British Gas brings central heating control to smartphones with AWS

British Gas used public cloud IT to enable people remotely control their homes’ central heating with smartphone apps and save on utility bills

When British Gas wanted to enable people to remotely control their homes’ central heating with smartphone apps and save on utility bills, it selected public cloud infrastructure to give traditional central heating a facelift quickly and at scale.

There is a strong shift to mobile and smart technology across all aspects of people’s lives but how consumers interact with central heating hasn’t changed much with many still physically turning the thermostat dial up and down. 

“We really wanted to change this and give users the flexibility to use thermostat remotely,” said Seb Chakraborty, head of web and platform design at British Gas.

To give central heating management a smart-technology revamp, British Gas started a project called Hive, part of its Connected Homes strategy.

Hive Active Heating allows users to control heating and hot water remotely from mobile, laptop or smartphones. Such a flexibility allows users to control heating exactly how they need it and save up to £150 a year on utility bills, Chakraborty said.

British Gas Hive systems, which costs about £200, works across all energy providers and even has features such as frost protection, which protects pipes from bursting. It comes with a device that plugs into users’ broadband router giving them complete remote control of heating.

But getting the engineer to install it at consumers’ homes is only the first step. “We launched Hive towards the end of 2013 and today we have 75,000 customers," Chakraborty said. “The speed at which we delivered Hive is directly related to our decision to use AWS cloud."

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But why public cloud? “Energy usage is very seasonal. We see a huge rush to use the Kettle just after Eastenders and everyone knows central heating is lying idle during the summer months,” Chakraborty said.

“We needed operational robustness and a scalable and cost-effective IT infrastructure, so we chose cloud services,” he said.

The British Gas IT team built an operations and analytics cloud architecture to support the Hive project. Hive uses AWS cloud for scaling the project and to deliver API toolsets around it.

The IT team is even able to use algorithms available from the big data analysis on the cloud and looking to predict boiler health. “This feature will be extremely useful to users,” he said.

It was not impossible to support Hive using British Gas’s traditional IT infrastructure. “But we did not want to be pinned down to legacy IT,” Chakraborty explained. “We also did not want long procurement cycles.”

“But most importantly, we wanted to try and experiment, so cloud was the only option as it will limit our IT-related costs even if we failed,” he said. This is because cloud services can be used on a pay-as-you-go model and does not require any capital expenditure on hardware.

You have to build business IT that is flexible and lean and allows you to initiate a project quickly

The team even used AWS services to roll out Smart Energy Meters at consumers’ homes.  

But why AWS service? “Prior to joining British Gas, I was at Telefonica where I had used AWS. Besides, when I was looking to hire IT professionals for the project, I found that most professionals had skill sets and experience around using AWS cloud.

“And when hiring, you always want to take advantage of the best skill sets available,” he said. He further added that there are more developers associated with AWS cloud service, so adding new features to its cloud infrastructure will be easier and quicker.

Besides rolling out the project quickly and at scale, British Gas is also aiming to save more than 50% costs on on-premise IT.

Following the success of Hive project on the cloud, British Gas’s IT team is trialling a new concept, “Connected boilers”, using AWS, to bring boiler management to the new age.

“My advice to CIOs thinking twice about cloud computing would be: You have to build business IT that is flexible and lean and allows you to initiate a project quickly. In this day and age, you shouldn’t worry about IT procurement and cloud computing services satisfy all these conditions.”

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