Mobile Applications Case Study
Mobile Solution Helps Orlando Utilities Commission Customers Save Energy (Cont'd)
The solution gives us the ability to adapt a product and make incremental changes ourselves without having to go back to the vendor for costly custom programming."
Bobby Collins, Manager, Customer Accounts, Orlando Utilities Commission
About Orlando Utilities
Orlando Utilities Facts
Standardized process for qualifying customers and conducting energy audits
Workforce automation mobility application provides access to real-time data and an automated tool for conducting audits
Streamlined processes and improved customer service; ability to conduct up to 25 percent more audits with existing staff
$3+ billion in assets; $876 million annual operating revenues
Established in 1923 by a special act of the Florida Legislature, OUC—The Reliable One is the second largest municipal utility in Florida. OUC provides award-winning electric and water services to nearly 225,000 customers in Orlando, St. Cloud and parts of unincorporated Orange and Osceola counties. More information about OUC’s commitment to reliability, affordability and sustainability can be found at www.ouc.com.
OUC has been conducting free in-home audits for decades and showing customers specific ways to reduce their electricity and water use. This focus sharpened when the Florida Public Service Commission mandated utilities implement energy efficiency programs and meet kilowatt reduction goals. A review of OUC’s audit program determined the paper-based process used by OUC’s conservation specialists was cumbersome, inefficient and often inconsistent. The turnaround time on the reports was lengthy, impacting the participation rate in OUC-sponsored rebate programs. OUC sought to improve the productivity of its conservation specialists and quickly deliver more consistent recommendations to customers.
TotalMobile TM from AT&T has transformed OUC’s paper-driven processes, increasing efficiency and boosting worker productivity. Customer Service Representatives are now better able to qualify potential audit candidates. Thanks to the integrated mobile solution, conservation specialists have real-time access to TotalMobile databases, enabling them to make recommendations to customers on the spot. Audits are completely automated, and, utilizing existing staff, their number has significantly increased.
Preparing for Peak Energy and Water Demand
In the 89 years since its founding, OUC’s electric and water sales have kept pace with the area’s growth. In 2011, OUC delivered more than 7.6 million megawatt hours of power and nearly 25.6 billion gallons of water. To meet that demand, OUC operates four power plants and seven water plants.
It’s almost like the ‘teach a man to fish’ concept. The solution gives us the ability to adapt a product and make incremental changes ourselves without having to go back to the vendor for costly custom programming."
Bobby Collins, Manager, Customer Accounts, Orlando Utilities Commission
Bobby Collins, OUC Manager of Customer Accounts, explained that power generating plants are designed to meet the highest energy demands that occur during the hottest parts of the Florida summer. “On peak days, our plants might operate at 90 percent of their capacity,” he said. While they typically operate well below this level, they must be built to handle peak demand. As the population grows, OUC has three choices – increase the power plants’ capacity, add a new plant or reduce customer demand. “Adding new power generation is expensive and it is much cheaper to encourage our customers to use their electricity more efficiently,” Collins said.
Rewards for Energy Efficiency
OUC has long been committed to conservation, using a cost avoidance model in devising strategies to help customers reduce water and electric use. This approach pre-dates the more recent requirements of the Florida Public Service Commission for utilities to offset demand by introducing conservation measures.
“What the customer saves in electricity helps us postpone the need for adding new power plants,” Collins said. What OUC avoids in its cost to produce a kilowatt hour is put toward incentives such as customer rebates for energy-efficient appliances or programs.
Collins acknowledges that paying people to use less of the company’s product might seem counterintuitive. “But in the grand scheme of things, the incremental costs to meet peak demand could be greater than the potential income or revenue that we’d get,” he said. “There's a crossover point.”
For years OUC conducted free energy audits for customers and provided detailed recommendations to decrease electric and water use, but the opportunities weren’t always well qualified. “We found we were doing up to 50 percent of our audits for customers who often did very little to make changes in their electric and water usage patterns,” he said. Customers who called to complain about a high bill were automatically scheduled for audits. “We found that the squeaky wheels were getting the grease, even if they weren’t the kind of customers who could benefit,” Collins said.
Once scheduled, conservation specialists had to download and print volumes of information that they transported to each audit. At the customer’s home, the conservation specialists were unable to access account information and, therefore, unable to provide immediate on-site recommendations. In addition, there was no detailed record of a customer’s audit or rebate history. The auditors used three-ply paper forms to capture information, which was then transferred to a customer information system that limited notes fields to just 120 characters – that’s less than the 142 characters allowed by Twitter. “That was the only recorded documentation in our system of the audit,” Collins said. Of even greater concern was the fact that the conservation specialists followed their own approaches for conducting audits, which often resulted in inconsistent recommendations.
