Vector say their new digital Outage Centre – created after the April 2018 storm caused havoc in Auckland – has "best-in-class" technology and security and represents collaboration with the customers who will use it.
In a world disrupted by climate change, the website-based Outage Centre is designed to handle disruption caused by even bigger weather events than last year's April storm, when up to 180,000 homes lost power within a 15-minute period.
At the time, Vector's old outage management system struggled to cope with the more than 200,000 people who, within the first 24 hours, searched for information and reported outages. The app and its back-end processes were unable to cope with the scale of the event and reverted to default settings for when power would be restored. That was inaccurate, upsetting customers without power.
Shortly after, a security flaw was discovered in the app by a hacker, inadvertently putting at risk the names, email addresses, physical location and phone numbers of customers who had used the old outage app.
Now the online Outage Centre is a secure, one-stop digital channel for power outages, allowing customers to report lost power, to receive emergency contact information, to better prepare themselves to get through an outage. It includes accurate details about how and when power will be restored directly from engineers working in the field.
The Outage Centre can be found on Vector's website where it can still be accessed by mobile phones but has better capacity, privacy and responsiveness without customers having to download an app to their phone.
Its launch is a major milestone in an ongoing programme of work based on research and customer feedback, and going forward will have the ability to incorporate customers' smart meter data, where available, to identify and resolve outages most efficiently.
Nikhil Ravishankar, Vector's Chief Digital Officer, says since April, Vector's staff have painstakingly researched what its customers needed, addressed which systems, processes, and operations could be modernised across the business, and sought the best technology solutions for those parts of the business which deal with power outages and major events.
"We didn't build the Outage Centre based on what we thought they might need; we've actively engaged with our customers throughout the whole process. We have been in touch with thousands of people, from surveys to focus groups to one-on-one interviews, and we've listened to their stories of what they experienced during the April storm.
"We kept going back to them to test that what we were building was what they wanted and needed from us, and we are continuously seeking their feedback, thoughts, and opinions on the Outage Centre to help us to continually evolve this capability keep it updated."
Andre Botha, Vector's Chief Networks Officer, says that research with Vector's customers, staff, and partners helped shape the way the business responds to and manages communication around power outages.
"We know power outages can be frustrating for our customers, so based on their feedback we've built the Outage Centre to allow for our customers to tell us when they're without power, and for us to let them know we've heard them and keep them updated through notifications – their choice of either txt or email – as we send out our crews to fix the problem. Their experience of using the Outage Centre will help us plan ahead to continue to meet their needs and shape the future."
Ravishankar says the new technology in the Outage Centre has been rigorously load-tested to ensure it can handle events even bigger in scale than the April storm, simulating events up to three times bigger than that storm.
It also includes a "Major Event Mode" feature which allows Vector to communicate with customers in the most efficient way during high impact events. That can include trouble spots like the recent unseasonably hot January – producing dry vegetation and high winds which could produce an entirely different kind of emergency – or a tsunami or other natural disasters.
The security capability of the new Outage Centre had also been heavily tested, he says: "This hasn't just been a matter of putting in a new layer of security once we have developed the system; we have adopted the principle of 'security by design', meaning security is inherent in every aspect of the Outage Centre. It's a new 'front-door' for the customer, but there is a lot of work that has gone on behind that front-door."
Security has been developed in tandem with global partners, some of whom have been employed to simulate attempted security breaches. "They tried to break it," says Ravishankar, "so we could be sure we had every angle covered before we put the Outage Centre in customers' hands.
"Having said that, digital and cyber security is an ever-evolving beast and we have acknowledged that with our security-by-design principle and in re-building our Security Operations Centre. If and when there is a security breach, our rebuilt Security Operations Centre capability allows us early identification of what has happened and to apply remedial action in the most appropriate way."
"We have taken some valuable lessons away since April and we continue to listen and learn," says Ravishankar. "In launching our Outage Centre, we wanted to ensure that it was based on real insights gained from understanding the various situations our customers found themselves in after the April storm — all the while being aware of the fact that when we send crews out to fix power outages, it is often dangerous work in appalling conditions.
"Every major event brings with it a different set of challenges, however by employing the right people and the right set of innovative and modern technologies, we at Vector are committed to continually evolving our capability to stay ahead of these challenges to best support our customers."