More and more, retailers are blanketing the media with advertisements for new smart home devices. Smart thermostats, smart appliances and smart electronics, video doorbells and security cameras, and virtual assistants are all (supposed to be) making life easier and more connected for consumers.
The prospect of using these Internet of Things (IoT) devices to consume less energy, save money, and increase home efficiency has me tempted. And if individual devices can offer these benefits, wouldn’t it be even better if I could connect them all into my own personal ecosystem?
Unfortunately, when it comes to smart home AI, I’m a digital dummy, and like a lot of people, when it comes to figuring out how to program and manage smart devices, I’ve got a limited tolerance for pain. I don’t want to spend copious amounts of time trying to figure out how to program and manage individual devices. And the thought of having to figure out how to connect multiple smart things in a linked ecosystem makes me ponder the brevity of life.
It’s simply a challenge well beyond my patience and technical abilities, and not for a moment do I think I’m alone.
Smart home AI: Developing an ecosystem of smart devices
This may be bad news for the dream of a truly connected home, but I see it as a real opportunity for forward thinking utility companies looking to expand relationships with customers.
Building on a foundation of smart meters and self-service capabilities, utilities are optimally-positioned to become the go-to experts for energy and budget conscious consumers. By taking the lead and helping people manage devices to their benefit, utilities will score big on expanding customer relationships, and as an added bonus, they can proactively flatten the demand curve.
With their expertise in heating systems, electrical grids, and solar power, utilities are the natural partners for today’s energy consumers. What’s more, customers trust energy providers more than device vendors, knowing that they are product-agnostic, and that they are there for the long term.
Capitalizing on this position, what’s needed is a utilities-provided solution that can link customer’s smart devices together as a whole to meet their priorities. Example priorities might include reducing my carbon footprint, conserving energy, reducing costs, or maintaining a comfortable air temperature. To be successful, these priorities need to be at a pretty high level and simple to communicate. Anything that requires 20 pages of reading is doomed to fail.
As an “over the top” request, I’d like the system to ask me questions and make suggestions, so that I don’t have to read anything. Finally, I’d like the system to review with me the changes it would make to meet my priorities.
Artificial intelligence (AI) holds the promise of helping utilities to do just that: Managing devices together according to consumer priorities, while making it easy for people to indicate what their priorities are.
As an example, setting a priority of “reducing costs” might cause the ecosystem to manage appliances to run as little as possible during peak electricity usage hours and more often during non-peak times. Devices might automatically adjust the temperature to save energy when the occupant is located beyond a predetermined distance from home and readjust it when the occupant is returning.
With an understanding of consumer priorities and using data collected from smart devices, utilities could also develop rate plans, service bundles, and other self-service offerings that take advantage of and optimize device management.
Whether or not such a solution is created by the utility or a white label third party inventory seems to me unimportant. And let’s face it, not every utility is going to have the resources to build their own. What’s critical here is that utilities start seizing the high ground while it’s still available.
The building block of smart home technology: Customer experience
If you believe that smart homes are the future, and that utilities should play a leading role in managing them, then the question becomes, “Where to start?” One possibility is to build an online marketplace where customers could buy energy-related devices.
Using the commerce and self-service channels as a marketplace platform, utilities could expand their presence in the connected home market and at the same time create a new revenue stream, accelerating adoption of their low cost digital channels.
The concern is that many utilities don’t yet have capable commerce and self-service solutions. That’s a drawback where, according to a recent IDC white paper, “Consumers are more empowered and demanding than ever before…they seek a meaningful, personalized, fully-encompassing and truly effortless customer experience,” even from their energy suppliers and utility companies.
In closing, I believe that utilities who prioritize smart home device initiatives will find consumers hungry for assistance and grateful for the expertise of a home energy advisor. I also worry, however, that utilities that ignore the opportunity will leave the door wide open for some tech giant to walk in and make themselves at home in the connected home.
There is not much time to wait. The utilities companies may be surprised to learn that other non-utility vendors are ready to take advantage of this opportunity.
Which approach is right for your company?