CEO Q&A: Gary Bloom, eMeter (Extended)

Gary Bloom, CEO of eMeter, which provides utility companies software platforms and applications, speaks to Danielle Drolet about outreach efforts.

Gary Bloom, CEO of eMeter, a provider of software platforms and applications for electric, gas, and water utilities, talks with Danielle Drolet about the need for utility companies to better connect with consumers who want more transparency and customization.

Traditionally, the utilities sector hasn't been consumer-facing, but that's changing. Why?
Go back 15 or 20 years in the telecom industry. When you got your phone bill it just had one charge. You didn't know whom you were calling and you didn't know when you called them. It didn't list all your calls. Today, you can go on a website or you can get all that in the mail.

Switch over to the utility industry, which is just now starting that type of modernization, putting in capabilities with smart meters. The literacy of the customer base is what they have been used to, which is just an end charge. At eMeter, we are helping utilities let their customers know there's actually more information of when you consumed power and so on.

How does eMeter work?
Utilities put in our technology platform that then collects the data. We've see two or three different models. There's the model where the utility goes ahead and puts in all the meters and once they have all the meters and all the information, they start slowly rolling out to their customers a Web portal and give them access to it. It's publicized through traditional ways, such as inserts in their bills and advertisements in their communities.

The best model is when utilities start educating their customers about energy and utility consumption before they even put in the meter and start implementing the technology.

How is eMeter helping your utility customers better communicate with consumers?
People want to manage consumption for lots of different reasons. For some it's cost. Others are concerned with global warming. We actually find ourselves working with an industry in the utility sector that hasn't traditionally had this information.

In order to get the information, there's a two-pronged focus. One is helping them with the technology, so that they can use this information. The second one is actually helping them educate their customers on what they can do with that information.

In September, eMeter launched a public affairs campaign urging policymakers to adopt a universal smart grid vision. Why is this an important part of the consumer-facing strategy?
We operate in a regulated industry. In almost all parts of the world utility companies are regulated by some government body. Here in the US, it's important because the policy setting needs to help drive the initiative that consumers deserve to have access to the information and be able to use it.

Why do you think customers want to get even more engaged with their utility bills?
What you're doing to help the planet has become a social cause. That is driving a lot of interest from consumers who want to get engaged. There's still a large portion of the population that neither cares nor thinks about it, but utilities have that ability to reach out to those customers that really do care and give them the tools to be able to do something about their consumption.

Are utilities using social media as a tool? Are there caveats?
Bluebonnet Electric in Texas is connecting on Facebook. You can also go on the portal and set up email and texting alerts. Essentially though, there's this trade-off in the utility sector between the capability to deal with your information and the privacy of that information.

We find the model that works is where the utility offers the capability to interface with social networking and new media, as well as delivery techniques, such as text messaging and email. The consumer can then opt in or opt out.

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