Thursday, June 23, 2011

The State of Mobile Apps for Utility Customers

In our latest Utility Mobile Watch Quarterly Review of over 160 leading utilities in North America, we found 14 native smartphone applications from 12 utilities for customers. Apps range from content-only to games to read-only outage information to bill pay.

Only one utility is offering a richer customer experience integrating partial My Account transactions with Outage information and Energy Saving tips. However, even this utility gets complaints from customers using the app because they can't do something as simple - and highly important - as pay their bill.

A native application is downloaded and installed on a smartphone and therefore has to be developed specifically for that mobile operating system (like iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows, Palm, etc.)

Of the 14 smartphone applications available today, only 5 were developed in-house - the rest were outsourced to digital design agencies or third-party vendors.

Software vendor iFactor - known for their web-based outage map solutions - has four utilities using their 'Storm Center' iPhone application, including LGE/KU (PPL subsidiary), Minnesota Power (Allete subsidiary), Pepco, and 20,000-customer Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative.

While customers in general like this read-only information, which utility has deployed the Storm Center app has a huge impact on customer satisfaction. If the app can't deliver relevant and timely outage information - particularly estimated restoration times - you are encouraging your customers to UN-install the app and never use it again.

This goes to a deeper concern about making sure your mobile strategies align with your customer experience strategies (like making sure you can deliver timely and relevant outage information). More importantly is the fact that utilities are providing only one side of the outage equation - status.

PG&E's Bill Pay application was developed by their third-party payment processor - who has a vested interest in deploying the app because PG&E charges $1.45 for each payment made through the app (whether ACH or credit card).

Apple's iOS is by far the most popular platform for utilities today, with 12 native applications built for the iPhone and its brethern (iPad, iPod Touch, etc.), while only 2 applications have been built for Blackberry devices. (Most likely, this is because senior sponsors of these mobile initiatives are carrying utility-issued Blackberries!)

Of interest, no utilities have developed Android-based applications.

No one is leveraging the powerful on-device capabilities of geo-location. Only one app takes advantage of any advanced on-device functionality: PG&E has the ability to capture a signature from customers making a mobile payment.

Only the two games from ConEdison and Xcel Energy take advantage of the the rich graphics available with native applications. The rest of the 12 apps could all be delivered as mobile-optimized websites. For reference, take a look at the best-in-class, mobile-optimized websites from BC Hydro and Avista Utilities.

The Holiday eCard-maker from Pepco is an interesting application which tries to engage customers with energy-efficiency tips while providing them a distraction from paying their bill... or dealing with Pepco's power outages and reliability problems?!?

Here is a breakdown of the 14 smartphone applications we found in our latest Quarterly Review:

- Green Mountain Power - Green news & info
- ConEdison - Energy Saving Tips

- ConEdison - replace bulbs w/ CFLs
- Xcel Energy - Astroids-type CFL game

STORM CENTER (all read-only)
- Centerpoint
- LGE/KU (PPL subsidiary)
- Minnesota Power (Allete subsidiary)
- Pepco

- Pepco (Holiday eCard)

- PG&E

- Toronto Hydro (TOU; Report Outage)

FEATURE-RICH: My Account Transactions & Outages


  1. The Light Bulb Finder app is available for free download on Android, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The developer of the app is working with utilities, cities and counties to launch mobile marketing campaigns directly on the app. Designed for specific zip code coverage areas, the customized campaigns link directly to utility/municipal websites providing detailed information on energy efficiency programs such as CFL discounts and whole house energy audits.

  2. There actually are several applications deployed for Android and Blackberry as well. These come from us here at iFactor as part of our overall strategy to enable customer solutions for utilities using reusable software. You can find Android examples buy searching for iFactor in the Android App Store or by at LGE-KU leads the pack on Blackberry app World with their outage maps application . Watch for some exciting additions and updates to these apps in the near future as all have full roadmaps of additional functionality coming.