Be sure to watch the full DISTRIBUTECH+ session. To learn even more about Ameren’s digital strategy, watch The Power of AI & Data to Enable the Future Grid from Bidgely Engage 2020 featuring Bhavani Amirthalingam, Ameren’s Chief Digital Information Officer.

Becoming a Digital Utility: Perspectives from Ameren

Earlier this month as part of the DISTRIBUTECH+ live content series, I had the opportunity to have a virtual sit down with Tara Oglesby, Ameren VP of Customer Experience, and Rob Childs, Ameren VP of Digital Products & Innovation, to talk about Ameren’s industry-leading approach to digital transformation. At Bidgely, we have the luxury of working with many utilities and I can tell you, Ameren is leading the pack when it comes to digitalization. During our discussion, Tara, Rob and I explored a number of digital topics that are top of mind for utilities, including data privacy and cybersecurity, facilitating the clean energy transformation, improving customer experience, optimizing utility operations and more.

I’ve summarized some of the highlights of our conversation in this synopsis, but I hope you’ll take the time to watch the full DISTRIBUTECH+ session and hear all the insights that Tara and Rob had to share. 

What does being a digital utility entail and how is Ameren accomplishing that?

Rob: It’s a broad spectrum approach that we’re taking. We want to leverage the best thinking around digital and really take advantage of the opportunity that rich data provides to optimize how we perform, deliver better reliability and provide better service to our customers. We also want to put the power of that data in the hands of the customer so they have more control over their gas or electric usage and in monitoring their bill. 

Tara: At the very highest level, it’s really about transforming the relationship we have with our customers. They want to be able to use digital technology to interact with us. They want to be able to go online and use apps. They want to be able to get proactive alerts. If they have a service order, they want to receive alerts letting them know when we’re going to be there, just like they do when they order DoorDash.

Our smart meter deployment is one of the most critical things that we’ve invested in to move us forward in the digital space. I have been honored to oversee our smart meter deployment in Ameren Missouri. Ameren put the deployment under my area, and not field operations or metering, because the meter is an integral part of the customer experience process. With smart meter data we’re able to deliver increased value to our customers. 

It’s impossible to discuss digitalization without also addressing cybersecurity issues. How do you keep customer data secure and ensure that your customers feel secure? 

Rob: Protecting customer data is critical and top of mind for every executive. That’s why we strive to minimize the amount of data that we share. We don’t share Personally identifiable information. We proactively work to make sure that we only share anonymized usage data. With our Bidgely integration, we’re able to share data in a very, very secure manner and very simply. It’s helped us maintain our security pattern.

Tara: It’s really about trusting your utility, trusting the business that you’re operating with. If you lose trust with customers, it’s hard to gain it back. That’s why continuing to advance in the cyber area is incredibly important. 

How do you see Ameren’s digitalization efforts supporting your clean energy goals?

Tara: We are very focused on serving our customers from a clean and environmentally safe perspective, which of course includes electric vehicles. EV owners want rates that make sense for them, so they can charge their vehicles at an affordable price. To serve that need requires an understanding of who has electric vehicles in our service territory. There is a huge distribution component to that from a reliability perspective. The Bidgely EV tool is going to give us some really granular information about our customers to really understand their EV usage without requiring them to tell us, ‘Hey, I bought a new EV.’ 

Rob: The ability to use smart meter data and the Bidgely tool to unlock the fact that a customer has an EV at home is very important. And then once we know that they own a vehicle, being able to present them with different rate options and the capability to model different charging behaviors to see what that cost difference would be so that they can adjust when they’re going to charge their car is a tremendous step up in allowing customers to take better control of costs and their usage.

Where else do you see the potential for digitalization to drive better outcomes?

Tara: The digital space is advancing extremely fast and our customers don’t compare us against other utilities — they compare us against other companies they interact with in every industry. Everybody wants to be mobile. Nobody wants to have to call us. Everyone wants us to proactively tell them what it is that they want to know. And if they do have to interact with us, they want it to be easy and convenient, with options to use their preferred channel. So we’ve invested a lot in that area, and were actually rated number one nationally for our website by JD Power. We also just rolled out a new mobile app, which was the result of customers telling us what they wanted in the way of mobile interactions. Now they can do what they need to do with just a few clicks. They also want personalized information that’s relevant to them specifically, based on their energy usage. How can I conserve? What is the best rate for me? Tell me what I need to know about my outage. Digital tools help us provide those answers. 

Rob: From an overall utility operations perspective, we’re looking at the impact of smart meter data and automation across the value chain. We’re spending a lot of time on our digital field experience to reduce the wrench time out in the field. We’re also very focused on more automation within the grid and resiliency so that we can better manage outages and take care of our customers. 

How do you see your collaboration with Bidgely helping you?

Tara: To get the most out of our smart meter investment required enhanced data management tools. So we did an RFP and conducted due diligence with a number of companies, and Bidgely stood above the rest with rate comparison tools, their ability to help us internally with our outage management information, and because they are not only able to define what our customers’ behaviors are, they are able to take our customers’ behaviors and use that data to inform personalized reports and alerts for customers. It’s those tools that we’re presenting to customers to demonstrate the value they’re getting from their new smart meter.

Rob: In my area, we are also responsible for what we call the digital user experience, including multi-channel .com and mobile applications. And one of the great things about the capability that disaggregation provides is that it allows the customer to drill down where their usage is coming from and better understand their bill and embed that capability very seamlessly into the digital experiences we’re building for our customers. From a solution approach perspective, we’re able to continue to own the customer experience from our side, by utilizing Bidgely’s great integration pattern which allows us to maintain the ownership while realizing the benefits the platform avails us. It really has been a pretty simple way for us to work through it.

Be sure to watch the full DISTRIBUTECH+ session. To learn even more about Ameren’s digital strategy, watch The Power of AI & Data to Enable the Future Grid from Bidgely Engage 2020 featuring Bhavani Amirthalingam, Ameren’s Chief Digital Information Officer.

Categories: Bidgely

Abhay Gupta

I founded Bidgely to change the way we use energy, everyday. It's the little things we do, working with our utilities, that add up to massive savings, efficiency, and just maybe, a better world.