To remedy this, OUC began looking for a way to take advantage of its existing applications and provide an on-the-spot solution to make it easier to help customers save energy and water.
To address the challenge, OUC forged an external relationship with Powerline Consulting, which has an expertise in requirements analysis. Powerline accompanied conservation specialists on assignments to understand their business needs and then developed an RFP to find the right solution.
Already an AT&T mobile, voice and data customer, OUC chose TotalMobile from AT&T as the vendor of choice following the RFP process. The customized solution would improve customer service and conservation specialist productivity at a cost substantially less than the other systems considered. Powerline Consulting developed the documentation utilized by TotalMobile to configure the application for use in the field. They also reviewed all of the key data-gathering questions and developed the necessary business logic.
Audits work best for those who see anomalies in their energy usage and who have the potential to lower their bills. Through the use of TotalMobile smart scripts, OUC enabled 90 customer service representatives (CSR) to consistently determine who best qualifies. “There's built-in logic that tells us if this person should get an in-home audit,” Collins said. “Our CSR can counsel callers on reducing their bills, offer to send them our conservation DVD and push them toward our online audit-- all much lower cost options than automatically dispatching an auditor to their homes to do the same thing.”
For those who do qualify for an audit, the specialists take tablet computers and portable printers/scanners out to the customer’s home. “AT&T wireless data connectivity keeps them connected, so the specialists can access any application that's available through OUC from their vehicle,” said Mark Staszewski of Powerline Consulting, who helped choose and implement the solution. They also can access a 13-month consumption history and a list of programs or rebates the customer has received.
“With the TotalMobile application, OUC has a single source for input data, which reduces redundancy and simplifies work processes,” Staszewski said. “We produce a customized report with a summary of all the recommendations and rebates that's left behind after the audit is performed.”
A Quantum Leap Forward
Customers are amazed they receive a printed recommendation immediately upon completion of their in-home audit, Collins said. Because rebates can be processed during the audits by scanning receipts and W-2 forms, customers see the credit on their bills within 30 days, a process that used to take three months. “Our first customer to take advantage of an audit using the TotalMobile solution was the president of our board, and she was blown away,” he said. “It's a quantum leap forward from ‘press hard, three copies.’”
If customers decide not to adopt the conservation specialist’s energy-saving recommendations, this information is stored in TotalMobile’s database and later used in OUC targeted market conservation campaigns to increase the participation rate for recommended rebate programs. “The audit is completely automated, so answers are saved on the server for us to data mine later,” Collins said.
With TotalMobile from AT&T, specialists follow a consistent approach, saving time and increasing the number of audits that can be conducted.
The solution also gives supervisors reporting capabilities by which they can better manage and track employees’ schedules, assignments and productivity. They can use it to create or customize reports to keep multiple departments informed. “We can benchmark conservation specialists against each other in areas such as length of audit, program participation and audits completed,” Collins said. “It helps us see if we have a training problem or another deficiency so we can do some coaching.”
New Ways to Conserve
OUC likes the flexibility of its solution. “The conservation environment continues to change, and TotalMobile from AT&T gives us the ability to adjust easily, as we modify our rebates or sunset a rebate program,” Collins said. “It's almost like the ‘teach a man to fish’ concept. The solution gives us the ability to adapt a product and make incremental changes ourselves without having to go back to the vendor for costly custom programming."
AT&T integrated the relevant fields from OUC’s voluminous customer information system to strengthen the functionality of the utility’s energy audits. Every month OUC sends updated data to AT&T servers, which house and maintain all the information the conservation specialists need. “Some of the other vendors didn't want anything to do with customer records. They didn't want that responsibility,” Collins said. “AT&T said, ‘No problem, we'll do all that for you.’ They made it easy for us.”
The standardization has come easily to the staff. “The solution is very intuitive and easy to use so we don't have much training time,” Collins said. “In addition, we have been able to reduce the time it takes to conduct an audit and that has resulted in a significant increase in the number of audits completed without any additions to staff.”
AT&T bills the new mobility solution through a single source, which is important for government customers that have to follow extensive purchasing protocols. “AT&T has been very easy to partner with,” Collins said. “Their sales reps are well versed in mobile solutions and provided excellent guidance from acquisition to deployment.”
In the near future, OUC will use TotalMobile from AT&T to conduct energy and water audits for commercial clients and water audits for customers residing in OUC’s water-only service territory.
But for now it all comes back to the enhanced consistency the solution provides for both OUC and its customers. “The customer experience is the same high quality regardless of which CSR answers the phone or which conservation specialist OUC sends into the field,” Collins said. “Our customers’ ability to take advantage of the recommendations and programs offered to them is the same as well. Consistency is off the charts.”