Archive for the 'Utilities' Category

The compelling argument for smart water meters

June 19, 2018

Last week I attended the 2018 Annual Conference and Exposition of the American Water Works Association, otherwise known as ACE18.  This is America’s largest gathering of water industry professionals, held at the Mandalay Conference Center in Las Vegas, with over 12,000 participants and over 500 exhibitors.

 

Water is our most precious natural resource, so it was not surprising to find that a significant number of the exhibitors had products or services that were in some way designed to reduce water losses for water utilities.

I was amazed to learn that water utilities can typically record total losses of between 10% and 25% of their water.  That is, water that somehow goes missing in the network and doesn’t end up getting billed to an end-customer.  So water losses are very bad news for water utilities, not only for the lost water and lost revenue, but also for the regulatory and political problems associated with excess water wastage.

According to the helpful staff I spoke with at the Kamstrup booth, reported water losses are typically made up from a combination of real losses from leaks and false losses due to inaccurate water meters under-reporting the volume of water consumed.  The old mechanical water meters tend to get less accurate as they get older and under-report the amount of water consumed, much to the cost and frustration of the water utility.

This is where smart meters come in. Smart water meters, such as those manufactured by Kamstrup, are much more accurate than mechanical meters and unlike mechanical meters, they contain no moving parts and do not lose accuracy over time. These ultrasonic meters are sealed pressurized units that come with a battery lifetime of 16 years, transmitting their readings back to the utility via a number of different data collection methods, including AMR, AMI and IoT protocols.

I was quick to note (given my involvement with Datagate water billing) that more accurate water meters would lead to more water being billed and therefore more revenue getting back to the water utility.  Another obvious advantage of smart meters is the significant reduction in costs associated with the reading of water meters. What surprised me however, is that these smart water meters can also aid in the detection of water leaks, meaning the water utility gains additional value in the reduction of real water losses.

With such compelling returns on investment, it’s no wonder these smart water meters are in such high demand.

 

The Appeal of Usage-based Billing

May 30, 2018

One of the strongest drivers of customer satisfaction is a customer’s perception of value for money.  Value for money is judged by how much a customer pays in return for what value they receive as a product or service.

Environmental and Ambient Data

Applying this logic to service billing models, we can deduce the following patterns;

Fixed Recurring Charges

With fixed recurring charges, the customer will perceive good value for money when their service usage is high in relation to the fixed service charge, but will perceive bad value for money when their service usage is low in relation to the fixed service charge.

In this model, the service supplier wins if service usage is low and the customer’s value for money perception is low, the service supplier loses if the service usage is high.

It can also be said that the supplier wins when the customer loses and the supplier loses when the customer wins.

The pricing of fixed recurring charges tends to be limited by what the customers with low service usage will be prepared to pay, within their perception of value for money.

Usage-Based Charges

With usage-based charges, customers should perceive a consistent level of value for money, regardless of the amount of service usage.  The overall cost of the service will be proportional to the level of service usage. In theory, the value for money perception should be similar regardless of whether customers are high or low service users.

The pricing of usage-based services should therefore not be restricted by a value perception of a subset of customers, but rather the value perception of all customers.

With a usage-based charging model, the supplier and customer can both win at the same time.

Overall Revenue can be Higher for Usage-based Billing

My experience through working with Datagate’s clients, is that when a service supplier replaces a fixed price model with a usage-based pricing model, they can generally increase their overall revenue significantly.

This was demonstrated most recently in a case study for Texas-based Ranch Hill Water Supply Corporation, who achieved a 26% revenue increase after implementing a usage-based charging model, using Kamstrup measurement systems, Datagate billing and Xero accounting software.

 

Success with Usage-based Billing

April 3, 2018

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With the rapid growth of the “as-a-service” business model and the abundance of new services enabled by the Internet and mobile apps, it’s fair to say that there has been a major mindset shift in the monetization of new businesses towards subscription and usage-based billing.

It’s easy to forget that other, more mature businesses categories, such as telecommunications, water, gas, electricity, news media and others, have been using subscription and usage-based billing for decades and have built up a substantial amount of experience, knowledge and I.P. in the subject – not to mention substantial recurring revenue streams!

