First Utility Taps Into the Power of Mobile Tech

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-04-15 Email Print this article Print
Mobile Technology

A strong focus on mobile technology has paid big dividends for this energy provider by helping it capture new customers while boosting loyalty and retention.

The ability to connect to customers is at the center of today's business environment. Not surprisingly, as organizations look to forge personal relationships and interact in real time, mobility and big data are vitally important.

For First Utility Ltd., an eight-year-old United Kingdom energy provider operating in a highly competitive and regulated environment, it's essential to allow customers to visualize data and manage their accounts on a variety of devices.

The company competes with about two dozen other energy suppliers, including the UK's "big six," which control about 95 percent of the marketplace. The upshot?

"It's imperative that we offer a high-value experience," says First Utility CIO and CTO Bill Wilkins. "We started as a 100 percent smart-energy provider, but we now support all meter types and also offer a different business model and value proposition than our competitors. Technology is a major differentiator."

Focused on Online an Mobile Tools

First Utility has focused heavily on the online experience and mobile tools. In 2013, the company, working with mobile platform vendor Appcelerator, introduced an app that works on iOS, Android and Amazon tablets and smartphones. Among other things, the app lets users view things, such as how many kilowatt-hours they have consumed during a defined period of time, or how much they spend on specific days or under various conditions.

Customers can also review their bills, make changes to service, and view tips and recommendations for optimizing energy consumption. In addition, the firm recently introduced AskFirst, a virtual assistant that answers free-form questions. For example, a customer might key in: "How much did I spend on energy last month?" The system delivers an immediate and customized response.

About half of the customer base uses mobile devices to connect to the company. "A responsive Web platform and a well-designed and useful app are crucial," Wilkins says. "Our customers are on one-, two- or three-year contracts, and our ability to retain them is closely tied to them using our systems and understanding how they benefit."

Consequently, the company devotes about 60 percent of its IT resources and budget to its customer-facing platform. The environment also produces more advanced internal data and analytics that deliver additional benefits.

The focus on mobile technology has paid big dividends for First Utility. It has helped the company capture new customers while boosting loyalty and retention. What's more, the company has achieved nearly a four-star-rating from more than 675 reviews in Google Play.

Over the coming months, Wilkins is looking to add smart-home and connected-device controls, with the ultimate goal of transforming First Utility into a central controlling hub for all things energy-related in the home. He also hopes to connect smart watches and geolocation data to the smart meter systems in order to better optimize performance, generate alerts and introduce remote features, such as the ability to shut off an appliance that was unintentionally left running.

"Mobile technology is a key platform for delivering customers all the information, capabilities and content they need quickly and simply," Wilkins concludes. "And it helps us stand out from the competition."


Samuel Greengard, a Baseline contributor, writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).


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