Digital Enlightenment

Mark Holtermann, VP of IT, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation
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Mark Holtermann, VP of IT, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation

Digital, Digital, Digital…Did I say Digital? Yes, I guess I did. When you think of your utility company, what comes to your mind first? ‘Is my power on?’ ‘How did I use that much power/gas to have this high of a bill?’ Or ‘Wow, sure does feel nice to have a lower bill this month.’ Yes, this would be what I expect to hear. Does being a utility translate to old, archaic, slow-paced, public sector customer experience? Well, the answer is, yes, it can – but this is not what the customer wants or expect. Central Hudson Gas & Electric is no different, our customers that span across 2600 square miles in the Hudson Valley New York area from North of Westchester to South of Albany, expect the same digital experience from us as they do from their bank, their credit card company, or from Amazon.com for that matter anytime, anywhere, any device access to a host of self-service transactions, products, services, and information all in a convenient, engaging, interactive, and seamless experience across all channels.

"The Energy Exchange is an opportunity for us to grow our customer digital engagement for today and for the future"

The Energy & Utilities business has been experiencing a transformation for the last roughly 10 years with the emergence of the connected grid where with the use of cellular, Wi-Fi, and the harnessing of data transmitted across these mediums, the conventional utility grid has come alive. But what about the end customer? Having spent roughly half my career in the transportation space, multiple years in consulting across industries, and roughly 10 years in the Energy & Utilities industry, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the growth of digital expectation, adoption, and enablement. At my prior EU company, a $15B, 5M customer utility, I had the opportunity to partner with a peer in the Marketing & Communications team to develop, compile, socialize, and execute on a multi-year enterprise wide Digital strategy. As we started to socialize the strategy, we faced resistance and denial. Being a large and widely dispersed entity, the dissemination of the strategy took months. Reflective of the speed of digital, by the time we reached the executive level discussions the feedback went from, ‘Yes, this sounds good, and we can see the potential value. However, why now? Let’s revisit later.’ To ‘We needed this yesterday and how far along are we already?’ The expectations grew in a short period and the task ahead was not going to be easy Nonetheless, as we expanded our Web/Mobile/Social footprint and grew adoption, we watched the primary touch point with customers move from the traditional call to Digital driving cost out of the business and increasing overall customer satisfaction.

I joined CHG&E in April 2014. Thankfully, I found the company had a good start with digital offerings from the desktop website to mobile web and mobile apps, text messaging and presence on social media sites. What became clear was that all had come together via numerous tactical efforts versus an overarching strategy. As such, we formed a Digital Interactive Working Group corporate committee with representation across all key customer interfacing areas of the company from IT to Customer Service, Business Development, Corporate Communications and Operations. We compiled an overall Digital strategy for CHG&E, defined a prioritization scheme for all digital efforts, leveraged benchmarking from both within and outside of the E&U industry, and we supported and governed all digital related initiatives across the company. In 2015, we added numerous self-service improvements to our digital portfolio and have focused to grow adoption across our customer base.

All of this is fine and good, representing great progress in the right direction for CHG&E and our customers. Wait, is that it? No, of course not. Another key business driver is what is going on within the state of New York and regulatory driven reforming the Energy Vision (REV) movement sponsored by the governor’s office and the NY Public Service Commission. REV calls for more non-traditional power generation or distributed generation (DG - things like solar power and micro grids), changes to regulation to embrace DG, and seeks to provide customers with more choice over their energy consumption via creating a market driven approach. As regulation takes significant cycle times, REV has introduced the need and requirement for utilities to propose ‘Demonstration Projects’. These projects are intended to test the concepts and objectives of REV for the industry and for the energy consumers of New York. Central Hudson proposed a customer portal and marketplace, the Energy Exchange, which will further extend our existing customer self-service digital offerings to include energy consumption insights, energy tips, tricks, and tools to help customers better manage their energy usage and to provide them with options including products and services offerings and a marketplace where energy related products and services can be identified, researched, purchased with or without rebates applied at checkout or services they can enroll in – all gamified to further incent and engage overall participation. A key aspect of the Energy Exchange is the continuous engagement with the customer providing valuable and actionable information. The Energy Exchange is an opportunity for us to grow our customer digital engagement for today and for the future. 

It is an exciting time to be in IT, no matter what industry. The quest for Digital enlightenment is upon us. Act or be left behind!

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