Utility Prepayment Trends and Consumer Engagement

In some parts of North America, the utility market is becoming increasingly competitive when it comes to the delivery of electricity, gas, water or any combination of the three. Deregulation is one of the main drivers of this, but so are renewable energy sources. In deregulated states, as many as 25% of consumers leave their incumbent utility, switching to competitors for a number of reasons. There is also a movement underway where municipalities negotiate to offer alternative energy choices based on renewable energy sources through Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs).

Faced with these competitive headwinds, consumer engagement is more critical than ever for all utilities. Utility branding, being able to anticipate consumer’s needs and keeping them engaged fosters lasting relationships and loyalty. In addition, Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) coupled with prepayment offers utility consumers flexibility and is one of the most direct customer engagement opportunities available to utilities.

Utilizing prepayment as an additional payment option allows direct consumer engagement for several segments and is a viable option for rental properties, college dorms and vacation homes. Prepayment also provides a way for consumers to address outstanding accounts without the out-of-pocket funding of large deposits, while still having access to affordable energy. Itron’s prepayment solution includes smartphone apps and web portals that offer flexible ways to pay for energy use and provide easy to understand energy usage information, creating happier, more satisfied customers. We are also able to leverage new prepayment capabilities through distributed intelligence applications at the meter. These applications can make the traditional North American AMI prepay solution much more effective and efficient.

Millennials and other environmentally conscience consumers are looking for more options to pay their bills and manage their energy. Making smartphone apps and web portals available allows a utility to provide meaningful energy consumption data that can help the utility’s customers learn about their energy usage and react accordingly, promoting energy efficiency and potentially improving their carbon footprint.

At Itron, we’ve been in the global prepayment market for more than 25 years and in 25 countries. As the newly dedicated North America prepay product manager, I recently spoke at the Prepay Energy Working Group (PEWG) meeting hosted by DEFG about Itron’s solution, with a focus on North America. Contact me at Chris.Germano@itron.com for more information.


Survey Reveals How Cities and Utilities Are Prioritizing Technology to Address Present and Future Challenges

U.S. cities and utilities continue to adapt to pressing issues, such as aging infrastructure, natural disasters and the growing desire to incorporate renewables. Now, more than ever, cities and utilities have the opportunity to find new ways to innovate and demonstrate resiliency through technology. Deploying connected technology will be critical for utilities and cities to optimize their existing infrastructure to reliably deliver energy and water in the face of uncertainty, while fostering a more resourceful and sustainable world.

To find out how cities and utilities are addressing present and future challenges with advanced technologies, we conducted an informal survey during Itron Utility Week (IUW) 2020 and on social media about utilities’ and cities’ investment priorities. According to respondents, the three most important investment areas for cities and utilities are AMI/networks/smart meters, data analytics and customer engagement technology. The survey showed that over the past 12 months, cities and utilities have invested in AMI/networks/smart meters and data analytics, first and foremost. Looking to the future, utilities and cities said that customer engagement technology is an investment priority in the next 12 months.

AMI/Networks/Smart Meters
At Itron, we are seeing our customers benefit from intelligent connectivity during the current shift to remote work. Employing modern communication networks enables faster, more responsive grids and improved data-driven decision making through capabilities like distributed intelligence. Remote meter reading via a network simplifies data collection and field operations – which is proving its value with a distributed workforce.

Data Analytics
The second most important area of investment comes as no surprise as we are seeing utilities realize the importance of data analytics and automating data collection to improve their operations. Leveraging analytics can transform the way utilities see customer demand patterns and provide access to critical data for infrastructure planning. Data analytics allows utilities to deliver consistent and reliable energy and restore service quickly and efficiently.

Customer Engagement Technology
Going forward, customer engagement technology is a priority area for utilities and cities. It’s clear that technologies such as smart thermostats provide a value-added service to customers as well as demand response capacity. Investing in technology to improve customer satisfaction enables customers to proactively optimize energy/water usage and meaningfully interact with utilities.

