Utilities Companies Join the Mobile World

May 23, 2014

By Chris Werely @chriswerely To satisfy growing customer expectations, mobile continues to be a high priority for utilities companies. I recently attended the Mobile for Utilities Summit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that brought together leaders of Con Edison, Seattle City Light, Fortis BC, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and more. A few participating utilities had just launched their first mobile experience while others were trying to determine their next steps for self-service and beyond. The following struck me as the most significant themes that concerned utilities representatives when creating great UX for utilities mobile.

Design Approaches: Server Side Adaptive vs. Responsive

Utilities are using a diverse group of both adaptive technology and responsive design for their mobile websites. The majority of utilities use adaptive technology (conference participants ConEdison, PSEG, Seattle City Light) while others utilize responsive design for their web experiences (WaterOne, PGE, and conference participant Fortis BC). One participant uses both adaptive and responsive design (PNM) to support specific use cases on its mobile website. PNM’s strategy is to use adaptive technology for critical transactional, providing ease of task completion and speed. Informational and corporate content is responsive (content is consumed in the same context across devices). Overall, the importance of mobile is only growing, and there are options for technology and design approaches. Whether the final decision is adaptive, responsive, or a combination of both, utilities companies’ final goal is to support key self-service transaction and get more of their content on mobile. Speed Matters Smart utilities are designing first for speed. If a site is not fast, it will not be a good experience – period. The UX and technology approach must support this and should be considered up front. Service areas can also be large, with varying levels of cell connection speeds (LTE, 3G) and broadband. Utilities must design to the lowest common denominator, 3G, and scale up to LTE and WiFi. Sever side processing, data and image compression, and mobile first design are all important considerations. Customer Facing Apps The majority of participant companies did not have a clear roadmap for creation of apps, but many agreed that with the right use case and experience, apps can be extremely powerful potential tools for customers.  During a workshop that I co-facilitated with Briand Jackson from Apogee Interactive, the conference participants identified the following use cases for a native app:

  • Bill pay
  • Push notifications (bill pay reminders, outages, etc.)
  • Smart meter alerts
  • Preference management
  • Outage reporting, and storm center
As we have seen in other industries, launching a good app can be challenging without the right team and strategy in place. Unlike retailers, banks, and travel companies, utilities generally do not have the experience, UX expertise, or capability to internally launch multichannel experiences and apps using API’s and flexible architecture. For all these reasons, the majority of utilities will continue to leverage partners for strategy and implementation of apps. Comprehensive Experiences across Mobile Web To envision the future of a great mobile website, utilities recognize that their sites must be more comprehensive than ever. While the majority of customers look to mobile experiences to perform key self-service transactions such as bill pay and meter reading, they are increasingly looking for energy saving tips, rebates, and other non-transactional information. Whether just beginning their mobile journey or working to refresh their experience, the utilities world has important decisions to make for design, technical approach, speed, good UX, and apps. The Mobile for Utilities Summit is only the tip of the iceberg in this industry-wide discussion.
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