First Utility's CIO Bill Wilkins, the key interview quotes

Over the past few months, the UK’s energy sector has become a political football. The players – the political parties and the organisations that generate or supply power – are all engaged in a highly tactical game of shifting the blame for high energy pricing elsewhere. For consumers, the finger pointing is creating a sense of anger and confusion.

Read the full CIO Profile interview with Bill Wilkins here

Power to the people

Power to the people

“First Utility is an energy retailer, we build a proposition and take it to the market and try to attract consumers to the brand,” says CIO Bill Wilkins, pointing out the difference between his organisation, which sells electricity and gas to consumers, and British Gas or Scottish and Southern, say, which likewise sell electricity and gas to consumers but also generate that energy.

“This is a highly regulated industry that is dominated by six main players that between them have 98 per cent of the market.”

First Utility\'s CIO Bill Wilkins lights up data

First Utility's CIO Bill Wilkins lights up data

“The way we compete is to differentiate and the core way we do that is through our technology.”

“We collect the data from the customer’s meter and push that into our analytics engine, which segments consumers into cohort groups. These are anonymous groups which share common attributes and therefore allow a fair comparison of consumption. This means we can engage with consumers about their energy usage.

“These technologies drive a higher engagement by the consumer in energy and the way they consume. Customers on the programme are more likely to submit meter readings, get accurate bills, be aware of their consumption and work to reduce the amount of energy they use and their bills."

Customer centric

Customer centric

“During a customer’s enrolment we take their consumption data, data on their type of property as well as weather data, and use it to model their consumption. All customers are in cohort groups and receive an annual analysis of their performance in that cohort.

“For example, I am in the high user category as I have four kids all with PCs. I am using 67 per cent more power than the average user, but it is coming down and that insight is useful for me as I never had it before.

“We are trying to make the consumer feel good about this experience, not stressed. People are initially disengaged about their energy usage, I was the same. You take energy for granted. There is a trigger event like a house move and then you worry about your energy.”

Not so smart

Not so smart

“We had to move away from pure smart metering as we could not scale our field organisation fast enough, therefore to grow faster we needed to decouple growth from the rate of installation of meters,” explains Wilkins. “Also, the government became serious about smart metering, which led to a smart metering standard, which stopped the innovation in smart meters and therefore the opportunity for us to differentiate became harder. We had to change our game to focus on data analytics.”

Consolidation

Consolidation

"We had a mass of technology that was just about fit for purpose, but they did take a company from start-up to 20,000 customers. When I arrived in 2010 I had the opportunity to rethink the technology strategy.

"Now we are investing and focusing our resources on that differentiation. To do that we have put all our CRM onto a single instance of Salesforce, as it is good and rich."

Different bills

Different bills

“Our MaxCare billing system has given us a product that is a clear differentiation as a business as it is a multi-business product that can be used for energy, telecoms, smart metering and content services. We call it multi-play, multi-product or multi-product line. We believe we are the only utility vendor with a billing system that can support smart energy, telecoms, fixed, broadband. It’s all about the household and the large elements of their spend.”

“We surveyed SAP and Oracle energy products and they are segmented by vertical market. We want to be a multi-service player, so the strategic importance of these vendors is very very small.”

Going Google

Going Google

“We use the Google Apps platform because Google is good enough for the content we produce and very good for the collaboration. The key benefit is innovation week by week. That is the kind of innovation that you want. Users are ill equipped to manage the large upgrade cycle. With Google you get more comfortable with the rate of innovation.

“Google Apps feels right. When people join they need a bit of retraining as they fight the machine a bit. But then they start to collaborate more and there is no ‘attachment hell’.

“There is some Microsoft in the organisation – PowerPoint if people need it, and the finance department needs Excel. But for general purposes, Google is 95 per cent good enough and it is £23 per user, per year, and I get that constant stream of innovation.”

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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