During the pandemic, the digital revolution quickened and Manila Electric Company was at the forefront of using technology shift to improve its services.
Meralco is among the business giants which took extra efforts to increase their online presence, moving to mobile and digitizing faster with an eye to better-serving electricity users.
Recognizing this trend, Meralco embarked on a Customer-Centric and Digital Transformation journey in 2020 with a solid data-driven strategy to govern, capture, understand, and leverage data to further level up operations and customer experience.
Meralco’s president and CEO Ray Espinosa had spelled out the strategic direction of the company to elevate the use of data and technology to advance its goals of delivering value to the business and providing excellent customer service.
Meralco said its data-driven strategy was designed to integrate governance, processes, and technology into an informative network across the organization.
In 2020, the governance structure was formally established which included a Data Governance Council, Data Management Working Group, and the Data Community representing different business domains across Meralco such as customer, network, and shared services.
The company allowed operating models and sustained enablement of data stewards and analysts. Training and mentoring were key drivers in promoting awareness and how best to harness data assets.
In 2021, the company launched the Meralco Data Platform which improved customer experience, service delivery, and operational efficiency.
MDP, which is the technology enabler of the utility firm and the catalyst to its digital shift, serves as the unified business intelligence and analytics platform that leverages Meralco data to extract information and insights.
The platform addresses Meralco’s growing data requirements and provides the capability to manage data more efficiently by automating data processing activities that involve massive volumes of information from billing and payment platforms, Meralco online channels, electric distribution, and supply chain management systems, among others.
It also enables the creation of management and operational dashboards and insights crucial for a business decision that speeds up and enhances customer services.
The availability of in-depth analysis of customer inquiries and complaints also enables Meralco to continuously improve customer services.
Recently, Meralco launched a management dashboard called M-Wing, which is a single-source, online, and interactive reporting of key performance indicators accessible via mobile anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
Data as a growth enabler
“M-Wing serves as a vehicle to provide a better and greater range or view of performance targets,” Meralco first vice president and Chief of Staff to the president and CEO and Supply Chain Advisor Maria Luisa Alvendia explained.
Meralco also tapped data science and analytic models to improve the service experience.
Its implementation of more effective predictive analysis leads to faster identification of distribution transformers needing rehabilitation, resulting in the prevention of outages to almost 200,000 customers in 2021.
Through its Analytics and Data Communities of Practice, Meralco empowers and advances the organization in terms of data management.
“By enabling and unlocking intelligence and insights across Meralco, we can bring to light how and where to drive exceptional customer service, streamline internal operations, and create opportunities for innovation — fully recognizing the power of data as an enabler to business growth,” Meralco first vice president and head of information, Communication, Technology, and Transformation Rocky Bacani said.
Optic improves efficiency
The company’s primary digital transformation project is the recently unveiled advanced command and control center called the Operations Platform and Telecommunications Integrated Command Center or OPTIC, which manages all information, communication, and technology systems across the company.
The first of its kind for electricity distribution utilities in the country, OPTIC is a state-of-the-art facility that aims to reduce unplanned downtime of critical ICT systems, increase the productivity of employees, and enhance service delivery to Meralco customers.
Highly-skilled ICT engineers operate OPTIC, which provides a centralized monitoring system for faster fault detection and restoration of technology services.
The platform uses Artificial Intelligence to analyze systems logs, provide actionable information and insights, and enables predictive and proactive maintenance.
As the pandemic prompted millions of Meralco customers’ reliance on digital tools, the OPTIC improved the distribution utility’s resiliency and service reliability by providing real-time application, IT network, and communication link outage alerts to support teams to immediately restore these services.
“The OPTIC is intelligent communication and response coordination platform that covers and serves all our facilities, operations, and people. This platform plays a pivotal role in the effective management of Meralco’s daily operations, resulting in higher efficiency, improved incidents mitigation, and response capabilities, which translate to consistent and reliable services to our customers and workforce. This is especially crucial at this time with the pandemic making us highly dependent on technology,” Bacani said.
