Easton Utilities develops 'My Account' app for iPhone
By Geoff Oxnam, vice president of operations at Easton Utilities in Maryland. Easton Utilities is responsible for the operation, management and maintenance of the electric, water, wastewater, natural gas, cable television and Internet utility services for the town of Easton and portions of the surrounding area.
In this age of real-time, constant connection, consumers expect information to be available whenever and wherever they want it. Even in the decidedly un-hip arena of utility accounts, consumers want the same access they get from their favorite social media, news, or online shopping experiences. To meet that demand, Easton, Md., Utilities recently launched the Easton Utilities My Account iPhone App.
"It’s not enough to have a website with online bill payment anymore," said Fred Christie, CIO for Easton Utilities. "Customers expect apps."
Christie and his team at Easton Utilities are not strangers to innovative technology for utilities. In the past few years, this municipal utility in the rural Eastern Shore section of Maryland has launched a broad range of software tools being deployed by utilities all over the United States. Their portfolio includes the Business Portal, Outage Management System and Customer Relations Management. Given the diversity of the services Easton Utilities offers (electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, cable television, high-speed Internet, IT network services), Christie’s team develops solutions that tackle a broad range of disciplines.
To date, and with the exception of the company’s website, most of the systems the Easton Utilities team developed were utility-employee facing. The App is just the opposite.
"While it was accessible through mobile devices, the general look and feel of the website on a mobile device left much to be desired," said Michael Law, the software engineer for Easton Utilities who led the project. "Our team decided to create a native iOS app to essentially give our customers a true mobile experience of the website."
With Easton Utilities’ My Account iPhone App, customers can access accounts, pay bills, view graphs of consumption history, report outages, and view an outage map all from their iPhones. Updates are automatic and registering for the service is easy.
To test the app, Law and his team deployed it to "friends and family" including utility employees and friendly customers who were willing to give honest feedback. The most challenging of bugs are worked out naturally through multiple versions of the operating system.
"Everyone has a different version of the operating system on their iPhone, so when we’re testing this on multiple phones, compatibility issues come up that probably would not if I was only testing it myself," Law explained.
Finally, the app is filed with the Apple store.
The app was an instant hit with local consumers. Immediately on hearing about the iPhone app, Android users approached the utility. Easton Utilities is currently evaluating other mobile operating systems and will soon decide whether to create other OS-specific apps or go generic with an HTML5 web app.
"Tailoring this app for use by other utilities is straightforward," said Christie, who invited any APPA member to contact him for more information by calling (410) 822-6110.
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Customer Connector is published winter, spring, summer and fall by APPA's Communications Department.
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