMarie Groenewald: At the moment, when we implemented, we are the only one in Africa that implement this AMI solution. There are other municipalities in South Africa looking at it but they are not live yet.

Tom Raftery: And you’ve just rolled out in Cape Town so far, how long before it gets rolled to the rest of South Africa?

AnneMarie Groenewald: That depends on all the other municipalities, because they are all independently. So we’ve done it, at the moment we are only at the large power uses and the big customers, we will still get to the normal households.

Tom Raftery: AnneMarie that’s been great, thanks for talking to us today.

AnneMarie Groenewald: It’s a pleasure, thank you.

City of Cape Town’s AnneMarie Groenewald on AMI and efficiency to ensure a reliable supply

Metropolitan Utilities District Mark Doyle on improving utilities customer service

At the recent SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach the Metropolitan Utilities District (MUD), a gas and water utility in Omaham Nebraska won a prize for the best mid-size utility in terms of SAP implementations. I caught up with MUD CIO Mark Doyle after the prize giving ceremony and asked him to tell me a little about how his project improved his customer’s service.

See below for a transcript of our conversation:

Tom Raftery: Hey everyone! Welcome to GreenMonk TV, we’re at the SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach and I’m here with —

Mark Doyle: Mark Doyle.

Tom Raftery: And Mark you are?

Mark Doyle: I am the Chief Information Officer at the Metropolitan Utilities District in Omaha, Nebraska.

Tom Raftery: Okay, and what do the Metropolitan Utilities District do?

Mark Doyle: We’re a public utility in the Mid-West and we serve about 225,000 households in around the Omaha area. We provide natural gas and safe, reliable, economical, drinking water.

Tom Raftery: Very good.

Mark Doyle: I always have to put that in there.

Tom Raftery: Excellent. So you received a prize yesterday. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mark Doyle: Yeah, we were recognized for the best mid-size utility in terms of SAP implementations. We are very honored to receive that recognition and appreciate being here and networking with that tag on our back, it’s been a very nice thing to have here in this large group of utilities.

Tom Raftery: And what was the prize for?

Mark Doyle: We recently upgraded our SAP systems to be fully integrated with the full ERP, CRM, CRB suite of products. There was a multi-year project that culminated and went live on June 3rd of this year.

Tom Raftery: Okay and how will that benefit your organization and your customers?

Mark Doyle: Well in Omaha, Nebraska the public utilities might not be viewed as state-of-the-art but we want to dispel that myth. We are now in a position with these tools to be as good as anyone in terms of customer service and effective delivery of these public services which are so essential to the lives of the folks living in our area.

Tom Raftery: And what kind of things will it help your customers do?

Mark Doyle: Well, number one a mobile work force that’s real time enabled to the back office can effectively serve our customers, make it a safer environment; we have locators, make it a more genuine environment, we have collectors out unfortunately shutting people off, so we think we can more genuinely serve our customer base, that’s on the mobility side.

Our customer service center will be moving toward all of the things that any customer service center does. I’ll use Amazon as an example. We should be able to be as good as any customer service center. Everybody wants things quickly, effectively and accurately and even more than that, they want things in many different ways.

So we think it’s all about serving our customers and running as effectively and as effectively as possible.

Tom Raftery: And are you interacting with customers now using social media?

Mark Doyle: Yes, we are. We have a website that rolled out right along with our implementation in June, a new website, we now have a Facebook presence and a Twitter presence and that’s been a very good experience for us and for our customers that choose to use that channel.

Tom Raftery: Super. Mark thanks a million for talking to us.

Mark Doyle: Thank you, very much.

Metropolitan Utilities District Mark Doyle on improving utilities customer service

SAP for Utilities event 2013 was all about utility customer communications

Huntington Beach

GreenMonk attended the North American SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach California last week. The theme of this year’s event was Designing the Modern Utility. This was our fifth time attending the event, and for the first time we saw a significant focus on the voice/opinion of the customer (although in fairness, we didn’t attend the event in 2012).

