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Smart power grids are a smart investment

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Euan Davidson, Chief Technology Officer at Smarter Grid Solutions

 

The unpredictable nature of world events is putting enormous pressure on our energy networks. The volatility of gas and oil prices has underlined the need to transition to the more reliable revenues that will flow from renewables.

One aspect of this envisioned clean energy future that demands close attention is the systems required to bring together and balance what are fast becoming more distributed energy systems. Smart grids allow reserve sources of power – such as batteries, including those within electric vehicles (EVs) – to be managed from day-ahead into the moment of delivery, helping to balance supply and demand.

By contrast, the traditional method of generating and supplying power was heavily centralised. Large coal and gas power stations would feed electricity out through a high voltage transmission network, flowing down to communities through numerous regional and local distribution lines. However, we are now seeing this turned on its head with many sources of renewable energy in areas at the edges of the power network, meaning increased investments into the transmission and distribution systems to enable this new paradigm.

One example of the scale of investment is shown through infrastructure funds and institutional investors already playing a role in making a reality of the offshore wind power with the necessary connections to shore. Therefore, with the falling cost of wind turbines, solar panels and other new energy technologies such as batteries giving a greater rate of return for investors, wide use of renewables and significant investment in grids are only going to accelerate.

This acceleration in investment and the wide use of renewables means that balancing the grid has become much more important, but also more challenging. In the UK, for example, National Grid spends hundreds of millions of pounds each year in payments to balance the network, including paying energy companies to produce less electricity. Investing in smart technologies can contain this already inflating cost.

In fact, smart grids can ‘help us get out of today’s difficulties’, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In the first instance, smart grids are able to dial-up demand at times of surplus production. For example, if it is a windy night and electricity is available from turbines then prices or control signals can be sent to heavy industrial users. These signals can harness the power and start their machinery. Additionally, EVs can be told to start charging and even ‘smart’ washing machines can be told to start spinning. In the second instance, the IEA states that renewables dominate investment in new power generation at around 70% of the $530 billion spent in 2021, with the remaining 30% spent on grids and storage.

Therefore, smart grid investment opportunities are surfacing. These opportunities are emerging on two fronts: the first is in the large-scale finance needed to install new energy infrastructure at scale. This includes EV charging points, battery storage, and flexible renewable energy generation.

The second opportunity is in smart grid enabling equipment and software, where innovative solutions are needed by energy project developers, commercial and industrial users, and communities. Even individuals who want to take part in system balancing and flexibility by connecting their own turbines, panels, or batteries are interested in technology that enables them to participate. This decentralisation of power generation creates opportunities for smaller players who wish to see a strong return on their investments.

However, in order for this decentralisation to take place, smart grids must be able to balance supply and demand on a more dynamic system which requires the right policies. Governments and regulators need to put mechanisms in place so that companies or even households can be paid to provide power when it’s needed or offered incentives through dynamic tariffs to encourage them to use electricity during peaks in clean generation output.

The appetite for such smart grid solutions is something we’ve seen grow in recent months. Smarter Grid Solutions has been pleased to support all six of the UK’s Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) with so-called Distributed Energy Resources Management Systems (DERMS) to deliver these smart grid capabilities, with further systems deployed for Avangrid, Con Edison and Endurant Energy to bring solar and storage to the New York electric grid and market.

Another sign of confidence in this area is the fact that last summer, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, and its U.S. subsidiary Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc., acquired Smarter Grid Solutions. This acquisition enables Smarter Grid Solutions to play its role and help even more grid operators around the world add more clean energy assets to their fleets.

The global smart grid market is projected to grow by more than 20% between 2021 and 2028 to $140.53 billion, with observers noting how it can aid governments as they seek to rebuild post-pandemic economies and meet climate change objectives.

While more work needs to be done to provide investors with clarity and certainty of the opportunity, there can be little doubt now that smart grids are an essential next step in the clean energy revolution.

Finance

The penny has dropped – the finance sector needs Data Governance-as-a-Service

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By Michael Queenan, Co-Founder and CEO at Nephos Technologies

 

In our data-driven world, the amount of data is growing exponentially and it’s predicted that the amount generated each second in the financial industry will grow 700% this year. Leaders of financial services organisations have realised two things since the start of the pandemic – that data on their customers and services is their greatest asset and that they must embrace technology to make intelligent business decisions to grow successfully and outperform competitors.

Since the financial sector holds arguably the most valuable and sensitive information, organisations must do more than just store this data. They need to ensure its security, integrity, and governance so that it’s useful in improving the brand’s customer experience, innovating products and services or predicting future trends to improve risk management.

Yet without a robust data governance model – a strong set of rules and processes for what data means, and how it is categorised, owned, accessed, stored, and used – data is worthless. Only when an effective data governance model has been established, will data meet regulations and be secure. Data leaders must shift gear in their data processes to avoid hefty compliance penalties and unlock potential value from their data assets.

