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Smart cities need smart utilities

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Sustainable energy consumption and ‘green’ energy production at home is becoming a new lifestyle. Today’s hyperconnected consumer expects a reduced environmental footprint while still enjoying seamless services and ease of use, improving their quality of life through fully digitised processes that give them complete control over every aspect of their lives.

According to IDC, 30 billion ‘things’ will be connected by 2020. Everything from cars and appliances to lights and temperature control will be connected in an interoperable network that will give consumers unprecedented control and choice over their energy use. Energy itself is also becoming more sustainable: Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that by 2040, 72% of total new power generation capacity investment globally will go to renewable energy, with the falling cost of residential renewable energy disrupting the relationship between utility companies and their customers. This decentralisation is changing consumers into prosumers, who are able to generate energy and manage their usage in sustainable and convenient ways.

However, in Africa the picture looks distinctly different: here, the true empowerment of the energy utility lies with the interplay between consumers, utilities, connected devices and the software that links it all together in a cohesive whole.

Empowering the energy utility and its customers

Historically, the meter has been the centrepiece of the energy utility company’s relationship with its consumer. A contract is set up with the consumer to provide energy, and the meter is read to determine how much energy has been used. The utility company then bills the consumer according to their energy usage. Unless something – a billing query or outage, for example – compels the consumer to contact the utility via a call centre, the bill sent to the consumer is the only touchpoint the utility company would have with them.

However, with the advent of smart metering systems and the rise of powerful technology platforms such as SAP S/4HANA and tailored software solutions such as SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service that incorporate advanced analytics, big data, machine learning and AI, this interaction is evolving in exciting ways.

Energy utilities can now continuously collect and analyse data from smart meters, SCADA systems and sensors to determine and monitor the health of infrastructural assets. This is creating new opportunities to reimagine business processes and business models: while in the past each asset provider had its own system producing its own set of analytics, we are now able to collect all of the data from each asset into a single IoT platform in near-real time. Linking this to advanced predictive analytics capabilities enables utilities to proactively manage key assets within its value chain, driving down maintenance costs and optimising customer satisfaction through the uninterrupted supply of power.

Energy consumers are further empowered by gaining real-time visibility of consumption behaviour, enabling better energy management at a business or household level. In a smart city environment, this also enables benchmarking, which can give energy consumers insight into the energy usage of neighbours as well as at a neighbourhood, city, and potentially national level. When energy consumption levels exceed supply, utilities can better communicate with major consumers of energy and incentivise them to reduce consumption.

Disrupting 100 years of business-as-usual

Not much has changed for utility companies’ business models over the past century. However, there are three major disruptors currently challenging utility companies, namely:

  1. Decentralisation, which is changing where energy is created and how it is consumed. A famous example is Elon Musk’s Solar City, which features renewable solar roofing tiles that generate electricity at the local level.
  2. Deregulation, which is allowing a new breed of disruptive competitor to enter the market with services and devices aimed at consumers, such as the broad range of home energy monitoring and control devices and applications.
  3. Decarbonisation, which is driving the adoption of non-fossil fuel energy sources.

These three disruptors are enabling the rise of the off-grid consumer, typified by businesses and individuals who generate their own energy via renewable sources. Aside from the obvious loss of revenue, these consumers pose a further risk through their potential to sell surplus energy to their neighbours, further diverting the energy utilities’ revenue stream. In South Africa, for example, nearly all municipalities restrict consumers from selling their own generated access electricity back to the grid, and the infrastructure needed to enable such prosumers to supply excess power back into the grid is not yet in place.

However, utilities need to prioritise a journey of digital transformation that reimagines their business models and reengineers business processes. By embracing exponential technologies such as blockchain, machine learning, predictive analytics, Big Data, and IoT, and integrating it all into a cloud platform under the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system, energy utilities can fast-track their digital transformation to rapidly adopt new business models and capabilities.

