Almost every day I see articles about new ideas or technologies to help utilities educate and engage stakeholders on the benefits of Smart Grid and AMI. Whether it be portals, social networks, mobile apps, colored buttons, or big shiny buses, the reality is that most Communications, Marketing or Customer Operations departments (those most responsible for customer education and engagement) want to execute a strategy that aligns with the reality they live in. Utilities are struggling to bring these strategies to fruition due to dwindling budgets, constrained resources, understaffed teams, etc.
Short of backing up a truckload of vendors, consultants and money to develop grandiose engagement strategies and plans they don’t have the means to execute, what is a utility to do? It’s been our experience that utilities just want to do those things they do regularly and do well, but do it differently (think: work smarter, not harder). But also, utilities want to innovate by developing strategies that allow them to develop new solutions deliberately, and avoid over-engineering the solution (think: start manual, then automate). To execute the most basic customer education tactics, they know they will have to do things that are hard, non-routine and out of their comfort zone. Utilities will want to evaluate those functions and processes carefully to plan for additional responsibilities, resources and cross-departmental collaboration.
Evaluating and prioritizing initiatives within a customer education and outreach strategy on the axes of cost, effectiveness and risk of not doing it is a great way to evaluate initiatives that should be taken on versus those that must to be taken on. Take the example of dealing with a community organization that opposes your AMI deployment. What will the tipping point be to know you have a formidable opposition problem? How will you handle them? What information will you share with them? Will you engage them directly or ignore them? What budget/resources will you dedicate to this effort? What policies should you consider having ready to appease them? What regulatory/legislative factors do you need to consider? Developing an approach within your strategy to address these variables will be important to have as you move forward with planning.
Taking a pragmatic approach to customer education and engagement helps prevent overcommitting resources to a long, drawn out process as well as over-engineering the solution. An ineffective approach often stretches IT and CapEx budgets while not showing real ROI in the near term. In the end, utilities that have a well-defined approach and strong strategic vision will be better poised to undertake complex deployments and manage the associated risks.