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I got an activity tracker a few months back, mostly because I was curious. But besides counting my steps, my heart rate and showing the time, how much more could it be? It’s like a smart meter on my arm I thought. So worst case, it looks like a watch from the 80s until it lands in the drawer after a year. Then I discovered a whole new experience on the mobile app which it connects to and now I don’t want to miss it any more. There is a lot I can learn and understand about my behavior, it’s much more than the device I saw initially.


Here is what I discovered. The app started asking me what my weight is, my height but then also what I eat. And it makes it very easy to put that data in. I can simply scan the barcode on the bag of chips and select how much I have, or I can search for food items if it’s for example a banana. It’s so user friendly that within a few seconds I can record anything on my phone. Then I noticed the app started teaching me how my ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’ balances and influences the trend on weight and fitness. I learned for example that ½ a bag of Bar-B-Q potato chips is 1hr of running. That’s good news because I like both, having a party and getting out on the trail the next morning. The app does all the accounting, I don’t need to. I don’t want to think calories, but please tell me how good or bad a bar of chocolate is, maybe I have only 1/2. The app makes suggestions on a little dashboard, and if I stay ‘In the Zone’ shown on a simple gauge I am fine. Then there are no surprises when I buy new pants. That’s exactly what I want, I like this ‘coaching solution’. The company that manufactures the fitness tracker has all my data about moving and eating I believe, but that’s o.k., it is a mutual benefit, I am an engaged customer.


What I’ve seen is that there is also a web site for the fitness tracker where I could enter the same data and look at suggestions. So far, I have not used it, and I wouldn’t because the mobile app is on the table when I eat.


I had another experience of mobile customer engagement recently with our public transit authority. They decide about roads, buses, trains and bridges and started a program to understand how and why people move. They send surveys by e-mails and can easily count people on buses or trains, but they barely understood true customer profiles. They asked me if I would provide detailed trip data for three days they pick. A mobile app would do the recording and all I needed to do was adding why I did this trip and how I moved, right on the app. I drove to work, I walked to a store, then I took the bus to a brewery and so on. The app used location data and suggested details and asked me for example: Did you drive home? Was there someone else in the car with you? They built an accurate profile of my moves. In exchange, they gave me a nice amount of coffee store credits and the understanding that they can use better data for municipal planning.


Now how about my utility company? Do they engage me? Do they even know me? Can they coach me on how ‘money in (for energy or water)’ and ‘value out (light, heat, convenience)’ is related and can improve? I have to think they don’t know much about me. Otherwise they would have suggested a number of things they promote anyway that could help. Here is an example: I live in a complex of 20 units, we have underground parking and the lights there are on 24 hrs a day. Those 32 lights are costing us $2000 in electricity per year. It was a surprise learning this when we looked at our community budget and asked, why are we paying over $16,000 in electricity per year for the common areas, what is it? Of course it was me who dug into it. I looked at the smart metering data and found that even in a summer night, we are drawing 3kW constantly. One of the culprits turned out to be the parkade lighting when I checked the specifications. Then I looked at options and did the math. With energy prices up and LED prices down, I figured if we switched from the old fluorescent tubes with ballast to LED, the payback for new tubes is less than ½ year, after that we are saving $1300/yr. We do not need to change the entire light fixture and we also have the benefit of lower maintenance, instead of about 2 years the LEDs should last over 5 years.


I wish my utility had seen this pattern and the opportunity. We have the smart meter on the wall and a website with graphs. The website focuses on self-service but it does not go much further. However, I believe it could do more if I provided more data and got engaged. If I recorded lighting fixtures, heating settings, behavior, preferences and so on, my utility could mesh this data and recommend changes that make sense. It should be very easy for anyone, especially after looking at a high bill.


During the upcoming international SAP for Utilities conference we will offer a mobile workshop again. I think I’ll show a utilities self-service app, then I show my fitness tracker app and then we have a little discussion about the difference between self-service and customer engagement and how a mobile app is often right in the middle.


Find more information about the conference here: