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

PSE&G’s Tracy Kirk talks SAP HANA and Twitter for Utilities

At the recent SAP for Utilities event in Huntington Beach, Tracy Kirk, New Jersey gas and electricity utility company PSE&G‘s Manager of Customer Technology gave two talks. The first presentation was about the successful implementation of their SAP HANA project, and the second detailed how PSE&G stepped up customer communications via Twitter in the wake of to Superstorm Sandy.

I caught up with Tracy after her talks and asked her to give a brief synopsis of her learnings.

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

Tracy Kirk: Tracy Kirk from PSE&G.

Tom Raftery: Tracy what do you do for PSE&G?

Tracy Kirk: I am the manager of customer technology there, so we try and bring innovative technology solutions to bear for our customers.

Tom Raftery: Okay, roughly what size is PSE&G?

Tracy Kirk: We are about two and half million homes in New Jersey, homes and business in New Jersey.

Tom Raftery: Now, you participated in a number of talks at the event here. One of them was about SAP HANA. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Tracy Kirk: Sure. HANA is in memory processing and utilities collect a lot data very high volume, high velocity data and we need to be able to get at it and use it in new ways. HANA is a tool that will allow us to do it and we’ve begun a use case to bring that to bear, to really help the company finances which in turn help all the rate payers and all our customers by helping — make sure that revenue gets billed.

Tom Raftery: So the used case that you were talking about this morning, it was something of the order of a procedure that you were doing. You used to take 26 hours and now it’s taking 60 seconds.

Tracy Kirk: Right. In order to indentify the information necessary to go after this segment of usage, that the company currently isn’t billing. In order to find that, right now, it takes that long to run those queries and sometimes frankly they time out. So we’re not really using the system to its full capabilities. What HANA will do is take all of that data extraction and all of that processing, all of the engine under the hood and turn around and deliver that in 93 seconds instead of 26 hours.

Tom Raftery: That’s an impressive speed bump.

Tracy Kirk: It really is, it’s a beautiful thing to see it come to life after hearing about its promise.

Tom Raftery: And the other talk you gave was around social media, you’ve been using social media?

Tracy Kirk: We have, we started long before Hurricane, Sandy, but during that storm, we found really a whole new level of conversation with the customers and stakeholders in our service territory. People who wanted to find a new way to connect with us during a very unusual event.

Tom Raftery: And the advent of social media for utilities is only starting to kick off now I think, so you are really at the leading edge of this.

Tracy Kirk: Yeah, there are peers of ours who are doing really fine work in different areas. Some of them who are doing a lot of wonderful work with videos, with blogging, with Facebook apps. We started with Twitter and that’s where, where a lot of our effort is gone. We are on Facebook now and we are going into some new areas, so we have a lot of sharing and learning we can do from each other.

Tom Raftery: That’s been fantastic Tracy thanks a million.

Tracy Kirk: Thanks.

PSE&G’s Tracy Kirk talks SAP HANA and Twitter for Utilities

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