My interview on consumer engagement

Vassilis Nikolopoulos is CEO and co-founder of Intelen, Inc, a New York-based emerging startup focused on smart grid big data applications and energy analytics/engagement. I had a chance to catch up with him a few weeks ago at Greentech Media’s Grid Edge Live conference in San Diego. In part, I wanted to follow up on the interview he did back in April 2013 with Greentech Media President Rick Thompson, in which they discussed the networked grid and what Intelen does to optimize energy efficiency in buildings. That includes Intelen’s integrated engagement platform that combines data analytics with human behavior. In that interview, Nikolopoulos talks about Intelen’s dynamic approach to “gamifying” demand response using mobile applications and its engagement platform. Here, we talk about the “human element” of the energy efficiency equation, on the energy cloud and on how utilities will need to change their business models in this rapidly evolving market. Cross posted from Scaling Green.

Tigercomm Executive Vice President Mark Sokolove: Intelen recently released a white paper about optimizing not just technical approaches to managing and reducing energy consumption, but also about focusing in on the human element of the equation. Can you tell us a bit about Intelen’s work in better analyzing and mapping human behavior relating to building consumption?

Intelen CEO Vassilis Nikolopoulos: Sure.  One of the biggest challenges and problems in the engagement domain is how you actually measure engagement, because human behavior is something intangible. So we had to provide some way, we had to innovate in order to create a data-driven technology to measure the actual behavioral change and to see human engagement going on.  What we did was to create a unique data analytics platform: a combination of a dashboard, a learning management system and a mobile app that can act as an information and educational gateway in between the cloud platform and the humans. As we all know, smart phones can be considered as your digital extension to your behavior.

So what we did was to approach the engagement problem from a human perspective and not from a utility perspective. Right now, the definition of engagement is it’s something the utilities want.  Utilities want that because they just set up smart meters, so as soon as they understand the value of data and what lies beneath, they go and search for an optimized engagement mechanism to engage their customers. On the other side, we go in and approach the engagement problem from the customer’s side and not from the utility’s side.

So, we set out and we have analyzed,  after several years of continuous R&D, specific, permanent human needs that can sustain a continuous engagement philosophy and procedure. We built the so-called subliminal learning technique. What is this?  Based on our R&D, we found out that if we create training and educational material around an educational objective and we “gamify” the educational objectives, we can actually change human behavior.

How do we do this?  By offering training materials to users, to people, to students, to customers, based on their behavioral aspects. Let’s say that you want to change student behavior – to set up the thermostats in their dorms correctly, for instance.  We go and create educational material that can last 2-4 weeks, and we have as an educational objective to raise awareness on this specific topic by offering multiple-choice quizzes, tips, announcements and multimedia content, articles, videos, how-to guides,  and other educational features about how to correctly set up the thermostat. We offer videos, surveys, educational material you can use from your smart phone app. At the same time, we “gamify” the whole experience and we offer the possibility of prize incentives or social competitions.

Then, we go and we measure 5-6 important data-driven engagement metrics. We measure engagement. We measure efficiency. We measure participation, knowledge, commitment and influence. Those are metrics for which we have data from the mobile app, social networks, demographics, real-time energy data and our dashboard. Based on this combined data, we create data-driven human behavioral metrics.  So we know exactly how engaged you are with the platform, how efficient you are in switching the lights on and off, or how efficient you are in setting up the thermostat.

Of course, we measure the impact because we have the data monitoring platform that can be hooked up to smart meters. We have some great partnerships in this space, such as Obvius, where by using their advanced data loggers, we can track energy or water information to the second, and we can measure the immediate impact of our engagement. So, as soon as we engage you and offer you this material to change your human behavior, we can measure the impact to the actual building’s consumption. It’s like closing the loop.  First of all, we know how to engage people. We know how to quantify this engagement mechanism. We have the real-time Key Performance Indicators that actually measure the engagement and can actually measure also the result of this engagement to the actual daily consumption.