Utility companies, as we have said many times in the past, have a very poor record with customer communications. Typically, the only times you hear from a utility company is when they are sending a bill, a disconnection warning, or notice of a rate increase. None of these are very positive interactions. It is no surprise then that in an age of increasing customer importance, trust in utility companies is the lowest level it has been in years.

It is hardly surprising though. Many utilities are coming from a situation where they are, or until recently have been, regional monopolies. Their customers had no choice of supplier, and so the utilities didn’t feel a need to listen to their customers views. Furthermore, utilities are, by their nature, extremely conservative organisations. They need to be, given they are handling such necessities as water, gas and electricity. So any change in their attitude to customer communications will happen slowly.

Change, it would appear, is very much underway now in the utilities industry. Jane Arnold from City of San Diego Public Utilities, San Diego’s water utility, gave a talk entitled Putting the “E” in Customer Engagement. Kevin Jackson from Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OGE) discussed in his talk how OGE have rolled out 800,000 smart meters and are using these to provide their customers with access to realtime energy consumption information. They hope that by providing customers with this information, and by rolling out time of use billing to defer the need to build a new power plant in 2020.

And Tracy Kirk from New Jersey’s Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSEG) talked about how PSEG started to use Twitter to begin a two way conversation with its customers. Then it was hit with Hurricane Sandy, and Tracy outlined how Twitter helped PSEG to manage its customers expectations and reduce frustrations associated with the hurricane’s damage to its infrastructure.

There was even a keynote from Julie Albright, a research scientist at the University of Southern California, on the topic of the Social Utility, strongly echoing the closing keynote GreenMonk gave at the same event in San Antonio in 2011 on the topic of Potent Social Media strategies for Utilities.

Even the conversations in the corridors referred to the need for increased customer communications, far more than at any previous SAP for Utilities event.

Utilities are starting to realise the necessity of improved customer communications, and this can only be a good thing.

This post was originally published on GreenMonk

SAP for Utilities event 2013 was all about utility customer communications

Next generation of communication

If we look at demographic of people who are customers of a utility company we see it covers everyone from generation Y up to centenarian’s, and I am only speaking about people who are account holders and paying the bills, not the actual users. Due to this broad demographic spectrum of their customers, utility companies facing a complex challenge; how can they communicate with these customers ensuring that each individual is targeted the most effective way while at the same time being cost efficient. In a time where we as consumers are overloaded with information from an ever increasing number of sources and thru multiple channels only information that stands out, is provided to us thru our preferred media and specifically aimed at our current needs will find its target. Other information is at risk to be lost in the general noise.

Let’s relate this to a simple but important utility process: the handling of an overdue bill. If the message that a bill is overdue is not received and acted on by the intended receiver it could lead to costly collections and even disconnections. Therefore it is in the interest of both the utility company and the utility user that the message is received and acted on. However expectations on the customer side vary widely on what the best way would be to receive such information.

Generation Y maybe expecting an alert on their mobile apps or thru social medial that they have missed a payment and that their utility bill is now due, a middle age family man would be looking for an email reminder from their utility company, a 65 year old pensioner maybe sees a call from a friendly agent as the best way to remind him, while a 80 year old grand-mother would be best served with a nice letter from the utility company written with a LARGE FONT. As for the grand-mother, maybe an additional alert to her 20 year old nephew would be an alternative?

In my opinion utility companies need to do two things to provide additional service to ensure their customers will stay loyal. First they need to put in place effective communication with their customers around standard processes. This should not be a problem with today’s technology, however it would be good to hear ideas on how utility companies can improve this basic level of communication with their customers using technologies such as call centers, social media and mobile applications. The second thing is harder, they need to figure out how to use communication to bind customers closer their company and creating a stickiness that ensures their utility users turn in to loyal customers for life. An example could be using real-time smart meter information to detect the usage at the 80 year old grand-mother’s house is abnormal high at midnight and use that information to have a call center agent to give her a call to check up on her to see if she is okay, maybe she left the tv on or the fridge door open. How do you see utility companies using communications to provide a world class service to their customers in the future?

Next generation of communication