If you want to help vulnerable customers, you first need to know who they are

The utility sector is facing generational challenges in supporting their most vulnerable customers. Climate change, economic uncertainty and the cost-of-living crisis have all placed the protection and support of Priority Service Register (PSR) users at the top of the agenda. 

Despite the undoubted increased pressure on utility companies, financial pressures remain. How can they continue to meet increased support requirements and ensure that the highest standards of data protection and security are maintained? In two words: digital cooperation.

To meet the challenges in supporting PSR customers, utility companies need to understand where these customers are, what their needs are (based on a “needs code”), what infrastructure they are served by (to mitigate any interruption in service), and how best to proactively engage. The picture is further complicated by the reality that different companies, providers, emergency services, third sector organisations and local authorities might each have an incomplete picture of the needs landscape. In short, to meet the challenge, information – data about PSR customers, their context, requirements and dependencies – has to be shared securely, flexibly, and efficiently across boundaries.

There are real, understandable, and completely justified fears around personal data being shared, especially in the case of vulnerable customers. We can mitigate those by not centralising data, letting data controllers maintain control of their data, protecting their information and sharing only what is needed, when it is needed, with whom it is needed – building data ecosystems. Ecosystems that develop over time, growing as trust evolves and value is realised. Ecosystems built on intelligent selective data sharing – digital cooperation between enterprises.

I recently discussed these challenges with Eleanor Poole at Auriga. We discussed the potential of digital cooperation leveraging Auriga’s services when dealing with the ageing population and vulnerable customers, she said: “This is an opportunity for the energy companies to come on board and be leading the way.”

This isn’t a new challenge, industry leaders such as Thames Water have been building partnerships with other organisations across the utilities sector and emergency services to protect vulnerable customers. The CReDO project showed the potential of collaboration, but also the challenges of scaling solutions using real dynamic information.

Utility companies are at a crossroads, the choice between inaction, building short-term solutions and pilot projects, reinventing the wheel in separate pockets of the country, or taking the first steps towards an exciting future of digital cooperation sits right in front of us.