Improving customer satisfaction through Outage Maps

It’s no secret that Utility customers expect the power to be on at all times and most take for granted that a flip of the switch creates magic. But with multiple catastrophic storms in recent years that has plagued many regions of the world customers are becoming much more attuned to the fact that the magic can disappear quickly.

Utilities have responded by working to harden their infrastructures, improving their outage management systems and improving their outage communications. It’s no surprise that customer satisfaction increases significantly when Utilities proactively communicate outage information tailored to the channels customers prefer which can include phone calls, emails, text messages, social media sites as well as accurate and easy to use outage maps.outage map

One example of an outage map that recently went live is at FortisAlberta. FortisAlberta is the owner and operator of more than 60 per cent of Alberta Canada’s total electricity distribution network and delivers safe and reliable electricity to more than half a million customers. FortisAlberta is part of Fortis Inc. which is an international diversified electric utility holding company operating in Canada, the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean.

FortisAlberta believes their customer outage map is one of the best as they have implemented many advanced and customer centric features. This includes real-time updates (without extra steps by the Operations Center), a strong customer centric view (as opposed to device centric), very lightweight pages, auto-refresh every 5 minutes, HTML 5 browser support, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad and Android support. The folks at FortisAlbert estimate the outage map can support 20,000+ concurrent users!

When FortisAlberta started down this road their goal was to give their customers the most accurate and timely view of what was happening in the province. To accomplish this they connected the outage map directly to the Operation Center’s outage management system (OMS) to show a real-time view. The outage map is Bing Map based with data driven from their Intergraph OMS via BizTalk.

In the process of developing their outage map, FortisAlberta went through a number of learnings and one of the most interesting questions was what actually constituted an outage. The first time they started testing with production data they discovered that the outage map was cluttered with dozens of pins that represented every possible customer and device that was without power in the province. This prompted the discussion about what an outage really was or more importantly, which ones the customer really cares about. Because the majority of their information was historically only consumed internally, FortisAlberta had to make a mental shift into how their data would now be interpreted and consumed by customers. While FortisAlberta’s primary concern is getting the power back on and understanding the devices that are creating the outage the customers are concerned about “Real” unplanned outages and what the restoration time is. They don’t care which device is causing the issue. They just want power or want to know how to prepare.

In addition, there was a lot of internal discussion around the terminology used internally and how a customer might interpret those same words. Were they displaying the right message so that the customers received what they needed and understood what they were looking at? Did FortisAlberta achieve their goals? FortisAlberta believes they did and we agree. Check out the outage map yourself and see what you think.

The outage map is just a small piece of a huge series of systems that make up FortisAlberta’s Outage Management System. It’s taken years of planning and hard work to get to this stage but as a customer centric and forward thinking company, FortisAlberta knew that as soon as they had the data internally available their immediate next steps was to use the data to benefit their customers. – Jon C. Arnold