Why should we share more to help competition?
by Shaun Dodimead
Supposedly, at the heart of the UK energy industry is competition. In order for this competition to work in the way it’s intended, the market needs to be open and, most importantly, equal, with data acting in a transparent and easily accessible way. If the market is truly free, competition will be an inevitable and automatic outcome. Prices are set by market demands, with organisations differentiating and attracting customers in a myriad of ways. However, with data locked away and accessible in very different ways depending on who you are or what you can afford, are we actually seeing competition at its best, or is the current climate simply promoting a race to the bargain basement?
Our industry runs on data transfer technology systems that have been with us for many years. These systems do a variety of things, from helping consumers switch to providing data on the operation of our industry. For many regulated industries, this kind of information allows them to provide competitive, innovative propositions to offer up and alternative option for consumers. However, the market that we operate in doesn’t always work like that. A lot of data is often unavailable, or something available for those that can afford it, meaning that smaller suppliers are at a disadvantage, disempowered by their lack of access – not competition at its best and certainly not operating in the best interests of the consumer. Should the sector be taking control of how data flows through the system to ultimately benefit competition in its truest form?
Recognising the need for all parts of our industry to take a stronger role with each other will help balance our ability to compete. Surely we as an industry can lead these changes? In the past, we have relied on Ofgem and the like to dictate how we should flow data, or even innovate systems, but should this be how the industry should operate? Surely we can create solutions that are secure but appropriate and adaptable? It’s 2017 and we still talk ASCII in text files delivered by FTP. It’s 2017 and we still require private providers to install private lines to private networks, which we all pay for. It’s 2017 and it still takes 15 days to switch suppliers. The experiences of DCC also add weight to this argument. Where the industry is responsible for how things are done, the regulator should be responsible for enabling business to be done. We must be open to the idea and challenges of sharing data more quickly, cleanly and cleverly to enable better experiences for our consumers, rather than treat data as property. There is a risk we’ll fall into a GDPR trap and make it even more difficult for our consumers – we must comply AND innovate.
Technologies such as blockchain are often touted as a solution to these problems, and indeed they may well play a part, but without these being open solutions owned by the industry, supported by the regulator promoting and supporting data sharing no technology will make a difference.
Whatever role we play in the sale and delivery of power and gas, we should be open to the idea of openness. Sharing open data with each other will improve the overall experience for not just the end consumers but all the players in the sector. Ensuring truly open standards that are easy to work with leads to more success. Projects like Nexus show how industry change for the positive can come, but we must build on this, bearing in mind that open, more collaborative change comes from within and ultimately keeps the industry alive and kicking. After all, competition drives us to be better, and gives customers what they deserve – a transparent market where healthy competition is available on a level playing field.