Looking Ahead
Through our informal survey, we uncovered top technology investment priorities of utilities and cities to address present and future challenges. Through the work we do every day, we see that even during a difficult year, utilities and cities are rising to the occasion and exploring opportunities to deploy innovative technologies — safely, reliably and efficiently.


2020: Our Year in Review

Despite the challenges of 2020, Itron continued its work toward our mission to create a more resourceful world. With steadfast resolve, our employees banded together to serve our customers – to improve the quality of life, ensure the safety and promote the well-being of people around the globe. This mission is more important than ever as COVID-19 continues to test our infrastructures, economies and humanity.   

Taking a look back at this unprecedented year, we made a number of accomplishments, and this positive momentum will carry us into 2021 and beyond. Here are some examples of how we continued to work toward our mission.

Addressing COVID-19
Since the onset of this global pandemic, Itron has remained committed to ensuring customer success, protecting the health and wellbeing of our employees, and supporting the communities where we live, work and play. Itron President and CEO Tom Deitrich stated that while there is no business as usual during this unique situation, we will continue to deliver the highest level of support and service possible to our customers and partners. To this end, we put processes in place to support business continuity while ensuring the health and safety of our essential team members in production and field operations, we revamped our project start/restart process to include additional precautions, and we saluted our customers and partners who are making an impact during this time.  

Making an Impact: Gas, Electricity and Water
Itron continued to provide even more value for our customers as they dealt with unprecedented storms, wildfires and a global pandemic. Our multi-application network platform supported diverse outcomes across AMI, grid management, smart streetlighting and smart communities. New Brunswick Power announced they will deploy Itron’s multi-purpose solution, including an IoT network and more than 350,000 Measurement Canada-approved distributed intelligence-enabled smart meters, to modernize its electricity grid. Itron and EDMI Limited, a global smart metering solutions leader, will collaborate to develop and launch a SMETS2-compliant gas meter for the United Kingdom, addressing the growing demand in the region by bringing to market a complete solution to safely and reliably manage natural gas delivery. New York State Public Service Commission affirmed its consent approval of the 550G Gas Encoder Receiver Transmitter module for use by the state’s gas utilities.

We also expanded our robust partner ecosystem, as demonstrated by the announcement of the completion of the first phase of our deployment of a wastewater management solution with Miami-Dade County Water & Sewer Department to mitigate regulatory issues, prevent sewer overflows, improve water quality and ensure safety for the public. Additionally, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power took a step to improve grid awareness and reduce operating costs, harnessing the power of intelligent connectivity at the edge by deploying Itron’s Industrial IoT network and Distribution Automation (DA) solution in order to modernize its grid.

Creating Smarter Cities
Cities around the world face significantly tighter budgets due to unexpected revenue declines as a result of the pandemic. Although budgets are shrinking, cities still need to provide services and economic opportunity as they begin the recovery process. These factors combined created a need for innovation.  Itron and Key Equipment Finance introduced a financing program for cities, helping alleviate financial barriers that prevent cities from investing in much needed technologies as they face budget shortfalls. Itron is driving innovation with CPS Energy, the City of San Antonio and other partners in a Smart Streetlight Technology program that will unlock efficiencies and build a foundation for smarter city services, while improving the quality of life for all residents.

Delivering Added Value to Customers
Itron is enabling utilities and communities to evolve distribution grid operations and enhance the customer experience with distributed intelligence (DI) through proven, innovative applications that are managing the active grid of today and tomorrow. Through multiple virtual DI lab tours with customers, we showcased use cases and applications in real-time, such as theft detection, high impedance detection, residential neutral fault detection, load disaggregation and location awareness. In the field, we are deploying DI applications on hundreds of thousands of endpoints. We also continued to expand the way we support our customers through Outcomes and value-added services. This includes expanding our Itron Private Cloud presence into Australia and Canada and growing our footprint in Europe and the United States.

Introducing the New Sales Channel Partner Program
Developed to empower a diverse group of channel partners, we unveiled the Itron Engage Sales Channel Partner Program. With this program, new and existing partners have access to tools, training and support for Itron’s solutions, which will equip them to extend the reach of Itron’s technology to the markets they serve around the globe. The program features a variety of increasing benefits, and rewards partners who exhibit both expertise across the entire portfolio and exceptional, consistent performance. Itron Engage is currently available in North America, and will roll out to Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa in late January, and to Asia Pacific in late Q1 2021.