With technology giants increasingly encroaching on the territory traditionally held by utility companies, and rapidly increasing customer expectations, the need to transform business models and processes has become urgent. It is critical that energy utilities prioritise their digital transformation, or they risk being left behind by an increasingly empowered and self-sufficient consumer market.

* Hannes Venter, Industry Advisor: Utilities at SAP Africa

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Stop being creepy! An essential guide for digital marketers

Advertising and marketing is becoming increasingly creepy as personalisation strategies lose the plot, writes JOAN OSTERLOH, authorised Forrester Research Partner for South Africa.

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Marketers need to be aware of the “creep factor” when deploying strategies of personalisation and individualisation in their marketing efforts, Forrester’s Brendan Witcher, VP and principal analyst serving eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, warned as early as December 2017.

Six months later, Forrester senior analyst Susan Bidel was even more direct in her message: “Marketers, you need to take control of your advertising strategies and adtech stacks now to better address today’s consumers.” She cautioned that those who didn’t, were at a high risk of annoying and creeping out the very customers needed for business growth.

In its latest research, “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces  Erupt” Forrester now finds that even though marketers set out with the best intentions to implement customer-obsessed marketing and customer experience strategies, they still end up alienating and ‘creeping out’ customers, resulting in lost loyalty.

Marketers use personalisation to make their marketing more relevant and to help it stand out, Forrester says in a blog on the study. The irony is that with all the customer data that marketers use to personalise, the one thing they seem to have forgotten to find out from consumers is whether they even want personalised communication at all, the firm writes. Combined with identity resolution and increased automation, companies have created adtech and martech stacks that are creeping people out. We think our phones are listening to us. And then Facebook admits it is doing this. So, what’s gone wrong?

The report by Melissa Parrish, Forrester’s VP and group director serving marketing professionals, highlights that marketers are ignoring their customers’ desire for anonymity, by assuming that they all want personalised experiences. They are foregoing the authenticity of their own brands by “giving lip service to brand values they think resonate with customers.” There’s an overt focus on martech at the expense of human creativity. Lastly, they’re profiling customers on precarious connections and getting it wrong, sometimes with harmful and even traumatic results, she explains.

The solution is to return to true customer-centricity by going back to basics by looking at the following, Parrish writes in the report:

  1. Remember that customers are different.  Here it’s not about customer segments or personas, but rather the extent to which they expect you to know them. Treat customers and prospects differently – e.g. prospects “want value, not a background check”.
  2. Customers are tired of lookalike ads and direct mail that is poorly personalised, trying to get them to buy things for which they’re not even in the market.  Choose your target audience, focus on them, and then let go of the others.
  3. Programmatic marketing has its upsides and downsides.  Avoid the two extremes of advertising at scale across multiple channels on the one hand and limiting advertising to channels where everyone seems to be at once, such as Facebook, on the other.  Instead, target your audience with responsible content and choose platforms on which you can reach them online and offline.
  4. Consider whether you should be using cookie, key-stroke and audience data at all for your brand.  Intent-based target marketing through search optimization might be a smarter choice.
  5. Don’t assume that personalisation will make customer experiences more relevant.  Rather interview your customers and test different variations of personalised content to find the right balance between information, recommendations, simplicity and empathy.
  6. Don’t ignore the 20% who don’t want any personalisation at all – use your customer insights data to identify them, and then meet their expectation of no personalisation.

Parrish offers important recommendations for the winning marketers of the future. Since the success of marketing is measured by the bottom line of revenue generation, truly customer-obsessed marketers need KPIs that are “fine-tuned” to understand what customers value, not what’s valuable to the brand, she writes. What customers want and value should be defined in terms of four dimensions along the axes of functional-experiential, and economic-symbolic.  Then, measure the dimensions along the entire customer life cycle, she explains. What this requires is the following:

Firstly, marketing and Customer Experience (CX) teams need to unify and leverage one another’s unique skills to deliver best-in-class customer experiences that drive loyalty, customer retention and growth.  Truly customer-obsessed brands will bring CX and marketing together to harness the best that both have to offer.

