• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Improving customers’ touch points with technology in Nigerian utilities

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The wind of change in the Nigerian power industry has continued to raise the hopes of its citizenry that, indeed, better days are ahead. As many will agree, steady power generation and access to supply are crucial for the development of any economy. For a moment, just for a fleeting moment, let’s put aside the winding privatisation journey and celebrate the successes achieved –we have indeed made progress.

In a recent appraisal, a number of businesses in Nigeria affirmed that electricity-induced loss is the biggest constraint to doing business in Nigeria. This can be attributed to a number of limiting factors: technical transmission and distribution losses due to aged network infrastructure, as well as non-technical losses from power theft, fraud, a “culture of non-payment”, wrong customer segmentation, metre tampering and a host of others. To add to the gloomy business picture, industry regulators report that over 50 percent of electricity customers in Nigeria are not metered and are at the mercy of estimated billing.

As the reform addresses regulatory issues and the privatisation process, the time is right to start thinking of innovations to help manage delivery of electricity to the teeming population of electricity consumers in Nigeria. How do we effectively meet and exceed the service expectations of 5 million electricity consumers? How can new businesses leverage technology to help consumers enhance their energy efficiency and make intelligent energy choices? How can utilities use technology to create or enhance a “position of trust” with their customers, while simultaneously protecting themselves from new entrants and potential revenue degradation? When customers come first, businesses thrive, even in challenging economic terrains. There is no doubt that electricity businesses need to understand that involving their customers in innovation helps them learn which new products and services will work.

Customer touch point technologies

The customer technology market is driven by technological evolution, consumer preferences and innovative solutions. Overall, residential customer technologies are at an early stage of evolution in Nigeria. While some will evolve rapidly, others are at the pilot stage, undergoing tests in the marketplace.

We can exploit customer touch technologies locally and leverage some of the following:

1) Web portals: Power companies can use webpage dashboards to provide consumers with access to individualised information on historical energy consumption, as well as analytical tools and suggestions for reducing energy consumption and expense

2) In-home displays (IHDs): These are electronic devices used in the home, designed to provide key information on energy at a glance, such as real time data which consumers use to monitor, understand and manage their energy usage.

3) Mobile applications: Smartphone operating systems such as the iPhone, Android and Blackberry allow the use of these applications for displaying energy information. They provide a simplified view of home energy usage, and alerts about energy events such as power outages. They also have control features for remotely-controlled devices and appliances in the home.

4) Prepay: Locally acclaimed as the planning tool for the common man, prepay technologies enable consumers to make advance payments for their monthly electricity consumption and thereby manage their energy use. For utilities, prepayment leads to increased cash flow, decreased inconsistency in power bills and reduced customer service interactions.

5) Home energy management solutions: These include both software and hardware for two-way communication between the utility and the home area network to automate energy management and control. Hardware devices typically include a controller which can interact with load control and other smart devices.

6) Controllers, switches and plug load monitors: Switches and controllers measure the load from various devices and help reduce or shift electric use away from peak periods either directly or in response to signals from the utility. Plug load monitors connect to appliances and monitor their power consumption. Devices range from simple plugs which connect to a wall outlet to more complex ones which can monitor power consumption for an entire house.

7) Smart appliance: This is the modernisation of the electricity usage system of a home appliance such that it monitors, protects and automatically adjusts its operations to the desire of the owner. It responds to utility signals, and hence improves peak management capability of the Smart Grid and saves energy by providing reminders to the consumer on electricity prices. It then automatically reduces usage based on established guidelines.

Focus on smart metering technology (SMT) and metre data management systems (MDMS)

Many power utilities in the world have already begun implementing the smart metering appliance, as it eases the flow of data to greater magnitudes than previous metering systems. Smart metering, also known as Automated Metre Infrastructure (AMI), utilises digital metres rather than traditional mechanical ones and helps reduce demand as well as the customer’s bills. They also enable utilities gather and analyse incremental and near real-time customer level usage data, creating new product and service opportunities.

MDMS ease the implementation of smart metering technology and enable data management through a business-critical solution for storing, validating, aggregating and processing large volumes of data for services such as billing and settlement preparations. It can also enhance improved response; educate customers on their energy usage patterns, associated costs and environmental impacts (which in turn could establish a culture that encourages energy conservation); and provide customer web portals where energy usage data, detailed interval information and bill-to-date information are available. All these pave a path towards greater customer satisfaction and retention.

Nigerian power utilities must realise the importance of prioritising their service to customers, providing improved service delivery and customer satisfaction. Reaching consumer touch points with suitable technologies would potentially take the performance of power utilities beyond the operational and commercial targets, and aid the security of financial viability. Summarily, this will serve as the platform for the next technological innovation, enabling the utilities field force in Nigeria. 

 

Raji is senior manager, Organisational Design & Strategy, Utilities & Energy Industry, Accenture Nigeria.

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