Environmental and Social Governance
This summer, we released our 2019 Environmental Social Governance (ESG) Report, which highlights the company’s new framework for reporting on sustainability goals and commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Featuring expanded content and information on key policies, the report provides insights into Itron’s ESG practices in 2019 and plans for future initiatives. This is an important part of our reinvigorated ESG strategy, built around four key pillars: Environmental and Operational Stewardship; Solution Impact and Community Involvement; Diversity and Our Human Capital Pledge; and Effective Shareholder Advocacy.

Awards and Recognition
2020 was not without its celebrations – done virtually, of course. We were honored to be recognized for AMI Leadership in Asia-Pacific and received a 2020 IoT Evolution Product of the Year Award. Itron was selected as the winner of the “Public Safety Solution of the Year” award for the second consecutive year in the annual IoT Breakthrough Awards program – this year for our jointly developed  natural gas detector with New Cosmos and Con Edison. We were also named the winner of a Gold Stevie Award in the Industrial Products & Services category in the 18th Annual American Business Awards.

Our customers were also recognized for their innovation and commitment to creating a more resourceful world. We awarded the second annual Itron Innovator Award to Australian energy utility Western Power for its Smart Lab in Perth, Western Australia, and Frost & Sullivan announced CPS Energy and BRK Ambiental as the recipients of the fifth annual Excellence in Resourcefulness Awards.

Itron Utility Week Went Virtual
With the safety of attendees in mind, we decided to host our premier, customer-focused event, Itron Utility Week, virtually for the first time ever. Through the online format, we were all still able to connect, share ideas, learn from one another and empower innovation virtually – while celebrating record registration! Following the conference, we announced the new name for our event moving forward: Itron Inspire. You can still expect the same great industry connections, thought leadership and valuable insights that you’ve come to expect from this event in the past.

Itron is grateful for the opportunity to do the important work we do to serve our customers and their communities. I look forward to an innovative (and hopefully somewhat normal “business as usual”) 2021.

Happy New Year!


Are Customers Ready to Leverage Distributed Intelligence?

Distribution grid operations are evolving. Having the insight to accurately control and manage the grid, gain value through additional consumer services/support and embrace a partner ecosystem by enabling the applications you want is critical to empowering innovation. Fortunately, this can all be achieved through distributed intelligence, providing proven, advanced applications that are managing the active grid of today and tomorrow. But are customers ready for this next step?

Itron recently worked with Zpryme to survey 75 utilities regarding their strategies around distributed intelligence, including their:

  • Use of customer-generated power and behind-the-meter energy efficiency,
  • Plans to create value for customers and
  • Preparedness to support transactive energy platforms.

We collaborated with Zpryme to conduct this survey as a way to get a better pulse on how utilities are approaching distributed intelligence, what outcomes and applications are most important to them, and how behind-the-meter generation and transactive energy plays a role.

Here are a few of the trends we found:

  1. 70% of respondents report that grid edge technology is critical to their utility’s future.
  2. 59% of respondents are already using customer-generated power and behind-the-meter energy efficiency as part of their integrated resource plans.
  3. While utilities are moving forward with distributed intelligence, they are not fully prepared for transactive energy platforms. Most feel they are somewhat prepared, but there is more work to be done to leverage distributed intelligence to support this technology.

For a full look at what utilities are saying about their strategies around distributed intelligence, visit our interactive infographic.

To learn more about developing a strategy that leverages distributed intelligence and grid edge technology to create customer value, visit Itron.com.


Demand Response During COVID-19 and Summer Heatwaves

Demand response – which consistently has its demise predicted – has not only played a significant, positive role in helping our electric utility clients maintain supply and demand in the last year, but has also awakened regulators across the country to its value as a reliable asset. Traditional demand response, defined as helping utilities reduce peak demand primarily during higher than average temperature days (excessive “cooling degree days”), has been used as a cost-effective, customer-focused incentive program service that limits air conditioning load throughout a service territory. Itron’s Distributed Energy Management (DEM) group is a leading provider of demand response services, with 29 active programs controlling over 2 million behind-the-meter devices.