 

The data governance challenges faced by financial sector organisations

The barriers for achieving ‘good governance’ are many and varied. Ignorance of the benefits of data governance is a major hurdle for developing a governance strategy. Many financial firms have invested – at significant cost – in data governance tools, but struggle to deliver the benefits they are looking for. Many don’t have the right skills and resources to maximise or set the right metrics to measure the business value. Some are compromised by unoptimised gaps in their approach.

With many different elements to master, data governance is complex – from identifying the right tools to managing the challenges presented by encryption, all whilst ensuring that data quality is sustained and data is managed responsibly.  The negative impact of misplaced investment in ineffective data governance strategies can be significant, for the short and long-term.

 

Why data governance matters

With the acceleration of digital adoption in the financial services industry, it has become crucial to deliver seamless, intelligent customer experiences. Data governance is the key to managing data flow, ensuring compliance, and scaling up. Proof that data governance matters is evident in the Master Data Management Market growth prediction, from $16.7 billion in 2022 to $34.5 billion by 2027.

Data governance is a comprehensive methodology for ensuring the quality and security of the company’s data. The various benefits of an effective data governance strategy include minimised risk, coherent policies, metrics and processes, and better implementation of compliance and enhanced data value. However, for financial services, there are significant advantages as a result of the following:

  • Data governance saves the company money by increasing efficiency. Precious time can be saved by having good quality data and a single source of truth, with less duplication of data, and less time needed to correct data errors.
  • Good data governance gives the business confidence in having accurate and trustworthy data, the holy grail for delivering outperforming customer experiences.
  • A data-driven culture can also be introduced to your business through good data governance. With the ability to gather critical customer and market insights that can guide the direction of your business, data governance allows financial institutions to drive innovation and gain competitive advantage.

 

Bridging the governance gap with Data Governance-as-a-Service (DGaaS)

Increasingly organisations are turning to the ‘as-a-Service’ model to bridge the gaps in their data governance capabilities, as well as ensure critical alignment between objectives and results. This dedicated approach aims to minimise the risk of investments and delivers the strategy and proven technologies required to ensure data governance success.

DGaaS can be applied across each major component required to deliver good data governance. First, it uses software tools to scan all data within a typically complex financial services data infrastructure in its data discovery and classification phase. Without this detailed insight, organisations can’t always identify their data assets, any data mishandling and the level of risk generated.

The next part of the process is creation and documentation. This means organisations can drive their governance objectives through to execution, while removing the operational and recruitment overheads, which means they can purely focus on value created from data. In doing so, organisations can convert the raw outputs from the toolsets into meaningful business outputs.

With a holistic approach, DGaaS allows financial services organisations to focus on the transformational potential of data while critically staying compliant.

 

Reaping the benefits

Data is a vital asset to enable financial sector organisations to build the right capabilities to deliver their services and remain competitive. With a robust data governance model, financial firms can assess risk, predict trends, and seize market opportunities based on data-driven insights. Only data-driven processes, built on high quality and effectively governed data, will enable them to build outstanding customer experiences. It’s essential that leaders realise data governance is a fundamental discipline, not a luxury, and establish an effective model to formalise processes and responsibilities before their data lets them down.

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Seven tips for financial services brands using mail

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By Cameron Russell, Head of Marketing at Marketreach

 

Customer experience (CX) is a powerful differentiator for modern brands. If customers have a series of positive experiences with a brand, they will buy more, be more loyal and become advocates who influence their surrounding networks. In fact research from Gartner finds it to be the most important competitive battleground for 89% of companies.

Recent research from Trinity McQueen, commissioned by Marketreach, shows that functional teams – whose members come from different organisational levels – often have specific communications with customers. Yet they might not realise the importance of look, feel, content and tone in reinforcing the brand when they send out mailings. It’s essential that organisations recognise the role of all communications in building good customer experience and their brand – and this includes the use of mailers.

The marketing team isn’t the only representative of the brand – teams across all organisational levels need to be considered. Simplifying internal processes ensures marketing and functional teams remain aligned. Establishing a designated ‘owner’ should also be considered.

Cameron Russell

Customer experience is the sum of all the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and reactions that someone has in response to a brand. A good experience comes from speed, trust, consistency and convenience – and knowing when to use technology and when a more human touch is preferable.

People want to feel valued by the brands they engage with. And a powerful channel for this is Customer Mail. Mail provides a differentiated way for businesses to deliver their messages. It is a channel that offers unique benefits thanks to its tangibility, trustworthiness, and the way customers appreciate and interact with it.

Customer Mail is an important part of the overall brand experience for banking and financial services brands. So how can brands leverage this medium to make more of an impact on their customer experience and retention?

 

#1 Use simple language

Never underestimate the power of plain English. Especially when you need your customers to pay attention and retain the information you share.

