To optimize the user experience, the EV charging service provider must sharpen its business capabilities, from initial marketing and sign-up, through to installing and operating infrastructure and managing the ongoing customer relationship.
Any capabilities it lacks, must be built from scratch. It is not, for instance, too much of a stretch for a fuel station accustomed to managing real-time payments at the pump to customize for EV payments. But a power and utility company, which traditionally invoices remotely and on a monthly basis, will have to adopt a much closer relationship with its customers. For that, the CIO and CDO will need to consider how the business and customer interact — possibly via an EV charging app— and revise both the payment processes and the back-end digital solutions that underpin them.
Some of the digital solutions might already exist and be readily adapted. For others, it will be a case of identifying which solution to buy, build or integrate to service the new business capability.
Optimizing IT for new business activity
Where and how much to invest in digital solutions must start with understanding the existing IT architecture. The IT blueprint will likely reveal one or more existing systems for payroll, workforce management, billing, etc., which may be provided by different vendors but linked.
As the energy company enters this new business of EV charging, the CIO and CDO should identify what works and what can be scaled; what needs to be changed or installed to give customers what they want and, ultimately, secure profitable new revenue streams. Planning for the new architecture must prioritize digital solutions that:
- Allow customers to purchase and use charging products and services, possibly via a fleet portal or a driver app.
- Enable employees to serve customers effectively with a 360-degree view over operations so that they can provide quotes for the installation of chargers or negotiate EV charging tariffs directly.
- Support operational capabilities, such as charger supply chain management, to facilitate the installation and management of hardware in the field.
Implementing the new-look IT architecture, which sits behind the EV charging solution, will likely engage one of three strategies. Each comes with distinct pros and cons that the CIO and CDO must evaluate.
A custom-built solution is designed uniquely for the business and allows new features to be added as the activity matures and volumes increase. It requires heavy upfront investment and is time-consuming (often 18-30 months to build a minimum viable product) but enables the business to differentiate itself and its products in ways that are not possible with an off-the-shelf system.
Take, for instance, multinational utility company EnelX, which acquired eMotorWerks, the developer of JuiceBox EV charging stations and the JuiceNet software platform in 2017. It has continued to expand its offering to include the JuicePass app that allows customers to manage their EV charging needs, as well as JuiceNet Operator and JuiceNet MSP, which enable charge point operators and managed service providers to monitor and manage their EV charging services.
A faster alternative is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. The vendor provides all the capabilities for EV charging out-of-the-box. These low-cost and proven technologies can be implemented quickly (often within a few weeks) and suit businesses that have a mass-market strategy. Though out-of-the-box solutions do not allow for significant differentiation in the product or service, energy companies can brand customer-facing components as their own and improve their visibility.
Irish electricity company ESB offers an enhanced charge point management system based on software provided by Driivz, an EV charging technology provider. The system allows ESB eCars, which is ESB’s public charging network, to monitor network availability and operate it remotely, as well as carry out fault diagnoses and repair (pdf).
The middle-ground is a hybrid solution – a blend of custom-built and out-of-the-box solutions. It enables the business to balance its need for differentiating features with reduced cost and speed to market. Where integrations are made to a proven SaaS foundation, technology risk is reduced. The time to implement depends on the degree of customization.
Take Dutch energy company Eneco, which installs, hosts and maintains an extensive home and work EV-charging network. It uses the GreenFlux platform with an API integrated to the existing CRM and ERP systems. The platform allows Eneco to manage charger and driver additions, operations and technical tasks, and its own billing processes.
Advantages and drawbacks of IT implementation strategies