Social media and utility companies

I’m moderating a panel discussion on social media and utilities at next week’s SAP for Utilities event in Copenhagen. My fellow panelists will include two representatives from utility companies, and one from SAP.

This is not new ground for me, I have given the closing keynotes at the SAP for Utilities in San Antonio in 2011 and the SAP for Utilities event in Singapore in 2012, both times on this topic.

In my previous talks on this topic I start out talking about how utilities have started to use social media for next generation customer service – this is an obvious use case and there are several great examples of utilities doing just this.

However, there are also other very compelling use cases for social in utilities. In the US over one third of the workforce is already over 50 years old, and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 30-40% of the workforce will retire in the next 10 years. This is not confined to the US and so recruitment and retention are topics of growing concern for utilities.

Now, utilities are rarely seen by young graduates as a ‘cool’ place to work. But this can change. Remember a couple of years back when Old Spice was the cologne your grandad might wear? Old Spice rolled out a social media campaign with a superb series of YouTube ads (the first of which has been viewed 45 million times). In the month which followed their sales went up 100%, and a year later their sales were still up 50%.

Videos like the one above produced by Ausgrid, while not about to rival Old Spice for viewership, do show a more human and appealing side of the company to any potential employees.

Rotary dial phone

Also, when I ask utility companies whether they allow employees to access social media from their work computers, the majority of times the answer is no, or limited. Even if only from the perspective of retaining good employees, this has to change. Today’s millennials are far more likely to use social media as a way to network and find information online (see chapter four of this three year old Pew Research study on Millennials [PDF] for more on this). Blocking access to social media sites, especially for younger employees, is analogous to putting a rotary dial phone on their desk, with a padlock on the dial. Don’t just take my word for it. Casey Coleman, the CIO of the U.S. General Services Administration said recently:

Twitter is a primary source to gather information about changes in my industry. It helps the organization stay current with the latest trends and thinking.

Blocking employees access to social media stifles them from doing their job effectively, and any employee who feels that s/he is not being allowed to do their job properly won’t be long about looking for a new one.

Social media can also be used internally as a means of retaining knowledge from retiring workers, and as a way of making employees more productive using internal social collaboration tools (Jam, Huddle, Chatter, etc.).

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, with the rise of mobile usage of social media, there is now the ability to tap into social media’s big data firehose in realtime to improve on outage management.

There are bound to be more uses of social media (real or potential) that I’m missing – if you can think of any, please leave a comment on this post letting us all here know.

Also, the panel discussion is on next Friday April 19th at 3pm CET – we’ll be watching the Twitter hashtag #SocialUtils. If you have any questions/suggestions to put to the panel, leave them there and we’ll do our best to get to them.


Cisco’s John Chambers talks Green

This is a video of Cisco CEO, John Chambers giving a superb presentation at MIT last year.

In the talk, John talks up the rise of video as a tool for collaboration in the enterprise, mentions some of Cisco’s work in China after the earthquake there, and talks up Smart Grids (“Smart Grids are $billion opportunities”).

42 minutes into the video, in answer to one of questions in the q&a John talks about some of Cisco’s Green initiatives including the Connected Urban Development program.

Well worth taking time out to watch.

via the Alianzo blog.


Carbon accounting meet lifestreaming II

Dopplr calculates my travel Carbon footprint

In my last post I postulated that social software could be used to capture people’s lifestream information and that this could be used by companies to help calculate their carbon footprint.

The case I put forward was more suited for the increasing numbers of people working from home. However, I neglected to point out another painfully obvious example – Dopplr.

Dopplr markets itself as the travel serendipity engine –

Dopplr lets you share your future travel plans privately with friends and colleagues. The service then highlights coincidence, for example, telling you that three people you know will be in Paris when you will be there too. You can use Dopplr on your personal computer and mobile phone. It links with online calendars and social networks.

However, potentially far more useful is how Dopplr have teamed up with AMEE (the world’s energy meter) to produce a chart of your travel-related carbon footprint (see the chart above of my travel footprint).

This ties in completely with my earlier post about the potential synergies attainable from combining lifestreaming software and the requirements of carbon accounting.

Can you think of any other use cases for the intersection of lifestreaming and carbon accounting?


Carbon account, meet lifestreaming. Lifestreaming, meet carbon accounting!

Some of the places I publish

I come from a Social Media background. I use blogs, Social Networks, Microblogs, Photo Sharing sites, Video Sharing sites, Livecasting apps, Social bookmarking sites etc. everyday. I generate a constant stream of updates about things happening in my life which can be followed via RSS or on my Friendfeed page (a feed aggregator) or on the individual sites.

Cool. Interesting enough I hear you say. So what? Well, lets just park that for a second.

Carbon accounting is rapidly coming down the line. Already we are seeing companies like BT and Verizon requiring lower carbon footprints from their suppliers. This is because carbon accounting will take supply chains into account.

Carbon accounting will be incredibly granular and will attempt to take everything into account in the life-cycle of goods and services. This will include electrical power usage, road mileage and air miles alongside expenses and financial returns.

To get buy-in from staff, reporting total power and energy usage will have to be made as simple as possible so that it doesn’t interfere with the natural flow of people’s work.

This is where lifestreaming applications come in. Encourage the people in your organisation to use applications like blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Dopplr, et al. Then you can capture that output and route it through the carbon accounting software and ta da! carbon usage information accounted for.

