Monthly Archives: October 2012

Outage Communication – Happier customers, Happier control room, Lower costs.

Utilities, large and small, are looking for better ways to deliver Outage Information, improve customer satisfaction, allow Control Room operators to focus on actually getting the power back on, all without creating a communications behemoth. Adopting a Multi-Channel Outage Communication Management plan can achieve all that, and significantly reduce costs.

As we are in the final stages of preparing Avalanche v8.0 for release I pondered on how the core Outage Communication requirement had changed little, but the consumer landscape for getting that power outage information has altered dramatically. A case of “Same, Same, but different”.

At TVD we have been creating Operations Management solutions for Utilities all over the world for almost 15 years. When we created Avalanche, deregulation, disaggregation, and retail contestability, were mutterings in the backroom of government, Windows for Workgroups was hot, fax machines were expensive and used thermal roll paper, decadic phones were prevalent, Cellular networks were sparse, and the Apple Newton was the PDA of choice. The idea that you would give your 13 year old child a cellphone and a laptop was nothing short of absurd.

Back then the only way for customers to get power outage or faults information, or report power outages was to phone their power company, and they did, in large volumes! For widespread outages sometimes people tuned to the radio (imagine that happening now…) but the primary Outage Communication channel was all Inbound to the Power company via the 800 number.

The costs have changed marginally with automation, but delivering information via an inbound phone call is still the most expensive information delivery channels a Utility can use. Depending on who you talk to fully costed call costs varying between US$3 – US$8/call.

As times moved on we added Outbound modules to help manage that “Avalanche” of calls. SCADA monitor to help get messages up faster, even a WAP site for cellphone users, FaxOut, CallOut and later email. The focus was still on managing the Inbound, augmented by some outbound communications to satisfy early adopters and more sophisticated key clients.

Times have moved on. Modern Utilities no longer think about Trouble Call Management, but rather proactively embrace Outage Communication Management. Same Message, multiple Channels.

Consumers now have hundreds of channels to get information. They have been indulged by a web 2.0 tech boom spawning thousands of start-ups scrabbling to “build user communities”, and so consumers have been indulged, indeed encouraged to avoid the traditional channels for information delivery, in favour of alternatives such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc etc.

The adoption of those information delivery channels is widespread, prevalent, and it’s now just as common for a grandparent to have an iPhone or Android device, as it is their grandchildren.

Consumers now want their information fast; when, and in a format they want; Online, Facebook, Twitter, Email, TXT, you name it.

Even with all these technology and communications changes, the customers information requirement hasn’t changed at all;

  1. Does my utility know there’s an outage?
  2. When will the power be back on?
  3. What caused it?

Customers also want to be re-assured that they can get through quickly to report a life or property issue, (or to tell you they are the one that chopped down the tree that fell the wrong way…. )

If you keep telling them to call you on your 800 number, then they probably will, reluctantly and even if the perception is wrong, with the expectation of an average or more likely, unsatisfactory experience.

The good news is that if you tell them there are alternative information channels which are simpler, faster, and in a lexicon that they understand, and that they get identical information irrespective of which channel they use, then they’ll start using those. Those same alternative channels conveniently also happen to be the lowest cost for you. So not only are you fulfilling customers’ needs, you’re saving money in the process.

Every communication channel has specific needs; Twitter is different from Email, which is different from Voice, which is different from Facebook. Message consistency and timeliness of delivery is critical. It avoids confusion; Reduced confidence in the message will likely result in even more calls from consumers wanting to phone and speak to a human about what is actually going on!

The key is; Same input Message, multiple output Channels.

Avalanche v8.0 will now support over 15 different channels for Utilities to communicate un-planned and planned outage information to their customers. The channels range from the tried and proven traditional Avalanche outage message loaded to the CO (Telco Exchange) through to Twitter, Facebook, and mobile Internet Fault Site.

With the original Avalanche Trouble Call Management system we saved customers tens of thousands of dollars, improved customer service and helped get the lights back on quicker.

Now, by opening up all the other outage communication channels for people to get the outage information, and deliver fault reports, without having to phone in, we expect to start saving many thousands of dollars on managing phone calls.

Couple all of the above with real-time SCADA integration, web/smartphone outage reporting, and you have a powerful, multi-channel, Outage Communication Management platform.

Happier customers, Happier control room, Lower costs.

Electricity Deregulation, FRC, and related operational issues

The energy sectors of Australia and New Zealand have undergone some of the most far-reaching commercial reforms of the twentieth century. The changes relating specifically to electricity deregulation have spanned more than a decade and continue to move at a great pace. In broad terms the effects of these changes have been:

  • A highly competitive energy sector principally for commercial and industrial customers but now advancing to include residential consumers;
  • The break-up of large vertically integrated government electricity organisations into multiple competing companies under separate management and requiring a commercial return;
  • The completely separate ownership and operation of energy trading (retailing), distribution network (wires), transmission and generation businesses resulting in the need to make each facet of energy delivery economically viable as a stand alone enterprise;
  • The establishment of a wholesale electricity trading market;
  • Provisions for generation companies to sell directly to consumers; and
  • Light-handed regulations based on the achievement of the Government’s reform objectives.

These reforms require the management of electricity companies to pay much greater attention to:

  • Significant value-added customer service and marketing initiatives;
  • Understanding asset and works management, asset life cycle planning, reliability and opportunity based maintenance to obtain efficiencies, reduce costs and maintain returns on investment in a fully competitive arena;
  • Outsourcing of non core business functions and services;
  • Developing complex energy tariff structures incorporating ½ hourly tariffs provided 365 days/year; and
  • Real-time integration of information and work flow from previously disparate systems such as CIS, GIS, SCADA, outage management, asset management and network planning.

TVD’s products have been developed in response to this environment and therefore embody the business processes which have been developed, refined and proven for deregulated utilities. One of the primary advantages of TVD’s products and services is to provide both competitive advantage and resolving business issues resulting from deregulatory pressures as they arise. In many cases these issues only become apparent at certain points in the deregulation cycle.