With more people home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been major shifts in consumption by the customer sector, including a lot more residential consumption and of course, a lot less commercial building consumption. Here are a few insights provided by one of Itron’s partners, Pecan Street, in Austin, Texas.

  1. Total residential demand is up
  2. COVID-19 is changing the “Duck Curve” – reducing excess customer sell back of solar to the grid, because they are consuming more at home
  3. Electric vehicle (EV) charging is down, both at home and in public due to less commuting as well as a slowdown in EV car sales

While the aggregate load may be down, the shift from commercial to residential has grid impacts. This is the area of our focus and aligns with the shifting nature of where DEM is going – to be able to measure, monitor and orchestrate an increasing amount of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) behind the meter for distribution grid optimization. A case in point is with residential load impacts. Neighborhoods operate with older, less capable infrastructure – older transformers, smaller voltage lines, less automated substations and vis-à-vis commercial buildings that operate on newer, larger, more automated distribution infrastructure. Increasing load in residential neighborhoods can cause locational problems that can lead to service disruption and negative customer impact. They offer an opportunity for greater consumption analytics, more customer behind the meter DERs and more customer programs.

In addition to COVID-19 impacts, the changing nature of residential customer appliances and energy generation is also impacting the distribution grid, not completely, but often in individual neighborhoods, increasing challenges and risks for our utility clients. Electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE) will start proliferating in customer homes, creating the largest load in the home and in some cases, doubling the load for a single-family customer. That will have direct impact on secondary transformers.

Recently, our senior product manager and grid optimization expert, George Simons, wrote an article for T&D World on this very topic. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s a great technical read for our utility customers and a nice way to introduce how Itron is planning to solve these challenges, while offering more value to their customers.

Itron’s product offering for demand response includes leveraging our analytics expertise to create greater insights, which can lead to better grid management. We have significant analytics capabilities that can work with our OpenWay Riva IoT solution (featuring distributed intelligence), networks software such as SensorIQ and Operations Optimizer, MetrixIDR and DER analytics. These analytics can leverage multiple data sets to provide insights to end use customers, but also in aggregate, to measure impacts to transformers and substations, enabling utilities to better manage locational supply and demand, address impacts to older, less equipped infrastructure and improve reliability and services to utility customers.


Delivering Intelligent Connectivity to Prepare for the Next Decade

From aging infrastructure and coping with natural disasters, to an increased desire to incorporate renewables and optimize the network, utilities and communities continue to adapt to the macro effects in play today. Now more than ever, we have a collective opportunity to find new ways to innovate and demonstrate resiliency through technology.

In the midst of these times, the pace of analytical and technological advancement has continued to increase, and there are early indications that the impacts of the pandemic may be positive for the energy sector in the long-term. Utilities and cities are seeing first-hand the importance of employing modern communication networks and technologies like distributed intelligence to help understand and respond to unpredictable conditions.

To explore these trends, Itron recently collaborated with Zpryme to ask leading utilities and cities around the world about the role that Industrial IoT (IIoT) and other networking technologies will play in their modernization strategies.

Here are the top five trends we found:

  1. 72% of respondents report that improving grid resiliency is the main driving force behind digital modernization of network infrastructure.
  2. 64% prefer RF mesh networks for traditional grid applications like AMI. Public cellular is expected to complement mesh as availability expands.
  3. 90% of utilities and cities agree they will need advanced networks for IIoT applications, but only 28% feel they are currently ready.
  4. More than 50% of respondents expect that IIoT networks will enable faster, more responsive grids and improved data-driven decision making through capabilities like distributed intelligence, which features peer-to-peer collaboration between edge devices.
  5. New advancements in IIoT technology are enabling more real-time visibility and control for highly integrated use cases like DER's and EV's. Now is the time for utilities and cities to innovate new commercial models and take the next steps in digital transformation strategies.

