In 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and PSEG hard. Tens of thousands of utility lines were downed by trees, 2,400 utility poles were damaged, thousands of gas meters were flooded and power plants saw water rise well above historic levels, forcing them to shut down. Nearly 1.7 million of our electricity customers lost power in New Jersey—for some areas, the outage stretched for days.
We learned major lessons from Superstorm Sandy. In particular, we learned that the expectations of our customers have changed dramatically. They want better use of technology for communication during storms and they are less tolerant of outages, even in the face of extreme weather. More and more, customers expect interactive technology to provide faster, more accurate customer information and, where possible, specific and contextual information.
Sandy also required a rethinking of what it means to have a resilient infrastructure—not only in regard to pipes, wires and facilities, but also robust information systems that monitor asset health and status in real time, support operational decisions and manage constraints at all times.
“Customers expect interactive technology to provide faster, more accurate customer information and, where possible, specific and contextual information”
At PSEG, we have responded aggressively to bring new and better information to our customers in a storm—and on blue-sky days. We also have invested in capturing real-time data in the field to accelerate the flow of information and sound decision-making across business operations with the goal of avoiding outages completely. Companies now have the opportunity to gather millions of data points per second, process them in large algorithms to identify potential problems before they occur and, in a way, fix something that hasn’t occurred yet—improving the customer experience and providing the company with an opportunity to redefine the customer relationship.
Enhanced Customer Communication
Prior to Superstorm Sandy, PSEG had been transforming its Twitter channel to be integrated with our customer service team. During the storm, we used Twitter to disseminate information fast, but also to open two-way dialogue with our customers. We added 45,000 Twitter followers, making it the largest Twitter audience of any utility in the U.S. Since then, we have continued to nurture the channel and, with 90,000 followers, it remains the largest in the industry. We have worked to make our other social channels—from Facebook to the launching of a company blog, PSEG Energize!—more effective and impactful for customers every day, but with an eye to how they can be leveraged during the next storm or crisis.
But customers want more than just easy access to widely distributed information. They also want information that answers the question, “So what is the impact on me?” To meet this need, we invested in an outage map system where customers can find information on their own—down to their local street and home (or business). The maps illustrate how widespread an outage is, whether the company knows about it and the estimated restoration time. Coupled with a new multichannel notification system that allows customers to receive different type of alerts through their channel of choice, our response to customers’ needs has changed and resulted in direct and indirect benefits. Customers’ ability to access information directly, for instance, has cut down calls to our call centers and our company continues to be recognized as a leader in JD Power customer satisfaction surveys.
Using Big Data to Avoid Outages
Sometimes, meeting the needs of the customer is not so visible. In fact, when we are doing our job well—avoiding outages—customers don’t give us a second thought.
An example is how we are improving operations at our electric generation plants through the creation of a centralized monitoring station across 14 plants in four states. The PSEG Fossil Monitoring and Diagnostics Center is a cutting-edge central command center that uses advanced analytic software technologies to detect operational or equipment problems. The center has more than 90,000 live data points and leverages scalable cloud infrastructure to perform large simulations and predictive analysis. Its ability to monitor plant efficiency in real time, adjust to maximize power generation output and recommend preventative maintenance activities has increased the safety, cost-efficiency and run time of the plant fleet. The center, up and running at the end of 2015, has already generated several big wins— identifying emerging problems such as parts with excessive and growing vibrations that could be fixed before they caused a plant to be taken offline.
The power business of the future must be cost-competitive, and this diagnostic-based maintenance will continue to increase reliability, reduce forced outages and improve plant efficiency.
Information technology will continue to transform our business—and our lives. The penetration of technology in every business function, the pace at which innovative solutions become available, and the challenges and opportunities facing our industry are all unprecedented. The ability to manage and leverage the power of information is indispensable to customer engagement today and will become even more important in the future.
IT departments must stay on top of trends, understand the customers’ current and future needs under different scenarios and then work with other stakeholders to constantly innovate. Like the rest of the company, ITs goal is to meet customers’ needs by offering profitable services they want and using the growing amount of data to anticipate and meet customer needs in ways they never know.