When it comes to your electric bill, there’s room for improvement -- to say the least. Chances are, you barely understand it, even if you work with utilities. If you can get through it, it's probably clunky. The system on the utility side likely isn't much better. With the advent of smart grid technologies, just one of the advantages is using information to build a better relationship with customers.
The vast majority of utilities are overwhelmed by the stream of data that will come from 15-minute interval readings on smart meters. Cycle30, a telecom service provider with a meter-to-cash platform, is looking to help utilities dip their toes in the water of data management with one of the most basic services: billing.
Cycle30, a subsidiary of GCI, Alaska’s largest telecom and cable provider, was started in May 2010 with one eye on the utility sector, according to the company’s President Jim Dunlap. Dunlap is not looking to compete with Aclara or eMeter, but rather to be an addendum service that truly answers some the utility’s customer-facing needs. “We offer an end-to-end set of solutions,” said Dunlap. “We go beyond what you’d usually think of as billing.”
With experience in the deregulated telecom markets, Cycle30 feels its ready to help utilities move into the 21st century and replace their dated customer information systems. In the future, The Seattle-based company could help utilities offer bundled services that include home energy management services. (Dynamic pricing, the utility of the future and back-end services will all be covered at our Networked Grid conference May 3 and 4 in San Francisco.)
At a recent meter-to-billing show, Dunlap said interest was from three fronts. First was directly from utilities, both here in the U.S., as well as the Caribbean and Europe, that were looking for affordable solutions to replace an aging CIS. “The fact that we’ve been in telecom and cable was of great interest to all of them,” said Dunlap, who was formerly the Chief Information Officer at GCI.
The next interested group was consulting groups looking for partners, followed by meter manufacturers looking to expand their solutions. Dunlap said they’re also talking to some meter data management companies about partnerships, and are planning announcements later this year. But ideally, Cycle30 wants to work directly with utilities. “We’re much more of a relationship-based company,” Dunlap said.
Coming from the telecom space, he described the amount of data coming into utilities with smart grid infrastructure as miniscule. “In less than two weeks, we put more data into the cloud than Oncor would put up in a year.”
But Cycle30 is about far more than just the data, as there is a lot of information coming off of meters that is outside of Cycle30’s interest. The customer-centric approach comes from Dunlap’s years as the director of IT at Nordstrom for all new stores. Although Dunlap was in the back offices and not working the floor in the shoe salon, he said that customer service was nearly cultish at every level of the department store, and nearly a quarter-century later, he has taken that approach to delivering solutions to telecom and utilities: “We’re about delivering more effective services to the end customer.”
And honestly, utilities can use the help, for the most part. It’s not just about managing data, but helping utilities redesign their bill so that it’s something that people can understand. There is also training for the call centers, which are the first line of interaction for most customers. For utilities building websites for customers to access their usage and billing, Cycle30 can help with that too.
Depending on whether you’re migrating over a legacy system, Dunlap said the company can finish an entire project between six months and a year. With all of the current focus on consumer interaction, Dunlap is hoping Cycle30 can strike while the iron is hot. But utilities are not the only focus. The company is also evaluating up to 40 different paths to market for machine-to-machine transactions, such as electronic parking meter billing systems for cities.
Oh, and electric car charging -- they’re keeping that on the radar too. “Once the grid is fully deployed and you see other products and services evolve,” said Dunlap, “that’s where we think machine to machine will really start to happen."