With an intelligently connected IIoT network, communities can be equipped to better understand, prepare and respond to unforeseen events. A network that is designed to leverage the right combinations of many communications technologies – such as RF mesh, Wi-Fi, cellular, fiber and PLC –optimizes performance, improves security and is more cost-effective to support a diverse range of use cases in energy, water and smart cities.

Download our Top 5 Network Trends Infographic or dive deeper into our research in our new interactive infographic regarding utilities’ and cities’ network vision and investment strategies for the next decade.

 


Utility Under-Collections During COVID-19: A National Crisis that Congress Must Address

As summer temperatures rise and the economy cools, millions of Americans are out of work and struggling to pay their utility bills. In many parts of the country, air conditioning is not a luxury, but a matter of life and death, especially for our most vulnerable populations.

To their credit, most utilities have voluntarily suspended shutoffs to customers for non-payment during this pandemic. Additionally, most state public service commissions have instituted moratoriums on economic shutoffs, but as the summer progresses, some of those initial moratoriums are reaching full term and are not being extended.

As a result of these voluntary or state-mandated moratoria, utilities across the nation are facing an ever-growing deficit in their receivables – i.e. under-collection. This is straining their balance sheets and risks putting a financial burden on their other ratepayers at a time when revenues for utility services are already struggling. In some cases, these under-collections have reached acute levels.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents water utilities, estimates that the magnitude of their members’ accounts in arrears during the pandemic could reach $366 million nationwide. One utility in the Mid-Atlantic told their state commission that in the first three and a half months of the pandemic, their under-collections from electric customers totaled more than $116 million. And in the span of just a month, a California utility saw an increase of nearly 150,000 customers who have fallen behind on bill payments. Clearly, this is a national crisis that warrants congressional action.

One existing federally funded program that is being discussed on Capitol Hill as a means to help utility customers during this pandemic is LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). LIHEAP is a federal block grant program that provides financial assistance to the states to help low-income families with energy-related bills and home repairs. This critical program provides heating and cooling assistance to the nation’s most vulnerable populations in times of need.

In normal years, LIHEAP receives roughly $3.4 billion in funding from the federal government, which is allocated to the states based on need and population. Earlier this year, Congress passed the CARES Act (COVID-19 relief) which provided an additional $900 million in supplemental funding for LIHEAP. Good… but not enough.

State LIHEAP directors across the country are urging Congress to include $4.3 billion in LIHEAP funding in the next phase of COVID-19 relief legislation, which is expected in September. In a recent letter sent to Senate and House leadership, seven energy industry trade associations urged Congress to fully fund LIHEAP at a level of $5.1 billion. We concur.

In the regulated utility world, there are not many issues that unite state regulators, consumer advocates and utilities, but LIHEAP funding assistance for low-income customers is one of them – during normal times and especially during times of national crisis. No one should be forced to make the difficult choice between paying their utility bills or buying groceries.

At Itron, we support our customers’ customers and their regulators, and we urge Congress to provide supplemental LIHEAP funding in the next phase of COVID-19 relief legislation. Additionally, Congress should consider authorizing a LIHEAP-like program for water and wastewater customers.


Working from Home as a Manufacturing Intern: The Yin and Yang

I began working for Itron in June 2019, and during my time here, I have worked on a variety of projects involving gas products, both from the Waseca, Minnesota plant as well as from my college town in Mankato, Minnesota. Interestingly, the past few months of my internship happened to fall in line with social distancing measures that were implemented to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Although transitioning to working from home full time was intimidating, Itron’s flexibility, efficiency and diverse culture provided us with the resources and support we need to be able to work effectively in such an environment. With a few months of working from home now under my belt, I’m glad to have the opportunity to reflect on my personal experiences during this time because working from home is a whole new experience for me in itself! Working from home, like many things, has a yin (con) and yang (pro) nature.

Yang #1: You’re at Home!
This might sound obvious, but the best part of working from home is exactly that – you’re at home! During the workday, all the comforts of home are right in front of you. This might include taking a nice stroll in the backyard to get outside or simply munching on your favorite snacks while working before ordering food from places nearby. Nothing beats being able to cook your meals at home with ease. Sometimes I even wonder, “Why haven’t I worked from home before?”

