The promise of smart grid has long been a closer and two-directional link between energy customers and providers. It has been the promise of an end to the decades of opaque or confusing bills arriving in the mail, an end to the lights and heat coming on or not in a kind of perceived magic only dimly related to real-world assets like power plants, energy market regulations or natural gas wells.
The first generation of smart meters, now nearing a decade in age, seemed predicated on the idea that the next step in the evolution of the power consumer was a fascination about energy supply and consumption. Customers would become as obsessed with saving money and tracking usage as their suppliers were, or as they'd been proved to be in other market situations like grocery shopping. That didn't transpire to be the case, and the high-touch, human-led information processing of the first generation of smart grid failed to have the desired impacts on usage or market transparency.
In recent years, the cost of computing has fallen, the ease of mobile communication and data-gathering have become more evident, and utilities have finally been able to understand the scale of the potential real-time insight into their own operations that a functioning smart grid system can allow. It is now time, therefore, for the next stage of transformation for the frontiers of metering, IBM Global Business Services VP and Global Energy & Utilities Leader Michael Valocchi told AOL Energy in a recent briefing outside a meeting of the Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition in New York City.
The technology and services giant is helping CenterPoint Energy, a company with electricity assets in Texas and a natural gas business in the Midwest, launch a "customer vision platform." The flexibility of the platform, which will be run using SAP software, will help fulfill the hopes for the smart grid among one of its earliest proponents: CenterPoint was an early adopter of advanced metering technology and the use of the resulting analytics.
"The new Customer Vision Platform...will allow [CenterPoint] to simplify and enhance communication methods and interact with customers for general transactions as well as outages and service notification," IBM said in a release about the partnership.
The new platform is built on the back of big data collection and processes, allowing for a 360-degree view of the customer that updates their latest preferences and habits and facilitates communication with them both proactively and on the platform of their choice. It means an end to relying on a call center as the sole means of communication with customers, and for the utility, it promises help in ending the era of constant reaction to outage reports and delayed information gathering and sharing.
"The solutions aren't one-size-fits-all," Valocchi said, and the program that IBM is building along with CenterPoint Energy is intended to provide the flexibility for the next business challenge while allowing for the treatment of customers as individuals. "It's a generation beyond segmentation," Valocchi said.
"The partnership is part of a broader change at companies that reflects the impact of early big data analysis, and which is a major strategic focus for IBM," Valocchi said. Big data is allowing customers to lead changes at organizations, and the companies in this project, which is now starting its eighteen- to twenty-four-month implementation cycle, are set to be some of the first to demonstrate the promise of that customer-centric focus to the power and energy supply and delivery sectors.