Secondly, brands need to rebuild trust.  As consumers become more privacy-savvy, they will become more selective about the brands with which they are willing to share their data.  Marketers need to develop ‘Privacy Personas’ as a new marketing segment to ensure that they deliver experiences their customers are comfortable with.

Thirdly, refocus on creative excellence. In Parrish’s words “new prospecting strategies will center on great creative making an emotional impact and contextual targeting driving relevance.”

Lastly marketers need to find ways to extend customer obsession throughout the enterprise. Employees need to be empowered to deliver on the brand promise, which must align to and be in harmony with CX.   The companies that thrive will be those whose CX truly reflects brand values, Parrish concludes.  

Sources: “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces  Erupt18 Sept 2019. By Melissa Parrish with Sharyn Leaver, Brigitte Majewski, Caroline Robertson, and Stephanie Liu.

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Which should you use: PIN or Password?

By CHAD HAMMOND, a digital security expert at NordPass

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As users of this digital age, we have many different choices. You can enable or disable web cookies, depending on how much information you want a website to gather about you. You can use encrypted services or unencrypted ones, depending on how much you’re concerned about your privacy and security.

You can also use a PIN (Personal Identification Number) or password to secure your digital devices or online accounts. However, in this particular case, the choice for most of us is not as straightforward as it seems.

The other day I also had the very same discussion among my friends with three different sides of opinion. One side was backing PINs and claiming that they are safer than passwords. Others couldn’t believe that PINs made up of four, six, or eight digits can be more reliable than long and complex passwords. And the third group was claiming that both PIN and password serve the same purpose of identification and are safe to use. All sides had valuable insights, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. Sparked by this discussion, I decided to look deeper into this topic and look for the truth.

When should you use a PIN?

PIN stands for a Personal Information Number and is used the same as a password to prove that you have the right to access your data. A PIN usually consists of a string of four to eight numbers, and it was first introduced in the 1960s together with cash machines (ATMs). The obvious drawback is that a PIN is limited to 0-9 numerical digits. A PIN made up of four numbers offers 10,000 possible combinations. That may seem like an easy nut to crack, but it’s not as straightforward.

PINs are normally used on touchscreen devices and always require manual data entry. An automated brute-force attack may not work as most of the systems that use a PIN also specify maximum attempts count before disabling the device.

For example, if your device limits PIN entry to six attempts, there is a 0.06% chance that someone will be lucky enough to crack the four-digit code. Of course, if your PIN is ‘0000’ or ‘1234,’ the probability of being hacked increases massively.

When should you use a password?

A good password is a combination of numerical digits, upper- and lowercase letters, and various special characters. It could also be a phrase made up of words with the same requirements. Like the PIN, the password concept first appeared in the early 1960s and has been used ever since. A 10-character password has 59,873,693,923,837,900,000 different variations, and most of you are probably thinking you know which of the two is more secure. However, it’s not all about mathematics.

Passwords are used online or for devices like computers, which usually don’t have any limits on failed attempts. That’s why passwords can be compromised with the help of an automated brute-force attack. Of course, not all attacks are practical, as most of them would take years to crack a strong password. Buthacking technologies are evolving fast, making such attacks more sophisticated and successful.

Password vs. PIN: the verdict

Going back to the discussion that I had with my friends, we can safely say that all the opinions were correct in one way or another. The answer to this question depends on where you use your PIN or password.

If you want to unlock your touchscreen device, the safest and easiest way is to use a PIN because of the manual entry and the attempt limit. When it comes to online accounts or computers, passwords are much safer due to the simple math of available combinations.

Also, you can enable multi-factor authentication (2FA) in most online accounts . The 2FA adds another layer of safety, minimizing the risks of automated brute-force attacks. Even if someone manages to get your strong password, they won’t be able to access your account, as the second step of verification will stop them.

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