Yin #1: Your Team is Also at Home
I’m a natural when it comes to being an extrovert, so I thrive when I can chat with my fellow coworkers face-to-face during the workday. I enjoy hearing about how everyone’s day is going, whether they are taking a day out of the weekend to try something new, or simply what they are working on. Working remotely can feel lonely at times. Luckily, through virtual team meetings once or twice a week, we are able to overcome these barriers and reconnect more easily than ever – it’s all about putting in the extra effort into communicating with your peers.

Yang #2: Commuting is Two Footsteps Away
My new way of commuting to work has been a breeze. Going from my bed to my workspace is far more pleasant and much quicker compared to driving my route to the office. The extra hour or two that I am no longer in a car allows me to be productive in terms of my daily routine. For instance, I have time to make myself a nutritious breakfast as well as meditate before I start my workday. As a result, I feel more focused and grounded during my weekday mornings, especially with a fresh cup of hot tea.

Yin #2: Distractions Are All Over the Place
Depending on the type of remote work environment you’re in, it can sometimes be difficult to concentrate on your work. The noise from outside, distractions from family at home (or in my case, the loud music playing from my roommate’s room), calls and text from friends checking in, and the endless pressure from chores you have yet to do— they’re always present when working from home. To prevent these disturbances, the first thing I now do is put my phone away in silent mode and use a noise-canceling headset to block out all unwanted noise.

Yang #3: Work is Still Effective
Given the circumstances, I’m grateful to still be able to gain the knowledge and experience from working for a company that enables the safe, reliable delivery of energy and water. The one-on-one meetings that I have with my manager have not only helped me stay on track with my projects, but it has also taught me to become self-disciplined in my work ethic while working away from the office.

Yin #3: Lack of Equipment to Work Efficiently
Working as a manufacturing intern, it is sometimes necessary to use hardware equipment for assigned projects. However, many of these tools are quite hazardous to bring home. Fortunately, Itron has always provided their interns and employees with facilities and equipment to work efficiently from anywhere. For example, I was provided with a second computer, which I have kept at my desk in the Waseca office so that I can remotely access that computer from home to control the equipment I need.

Dealing with the Duality [Yin and Yang]
During this time, I try to remind myself that my internship is meant to be a learning experience. Overall, I have found that working from home can be just as helpful as an onsite experience if you focus on the tasks you’re assigned first and communicate openly through virtual meetings and emails. Working from home has made me a strong communicator, a better problem solver and a more efficient worker in the field. As I reflect on my experience over the past few months, I can say that it is something that will help me for the rest of my life.


Saluting Our Customers: How Utilities and Cities are Responding to COVID-19 – Part Five

Over the past couple of months, we have been spotlighting our utility customers’ great work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only are they providing critical services, they are also promoting health, safety and hope in their communities. In this blog series, we recognize the honorable actions utilities are taking to support their communities and provide reliable access to electricity, gas and water during this exceptional time.

CitiPower & Powercor:
CitiPower and Powercor are Victoria, Australia’s largest electricity suppliers, delivering electricity to over 1.1 million residential households and commercial customers across the state. The companies have announced a suite of measures to provide support for residential customers and small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers will have access to electricity bill relief under a new support package and may be eligible for further assistance through rebates on network charges. CitiPower and Powercor are also waiving disconnection and/or reconnection fees for small businesses.

Pepco:
Pepco delivers safe and reliable energy to approximately 894,000 customers in the District of Columbia and Maryland. In response to COVID-19, Pepco donated $100,000 to United Way of the National Capital Area’s Emergency Assistance Fund. The fund will be used to promote the health, education and financial stability of the community, especially those residents who have been impacted by restrictions and closures of schools, businesses and community institutions. To proactively ensure safe and reliable service for local hospitals and major medical facilities during the pandemic, Pepco is utilizing drone technology. Crews use the drones to capture video and photos of the aerial equipment that powers critical facilities to identify issues that could potentially result in an outage before one occurs. Pepco is also taking steps to help customers manage their monthly energy bill by suspending service disconnections, waiving new late payment fees and providing energy assistance options.

