According to the Flemish energy regulator VREG, families could save up to 250 euros annually on their energy costs by comparing energy prices. Yet 70% of families don't do that. We could automate everything, thought the people at June. They brought in the Internet of Things company Bagaar to design a smart energy module. Bagaar designed an IoT module that measures energy usage independently and searches for the best tariff. Users can switch to a new supplier automatically or after receiving notification. Codeword for the project: user simplicity, and that's no coincidence.
"There are many markets in which customer experience could be improved. The products and services for the energy market of private households are also insufficiently geared to users, and that's a mistake," says Vincent De Dobbeleer, co-founder of June, the company behind the smart energy module of the same name. So when June was being developed, De Dobbeleer paid close attention to the end user. "Don't make any assumptions at all about how smoothly your product will work for the user. It all comes down to testing, testing and yet more testing."
Not knowing about it, no time, and maybe not feeling like doing it. There are various reasons why families don't compare energy prices and therefore stay with the same supplier. Yet everyone is keen to save money, especially if they don't have to do anything for it. So after the first survey, June saw the potential in automating the process.
The startup got Bagaar on board, which took care of the entire project from concept to the design of the hardware and development of the software and firmware. The plans were drawn up in 2015, including an initial prototype, and a year later Bagaar had already developed the final version of the device.
"The development took place in three stages, with the product being optimized each time after feedback from the users. We put a lot of work into these user groups and processing their feedback," explains De Dobbeleer. "We started with a pilot involving fifty families, which we quickly expanded to around a hundred installations. We then officially got started with a beta version in June 2017. A thousand customers signed up for the monthly subscription. In the first year they even received a savings guarantee."
Specifically, June takes pictures of the energy meter, which are transmitted to the IoT module via low-frequency radio waves. This uses optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the pictures into binary data and upload these to an online database. An algorithm then compares the customer's situation and usage with current prices and automatically switches them to the cheapest supplier. Or suggests doing this through a notification.
A few months after the official commercialization, June is projecting the annual savings that VREG also predicted. Of the approximately three thousand customers, there are hundreds who have been automatically switched to the suggested supplier.
June is very pleased with Bagaar's work. De Dobbeleer: "It is one of the few IoT companies that works in a very hands-on way. They have a clear insight into potential innovations, both in terms of business and technology, and they are able to turn theory into reality. In the IoT, it often takes too long before one starts testing the prototype. Bagaar works according to the principles of agile development and continuously evaluates user tests. Thanks to their approach, we developed June faster and more cost-effectively, while paying close attention to ease of use."
De Dobbeleer wants to become established in Belgium first, but is already looking ahead. "We see a lot of potential for June abroad, especially in neighbouring countries. What's more, with the experience of June under our belts, we also want to make analogue devices intelligent, including in the corporate market. Couldn't we make existing standard cars a bit smarter? We can think of such opportunities in dozens of sectors. There are still a lot of opportunities on our roadmap."
"Thanks to Bagaar's approach, we developed June fast and cost-effectively, while paying close attention to ease of use."