Obviously it won’t be as easy as that, but if your employees are using Twitter, say, set up your company’s carbon account software with a Twitter account. Then instruct staff on how to message the software with what you are doing at any point in time i.e. “@bt-carbon-accounts – putting on the kettle for a cup of coffee” or “@ibm-carbon-accounts – hot today, setting the aircon to 19C”. This would also be especially useful for capturing the carbon footprint of people working from home.

IBM’s master inventor Andy Stanford-Clark has already done some work in this area. His house has a Twitter account and regularly sends updates like:

the phone is ringing (mobile)
electricity meter reading: 32100 KWH
outside lights turned off
outside lights turned on

etc. to Twitter automatically!

Will carbon accounting software and its requirement for constant inputs from all levels of business bring lifestreaming applications into the Enterprise 2.0 fold?


The future of source material. Learning to see the steps.


I’m busy helping to build Akvo at the moment, an open source wiki and set of collaboration and finance tools that pool the knowledge that already exists in different NGO and government silos, to help the world’s poorest communities quickly build water and sanitation facilities. It’s worth doing – today over 1.1 billion people are without safe drinking water and, globally, 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. Each year, as a result, 1.8 million children die of diarrhoea and other diseases, 440 million school days are missed, and in sub-Saharan Africa alone $28.4 billion (USD) are lost in productivity and opportunity costs.

The great thing about tackling a problem this urgent is that you can challenge every aspect of how things are currently done – the assumptions that keep us constrained. What has become quickly apparent as we’ve presented the prototype and raised funds from development sector groups is that this field is wide open to act as a test-bed for our first game-changing element – that open source principles of knowledge sharing can change how development is organised. This component was surprisingly easy to explain to an NGO audience, in fact, with a panel debate at Stockholm World Water Week demonstrating a sound appreciation from relevant parties of the opportunities it presents to reduce costs and improve participation and technology re-use and longevity.

Yet underneath there is a tougher issue to deal with, and it becomes more apparent when dealing with that other movement of the moment – the opening up of knowledge systems via social media, and the tensions that creates for organisations built on hierarchical, command and control lines.

The problem is that organisations that have evolved as a hierarchy, with a clear chain of command, are not particularly effective when tasked with gathering and refining content in an emerging infrastructure shaped by social media and by processes that share every stage of a product (or story’s) development with anyone who is interested.

Because while digital material, by its nature, can be updated whenever there is a good reason to do so, it often isn’t. Instead, the vast majority of digital material today continues to be written, approved and published as if it was print material – it just happens to be made available digitally. Almost all marketing departments work this way.

And here’s where I’m going to collapse my lessons from open source and social media together. The central problem in most modern organisations is that there is no culture of shared, authentic core content. Traditional marketing and communications teams have developed stories in a linear fashion, with source material being assumed to be the final polished product, rather than the raw facts and figures. The source becomes the brochure, rather than the original interview that created insights for each section of that brochure. While technology such as wikipedia-style databases allow it, established processes of information gathering make it impossible to easily reference original source material in end products, and when that source material changes it is unusual for end products to be updated without considerable management activity.

This linear process of content creation and approval, favoured today, is designed to discard the real source content and create an improved edited reality, usually a report that is distorted to answer particular questions, or a document that tells a certain story to a certain audience. The organisation – or more accurately individual actors – try to hide any ‘weaknesses’ in the original source or make decisions along the way about which portions of the source should be published more widely and which should remain confidential. In other words, they attempt to control access to the source content. With emerging social media processes – pioneered in particular by the open source software movement – the philosophy is that the source content is open to all unless there is consensus that an individual should be excluded from either reading (unlikely) or editing (more likely) that content. The aim is to encourage all to feel they can contribute to and edit the source code – all actors are encouraged to improve the quality of the source code itself, perhaps by making connections between it and other things, or even simply by tidying it up. In all cases, what is changed can be tracked and large numbers of content editors constantly watch over changes and rigorously review and tweak material.

Yet over decades we have created organisations that usually have two parallel organisational realities – an internal organisation that is quirky, has politics, problems, secret plans, good people and bad people, versus an external organisation that is coherent, polished and near perfect.

The key beneficiary of maintaining two separate organisations is usually the marketing (or legal) department. Millions of man hours are applied globally to take real scenarios and polish them into something suitable for external consumption. Maybe its time to refocus our efforts, giving people at every level and every stage in the process of product and service development the tools and skills needed to tell their own, real stories at every stage. Doing so is no longer a technology problem – it’s a management one.

Mark Charmer is director of The Movement Design Bureau. He co-edits Re*Move and is a contributor to Greenmonk.


Come Give Me A Hugg

One of the central interests of Greenmonk is the use of social software to change behaviours and potentially improve information flows, so I was very interested when I came across Hugg, “It’s Digg for Green” (via Kurtz).

For those of you that don’t know Digg is a web service that allows users to dictate the news agenda. The stories they rank as interesting are the ones that float to the top. Of course Digg can be “gamed” – and communities can work together to improve the ranking of particular links and stories. But its still an interesting application of grassroots up information choices.

Now Hugg, recently acquired by TreeHugger, offers the same thing for green content.

I was never much of a Digger but I plan to be a Hugger. It would be cool if you also signed up – and perhaps even Dugg the odd GreenZone story – there are some good ones here.