Xcel:
Xcel Energy is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota and provides energy to millions of homes and businesses across eight Western and Midwestern states. Xcel Energy is dedicating $20 million in new funding to support short- and long-term corporate giving across the eight states they serve, including support for COVID-19 recovery efforts. The first part of the donation is designated for existing nonprofit partners along with organizations that address food insecurity and those that provide disaster relief. To further support COVID-19 recovery, Xcel Energy will sell the Mankato Energy Center, a natural gas-fired power plant, and use the net gain on the sale to fund relief efforts. Xcel Energy has also donated over 300,000 protective face masks and other protective equipment to local hospitals and relief organizations.

We thank our customers for their dedication and hard work to serve communities around the globe during these uncertain times. Read the previous blogs in this series, including part one, part two, part three and part four.


Lessons Learned from Global Customer Support Services: The Transition to a Remote Workforce

We are living in unprecedented times. However, the critical role energy and water service providers play throughout this pandemic is as important as ever.

With COVID-19, our lives were turned upside down overnight. And like many of you, Itron’s Global Customer Support Services team had to go from our well-established, comfortable routine to a fully-functioning yet socially-distanced remote workforce at the flip of a switch. As we did, we learned a few lessons about what worked, what didn’t and what we needed to re-engineer to ensure our team is here for you with the level of support you know and expect from Itron.

Going Remote: What We’ve Learned
Itron’s Global Support Services team is used to being on the phone, answering emails and meeting with customers virtually—that’s foundational to our job and our commitment to you. We’ve even provided our employees with remote work options for years. None of this has changed during the pandemic.

What has changed is where we’re getting the work done during the pandemic. Conference rooms are now kitchen tables. Virtual meetings are still virtual, but with way more creative backgrounds. We have evolved our on-premise Automated Call Distribution solution to be a complete cloud-based solution, eliminating the need for hard wired phones and in-house reliability issues. This ensures you have the best experience when you are on the phone with Itron’s support engineers. With the move to a cloud-based solution, we can use the full capabilities of our computers, headsets and external speakers to assist customers every day.

Here’s a snapshot of what our team has learned so far while working remotely:

  • Get to know the new tech. In the office, colleagues had a certain setup for everything—and great IT support staff down the hall. Transitioning to a home office means all that well-established technology is now in your personal space and might function a little differently. So what can you do?
    • Logging in to systems may be different, may take a little longer or may need extra security measures. Make sure you understand and create a checklist for how it all comes together, and keep it close at hand for troubleshooting when something goes awry.
    • When you can, embrace the webcam. It’s not ideal in every instance, but keeping a personal connection isn’t just good for others, it’s good for you, too.
    • If you notice slowdowns or complete drops in internet connectivity, check the router—and then check in with the kids.
  • Stay connected. Yes, internet connectivity is critical to do your job remotely. But while you’re remote, family or pets at home also need some connection time. Make a point to find time throughout your day to check in with them. At Itron, our teams have each other covered to help make this all happen seamlessly and without interruption to you, our customers.
  • Listen more—don’t just hear. We’re all on the phone and in virtual meetings more than ever before. For some, it has been an easy transition—or even a welcome one. But for others, being distanced from peers and “normal” life can start to weigh on them over time. Listen for signs that something is off and be sure to reach out one-on-one to check in. Sometimes a personal touch is all that’s needed.
  • The routine’s the thing. When working remotely, experts recommend setting and maintaining workday hours that are as consistent as possible. It‘s also a great idea to take regular breaks and refocus your attention somewhere else, so you can come back re-energized and ready to tackle whatever’s in front of you.
  • Take your vitamins. Speaking of energy, a little sunshine (vitamin D) and exercise (vitamin E) go a long way toward keeping you engaged, refreshed and able to keep up with the demands of your work-from-home life. Be sure to take care of yourself so you can be there for others.

What have you learned while working remotely? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether we’re working from our homes around the world or at an office, Itron’s Global Customer Support Services team is focused on responsiveness and quickly getting you the answers you need. Contact us today.