My business, Datagate Innovation has learnt a lot from the telecommunications industry in particular, where it’s common practice to bill fixed monthly charges for fixed connections, usage charges for calls, texts and data, whilst also offering bundles of usage of various services for a fixed charge. We think this I.P. is invaluable, not only in billing for telecommunications and utility re-sellers, but also for the new and emerging business categories, such as Internet-of-Things, Software-as-a-Service and Artificial Intelligence, among others,

Datagate Innovation’s purpose in life is to help re-sellers maximize and grow their recurring revenue with fixed and usage-based billing, whilst minimize their billing costs through the use of our Cloud-based Datagate rating and billing platform.

The majority of Datagate’s clients are Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who re-sell telecommunications services and IT services to their business customers, but we are starting to get traction in other industry categories, such as electricity and water, who also work on a usage-billing basis.

This month Datagate published a case study for Ranch Hills Water Supply Corporation (RHWSC), who are based in Texas and are using Datagate to bill their water customers on a usage basis.  By shifting their billing to Datagate and a usage-basis, they increased revenue by around 26%, while cutting their billing time by around two thirds. Datagate was configured to receive water usage data from RHWC’s Kamstrup Ready Manager system and post the resulting bills to RHWSC’s Xero accounting system, after emailing them directly to the end customers.

The big opportunity we see for all service resellers today is the convergence of different types of usage-based services that can all be sold through a single reseller.  We are already seeing our clients combine IT and telephony, as well as telephony and electricity.  As long as it’s usage-based and we can get access to the usage data, then Datagate can bill it, on a single invoice.

Differentiation critical in commodity markets

January 8, 2018

Any business that supplies a product or service that cannot be differentiated against its competitors is at risk of being undercut and thereby losing its customers.

Environmental and Ambient Data

Commodity markets, such as electricity and other energy types are particularly exposed to price cutting, due to the fact that no matter which supplier a customer chooses, the end product, or service, is essentially the same. Sometimes there is a small difference in service or product quality, but often that is not a strong enough argument to compete against a lower price.

The stark choice that businesses in commodity markets face in order to compete, is between cutting prices or finding a point of difference that will motivate customers to choose them over a lower priced competitor.  Cutting prices leads to price wars with competitors and a downward spiral to the bottom, so differentiation has to be the preferable option over price cutting.

In the New Zealand electricity market, Trustpower has proven that bundling electricity with broadband and/or telephony services together in a single offering makes a very compelling proposition to customers. It is also very difficult for other electricity (or broadband) suppliers to compete with, unless they can also provide the same bundled services – which most don’t.

How can you compare the price of an apple with the price of an apple and an orange?

Trustpower’s leadership position in bundling electricity and broadband has been exceptionally successful in the New Zealand market and we are now seeing other suppliers starting to follow in their footsteps.

Another successful point of differentiation is locality.  In the New Zealand region of Taranaki (known fondly as “The Naki”), local managed service provider “NakiCloud” prides itself as being the local guys, who sport Taranaki’s famous black and yellow colors.  NakiCloud (and their sister company “Speedster”) offer locals the same products and services as the big guys in Auckland, but when things go wrong they are there on the spot to help, which is far preferable to the locals than spending hours on the help queue for one of the bigger providers.   This point of differentiation is working exceptionally well for NakiCloud in the Taranaki region.

In a reversal of Trustpower’s bundling, NakiCloud is in the process of bundling electricity with their current offerings, thereby adding a further point of difference for their customers – as well as an increased revenue stream from their existing customer base.

This bundling is facilitated by NakiCloud’s use of the Datagate billing portal, which can combine telecommunications services, data services and electricity on the same invoices to their customers.

In my role as CEO of Datagate Innovation, I see that a big part of our purpose is helping our clients differentiate their service offerings through various means, including bundling different services from a multitude of suppliers, improved information flows with our clients’ customers and superior invoice & data presentations.

As they say…“Differentiate or Die”.