Cutting churn: First Utility digitises end to end customer journey

Engerati looks at how the UK energy retailer is boosting its data analytics in a bid to improve customer engagement.

Independent UK energy supplier First Utility is taking its focus on the digitisation of customer service to the next level. The online retailer plans to advance its new data analytics platform, built on NoSQL from database provider DataStax.

Digitising the utility customer journey

Because the utility doesn’t own its distribution network (it sells energy from other providers), its aim is to win and maintain business by delighting customers with an exceptional digital experience that provides consumers with a deeper insight into their consumption so that they can manage it better.

The utility aims to digitise the entire customer journey across its portfolio, something that should have been done four to five years ago, according to Bill Wilkins,CIO of First Utility.

Currently, customers can join the utility online without having to make a phone call or send an email but this is not the case in some instances like moving house. Already, to improve this, the utility is developing a convenient mobile solution to help alleviate the stress of moving house and changing details with the utility.

Solutions like this one form part of Wilkins’ plan to move First Utility’s operations away from its on-premise data centre to the cloud.  As a result, 50-60% of its data is in the cloud, using the likes of cloud computing companies like Salesforce and Amazon Web Services. The rest is in a hosted virtual data centre.

Cloud making data relevant to the customer

First Utility is now focusing its attention on the smart meter and the opportunity to really engage the customer. The utility was providing customers with half hourly consumption data from smart meters but have subsequently discovered that customers eventually got bored with the information and stopped reviewing it online.

The utility realised that it had to dig deeper to really get customers’ attention and decided to invest in more advanced analytics. They turned to Opower to build a consumer energy analytics platform which basically takes all the smart meter data and transforms it into a more interesting analysis, making it more meaningful to customers. A good example of this is comparative analysis where consumers can compare consumption levels with similar homes in the vicinity.

Impressed with the outcome, First Utility decided to build its own in-house version of the analytics platform.  DataStax managed cloud solution and the Cassandra technology was the most suitable, according to Wilkins.

He says that relational data structures for their application type weren’t relevant so the company used something with low latencies that can transform mammoth amounts of usage data into interesting and meaningful insights for the customer. The utility used a mixture of Cassandra and Hadoop and this led them to use DataStax.

The project was launched over a year ago and now over 900,000 households operate on the DataStax platform. According to Wilkins the system is successful because it is giving customers the data they need to manage their consumption habits more efficiently, thereby reducing their energy bills. The utility reports that new customers can expect to reduce their energy usage by 5%. This positive result has seen consumer engagement increase significantly.    

Cloud taking the complexity out of engagement  

First Utility is now also looking to extend DataStax’s functionality beyond smart meter analytics, by moving some of its enterprise resource planning workloads onto the new platform, reducing the need for unnecessary licenses.

The utility wants to now create a system which enables them to manage a more complex customer relationship on their digital platform. The basis of this will be to use the DataStax Graph capability. This will give customers multiple accounts and properties and relationships will be managed around all the various product accounts.

The adoption of the new cloud technology wasn’t without its challenges according to Wilkins. As with anything new, there will always be a lot to learn and that takes time.

But, with the right expertise and willingness to change, the transition will be made that much easier and the investment will be worthwhile in the long term.

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