Here for You: Itron Global Customer Support Services through COVID-19

We are living in unprecedented times. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities around the world, limit travel and necessitate a wholesale shift in how—and where—we work, we have all had to adapt to the “new normal.” So much has seemingly changed overnight. And yet, some things haven’t, like the essential role our customers play as they deliver critical services—and Itron’s commitment to customer success.

Delivering the Foundation
Energy and water service providers around the world have always formed the foundation of our modern society—after all, energy is prosperity and water is life. But as doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, delivery men and women and so many more essential workers continue to do their jobs on the front lines to fight this pandemic, ensuring electricity, gas and water are delivered safely and reliably is more critical than ever. Together, we’re helping keep the lights on and equipment running at hospitals, keep the temperatures in our homes and businesses comfortable, city streets brightly lit and clean water flowing.

Global Customer Support Services: Here for You
We’ve all had to adapt to a new way of working, with remote teams, obligations at home and potential distractions lurking around every corner. But we are still here for you, as always—and our focus on your success is unwavering.

With nearly 8,000 customers, more than 100 supported solutions and an average tenure of over 12 years, Itron’s Global Customer Support Services team is your partner in delivering those critical energy and water resources—our teams provide end to end solution support to you so you can get back to business quickly and continue doing what you do best: deliver energy and water to our communities.

If you need us, we are here for you. Contact us using whichever method you prefer below. With an average speed to answer of less than one minute, Itron Global Customer Support Services not only knows how to resolve your issues, we do it very quickly and with a high degree of accuracy. Responsiveness, our ability to restore services and ultimately get to the resolution of your issues is our goal.

Contact Us
Phone: 1.877.487.6602
Email: support@itron.com
Web Portal: Itron Access
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Saluting Our Customers: How Utilities and Cities are Responding to COVID-19 – Part Four

As the world continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, our customers continue to provide critical services, including electricity, gas and water. Not only are they ensuring the reliable delivery of these resources, they are also giving back and helping those in need. In this blog series, we recognize the honorable actions utilities are taking to support their communities during this exceptional time.

BC Hydro
BC Hydro is one of the largest energy suppliers in Canada, generating and delivering electricity to 95% of the population of British Columbia and serving over four million people. To support its customers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19, BC Hydro introduced the COVID-19 relief fund. The fund allows eligible residential customers who have experienced job loss to receive three months of free credit on their BC Hydro bill. The fund also provides eligible small businesses with up to three months of waived electricity charges. Additional programs are in place to enable customers to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans.

East Timor Electricity (EDTL)
EDTL provides electricity for East Timor, comprised of the eastern half of the island of Timor. The East Timor government is offering a $15 prepaid credit for more than 160,000 customers across the country to limit the need for people to leave their homes while still ensuring electricity. Similar to other countries around the world, Timor residents have been encouraged to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. The electricity credit will help avoid crowds of people gathering to buy electricity credits at the EDTL boxes located throughout Dili and other parts of Timor.

Suez
Headquartered in Paris, France, Suez provides water and waste management solutions that enable cities and industries to optimize their resource management. Suez operates seven energy-from-waste plants equipped with facilities for receiving and treating infectious biomedical waste. As the waste produced by hospitals has grown in the areas most affected by COVID-19, Suez is helping to safely dispose of infectious biomedical waste in France, the Netherlands, China and the Middle East. The waste includes masks, protective gowns and all healthcare textiles. They are heat-treated at combustion temperatures of 1000 to 1100°C, eliminating bacteria and viruses. Suez is also taking action to protect the elderly population with a free pilot service called “ON’connect™ generation.” The services provide family members or caretakers with an analysis of water consumption by reading the elderly person’s smart meter. This gives insight into the person’s wellbeing throughout the day when water is used, such as showering and mealtimes. If unusual behavior is detected, the caretaker receives a notification via a mobile application on their smartphone or tablet.

Stay tuned as we share additional inspiring stories of how our utility customers are promoting health, safety and hope during this challenging time. Read the previous blogs in this series, including part one, part two and part three.


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