Big data is sword of truth for disruptor brands

This is a guest blogpost by Bill Wilkins, CIO/CTO, First Utility

 Despite the energy industry being data-rich, the quality of its data has always been extremely poor, its systems archaic. Customers have been left in the dark with little engagement and no real choices.

For challenger companies with change and disruption in their DNA, effective use of data is what sets them apart from conservative incumbents.

Energy makes up one of our biggest household bills, yet the fact that 40% of billpayers have never switched supplier speaks volumes about the magnitude of customer disengagement. What efforts have the incumbent energy providers made to mine their available data to understand consumers and serve them better? Evidently, not very much at all.   

Big data, used smartly, can help energy brands transform the marketplace. It’s what drives real change. By informing disenfranchised customers, they become more empowered confident consumers.

The tricky bit is to successfully target, manage and distribute the most valuable data. You can’t do everything. Disruptor brands must pinpoint the areas that differentiate their offering and focus all efforts and resources on implementing their competitive edge.

Like most challengers, First Utility is focused on being a fully data-enabled business. We look to the heroes of Silicon Valley for learnings. We see big potential in applying the principles of Spotify, Netflix and Amazon to strategically and creatively engage energy consumers. It’s ambitious, but then so are we.

It’s ambitious because the energy market is multi-faceted, made even more difficult by the fact these complexities are unique to the UK. There’s no precedent to getting it right. In fact, it’s often about mixing the company’s disruptor gene with specialist technical skills.

Data is at the heart of our decision-making process to help us optimise our offering. As the CIO, I work with my team to set the conditions we believe will create an organic and incrementally useful approach to gathering, understanding and acting on this ever-increasing pool of information.

But data should not be owned by just one department or the data chief. It must be intrinsically woven into multiple business functions and used by general management to inform day-to-day decisions. It must be approached with a focused and united vision, implemented by individual operational teams that affect the total customer journey.

Challenger companies can take advantage of their agility to disrupt the landscape for the better. They carry less historical operational baggage than the larger incumbent rivals. They can do things differently and make faster decisions. With data clearly the present and future of business, this is the ideal time for disruptors to design and shape new models. From a relatively blank piece of paper we can connect with consumers in a way that has not been seen in the energy sector before.

Challengers have the opportunity to blindside the competition with the power of information. The truth is, that even the big incumbents could benefit from challenger thinking. It’s unfortunate for the market, and specifically for consumers, that there is currently little hint towards a wave of change.

At my company, big data is at the heart of our competitive edge. Our mission is to engage consumers more in their energy usage so we consistently develop innovative technologies that can provide the insights and tools they need to give them for them to help them take better control. Our My Energy platform applies smart and highly complex customer usage information, fuelled by big data. Customers can review real time energy use over time, see their predicted future usage based on current behaviours, and can even contextualise their spend by comparing it to similar households in their neighbourhood.

We also use big data to maintain sharp business performance. Our churn dashboard tells us which customers are migrating, from what tariffs and to which suppliers, and from this we learn and grow. We are already seeing the cold hard benefits of putting data at the heart our business.

Disruptors recognise that knowledge is power. In the right hands and with clear differentiating focus, big data provides the fuel to get ahead.