TSB wanted customers to read their contract terms & conditions (T&Cs) because they protect them. Most T&Cs are dry, hard to understand and consequently go unread.

Knowing this, TSB humanised its T&Cs and adopted a warm tone, clear language and simple icons. The bank helped make customers feel valued by creating something easy to understand, that makes banking better, and changes how clients bank.

When asked, 82% of customers agreed it was easy to understand the changes. So much so that it received its first ever thank you letter for a T&Cs document!

 

#2 Use it at the right time

Customers are now in control of their relationship with brands. Expectations have shifted – and brands are judged on how well they meet these expectations.

Customer Mail works best when it is used in the right moments. So if you are sending information which is important, complex or requires attention and action – Customer Mail is particularly effective.

Its physicality sends an immediate message. And people are twice as likely to understand complex information when it is in physical mail as opposed to digital. Moreover, it requires less follow up and reduces possibility for missed information.

When asked about specific recent communications by mail or digital channels, 57% of respondents to Marketreach’s research said that they are less likely to miss something if it comes to them in a physical format. By increasing consumer understanding and confidence, mail can help to reduce costs and lost revenue by lowering calls to contact centres, missed appointments or even customers lapsing.

 

#3 Surprise and Delight

Three-dimensional, physical objects have innate sensory power. Mail’s tactility can evoke specific feelings and images associated with the brand through creative and considered uses of messaging, paper quality, print, finish, and stunning visuals.

EE needed to improve its welcome journey for customers. Research told them their Net Promoter Score (NPS) dipped after the first impression and continued to decline. One reason was the mailing containing a customer’s brand new, shiny phone showed up in an unmarked, scruffy, slightly damaged bin liner-looking package. Certainly not befitting the UK’s number one network.

EE upgraded the welcome mailing, switching to premium materials and including a link to an augmented reality video featuring Kevin Bacon talking through some of the extraordinary things customers could do with EE.

With over 175,000 AR views, EE outperformed the market during the campaign duration in ‘Better level of service’, ‘Reliability’ and ‘Customer service’.

 

#4 Personalise

Personalisation is table stakes in modern marketing. But doing it right still gives brands a boost in the minds of consumers. Neuroscience research conducted by Neuro-Insight in Marketreach’s  ‘Why Mail Cuts Through’ report shows that personalised mail from companies makes them feel valued more (70%) than email does (30%).

Waitrose recognised that its loyal customer base was eroding. Its solution was to introduce a new programme – Just for You, Best Customer – which rewarded high-value customers. It sent targeted, personalised mailings 5-6 times a year, offering vouchers or incentives based on shopper history. Voucher redemption was over 50% and Waitrose’s net promoter score (NPS) increased by more than 55 points.

Banking and finance brands could employ similar tactics in situations that demand loyalty.

 

#5 Use in combination with digital

Mail and digital used together deliver a powerful partnership because they are distinct channels with unique strengths, when used together they reinforce and enhance each other. Businesses should not see mail and digital as interchangeable channels, but as complementary ones.

Marketreach’s research from Neuro-Insight – which used neuroscience to investigate the effect on marketing channels – showed that physical and digital channels together are more than the sum of their parts. For example, a person who has seen a piece of mail from a company will look at a social media ad from the same brand for 30% longer. And the memory recall of a social media ad is given a 44% boost by a person who has already received mail from that brand.

 

#6 Enable behaviour change

Mail is particularly useful in situations requiring multiple steps – it provides much-needed clarity when a range of options are available. Recipients are encouraged to make behavioural changes.

Thames Water leveraged these qualities effectively. It found that customers were flushing cooking fat and wet wipes down drains, causing blockages and sewage back-ups at their homes.

Thames Water created an integrated campaign, Bin It, Don’t block it, and sent a mailing to over 260,000 households in the highest risk areas. The information pack included a free cooking fat trap, which created a strong visual reminder every time the resident used the sink. It is at such key moments, when ‘the brand is in the hand’, that physical mail can really outperform digital in responsiveness.

The result was a 26% reduction in sewer blockages in targeted areas – with 70% of residents surveyed after saying they had changed their behaviour.

 

#7 Design matters

You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

Design matters because it reinforces a customer’s experience of the brand in a sensory and significant way. Mail design has been measured and proven for decades, and this learning is especially critical to spur successful CX. Everything about the communication is reinforcing the brand through colour, tone, message, imagery, design and production quality. It should be produced to the same standard as all brand messaging.

 

Sealed and delivered

Experience is the most decisive battleground for brands and consumers. And shaping this isn’t the responsibility of just one marketing team – or just one marketing channel.

Mail isn’t a one-stop-shop or fix-all channel. And no medium is. But mail is a strong channel for informing action and facilitating specific responses from customers. For financial services and banking brands, mail is a trusted media that shows customers you care and that you value them. And as a result it can help to forge loyalty. It is a compelling means for the right message to appear at the right time – when it is done right.

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