Smart Meters Boost Utility Data Quality Amid New Challenges

Improving data quality in a smart world. By Miguel Torrão Mendes

It is no secret that missing or inaccurate data is a major problem within the utility industry. According to Ofgem, the government regulator for the electricity and natural gas markets in Great Britain, three quarters of all utility company complaints relate to structural issues based on the accuracy of bills, estimates or readings. Further research conducted into the area of customer experience increasingly points to poor data quality as a major cause of dissatisfaction and customer complaints, often resulting in customers switching to new suppliers.

Poor data quality also contributes to utility companies losing revenues or overspending, mainly due to the fact that they are unable to address issues within their workflow processes and interfacing within their systems which lead to reading errors and inaccuracies in contracting, prices and billing.

The telecoms industry faced a similar issue ten to 15 years ago, when it was apparent that although huge amounts of data were being collected, the interfacing between their business systems were not adequate and so they needed a monitoring solution to place on top of their processes to ensure the data was kept consistent. Similarly, utility companies also contain many business systems that need to interface with one another, and as the EU continues its roll out of smart meters, providers are today able to collect huge amounts data.

Smart meters – opportunity or cost?

Previously, customers with a traditional analogue meter read their meter once a month giving utility companies 12 readings per year, but now smart meters measure consumption every 15 minutes which give utility companies 35,000 readings a year – a jump of almost 2000 percent. This will not only have an impact on data storage and IT network capacity, but also on the systems having to process this data, which need to be kept up-todate and secure. It is known that whenever large volumes of billable data are seen, the risks to data integrity increase exponentially.

Smart meters are also providing complexity within the business value chain. In order for smart meters to be adopted on a large scale, suppliers will need to provide flexible and dynamic plans which change during the time of day and even by type of usage. This will mean a change to the existing systems and processes and thus, there will be a large positive or negative impact on the business value chain.

This increase in accessibility of data has also empowered users to be able to monitor their gas and electrical consumption, which puts further pressure on utility companies to make sure all data relating to consumption, is accurate. Any inconsistencies with bills received and consumption will cause customers to contact customer service and an increase in bill queries will increase the operational costs of correcting errors, as well as adding to call centre workload, which thus results in poorer overall response times for new customer queries.

Apart from an enhanced customer experience, an increase in data quality can also improve the capabilities of marketing departments by providing them with the ability to segment customers based on usage; consequently this improved capability enables utility providers to offer more targeted packages of deals and bundles to people nearing the end of their contracts, helping to incentivise customers to stay with their current provider, reducing customer churn.

In order to improve data quality, utility companies need to review both the business processes and the systems, which support these processes. This view should not only be approached from a technological standpoint i.e. IT solutions, as IT solutions are merely tools which can be implemented and outputs collected, but also from an organisational standpoint, because if no department or person is tasked with putting these conclusions into actions, no improvements to the processes will be made.

Improving the process

Another way the process can be improved is by adopting an Enterprise Business Assurance (EBA) approach and implementing mechanisms, which improve utility companies’ support systems, as well as overall business performance. By looking across an organisation holistically, utility companies auditing teams can find where errors occur, where revenue is being lost and where inefficiencies exist. This methodology allows companies to not only address the challenges, but also provide the companies with a better financial and operational view of the business and so offer a high level view of the customer experience.

As data directly impacts revenues, profits and customer experience; there is a greater need for it to be high quality and reliable. Built for purpose EBA software solutions are designed to provide this through the quality control process they use to validate data. This is due to the solution collecting data directly from the source (in this case the smart meter), with a clear methodology of how any changes are applied, so any discrepancies will be alerted to the relevant department or authority. The data is also able to be kept consistent by revenue assurance processes, and with more tariff plans in place, together with having time of day, day of week or bundle discounts, there is a need to guarantee that the right tariff plan and an accurate bill is applied to the right customer. This EBA methodology ensures that data in all of the systems and platforms in the value chain is consistent and customer integrity is maintained.

Resting assured

As the technology and telecoms industries struggle with the implications of ‘big data’, so too will the utilities sector. The problems caused by inaccurate data – incorrect billing, delays due to switching and an inability to resolve issues quickly, cause it to repeatedly be at the root of customer complaints, creating a large barrier to delivering consistently good customer service. By adopting an EBA methodology, smart meters can provide a great opportunity for companies to provide an accurate and consistent service in the presence of large amounts of data.

WeDo Technologies.
Miguel Torrão Mendes is Utilities Market Director at WeDo Technologies. WeDo Technologies is a worldwide leader in Enterprise Business Assurance, providing software and expert consultancy, to intelligently analyse large quantities of data from across an organisation. This helps to negate or minimise operational or business inefficiencies and allows businesses to achieve significant return on investment via revenue protection and cost savings.

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