Aside from its smart features, Meralco’s OPTIC is secure, safe, and sustainable. The command center is operational 24/7 and boasts of an industrial-grade and energy-efficient LED display wall, as well as a smart and audible alarm system for alerts and incidents. It is also equipped with a 360-degree video conferencing system to coordinate activities during major incidents and emergency response scenarios.
OPTIC also uses computer-vision AI not only to check compliance with health and safety protocols but also to ensure that only authorized personnel can enter the premises.
“We also embraced agile delivery, allowing us to address customer pain points rapidly through incremental improvements. We knew that beyond technology, the success of our transformation relies heavily on our crews, their ability to embrace change, and their ‘malasakit’ and sacrifices to go above and beyond in the service of our customers,” Bacani added.
Meralco president Espinosa highlighted that the platform serves as an “essential foundation in achieving Meralco’s goal of becoming smarter and innately digital.”
“Meralco’s OPTIC revolutionizes the way data is harnessed and used to closely monitor our mission-critical systems in real-time, proactively identify and address issues, make intelligent operational and business decisions, and eliminate barriers to heighten collaboration,” he said.
“We are excited as the launch of the command center lays the groundwork upon which we will expand technologies and enable more innovations, ultimately leading to excellent service for our customers,” Espinosa added.
“Excellent customer service and communication are at the core of what we do in Meralco, and transparency is a value we have long adhered to. To be recognized internationally for campaigns focused on these is a remarkable feat, and a great honor to the many women and men of Meralco who toil relentlessly for the fulfillment of these programs and their objectives, despite adversities brought by the pandemic,” Espinosa pointed out.
Digital shift pays dividends
Leveraging both digital and traditional customer channels amid the challenges brought about by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Meralco has emerged as one of the top companies in the Philippines on service excellence.
In the recently concluded 2021 ASEAN Enterprise Innovation Awards presented by Asia IoT Business Platform, Meralco was recognized for its entry, “Transformation Powered by Technology and Tradition,” which showcased the power distributor’s programs aimed at enhancing customer experiences through process improvements and digital transformation.
Among Meralco’s key customer-centricity initiatives are its Facebook Live Chat, which serves 8,000 transactions per hour; Virtual Customer Assistant, which allows customers to speak with Meralco representatives via video conferencing; and Online Customer Appointment, which enables customers to schedule appointments before visiting Business Centers.
All these programs are geared towards ensuring the safety and convenience of Meralco customers.
In addition, Meralco introduced the Customer Account Number, which is a permanent reference number for all payment transactions.
Another important initiative is the redesigned electricity bill, which aims to help customers better understand and manage their energy consumption.
The new bill format is easier to understand as it provides all necessary information such as the customer’s 24-month consumption and payment history.
Accurate, fair bills
To augment these customer-facing programs, Meralco also arms its crews with a Meter Reading App that helps in optimize service routes and ensures accurate readings of electricity consumption.
Through the Real-Time Payment Validation App, Meralco avoids incidents where electricity service is disconnected due to the late reflection of customer payments.
Meralco chief commercial officer and head of Customer Retail Services Ferdinand Geluz said the company has always advocated “service with compassion” as it commits to making customers the priority while adapting to the challenges of the new normal.
“Moving forward, and as signaled by all our efforts behind customer centricity, we will continue pursuing our passion of transforming customer experience across all our transactions and touchpoints,” Geluz added.
The digital shift is more pronounced in Meralco’s financial services unit Bayad.
Bayad Centers, which many know as brick-and-mortar bills payment offices are supplemented by real-time electronic payments.
With real-time electronic payments and user-friendly mobile applications, day-to-day activities like bills payment, money remittances, and online shopping can now be done in the comfort of one’s home — something that Bayad, the financial services arm of Meralco, made possible early on.
Bayad has evolved from being a payment collection service into an enabler of a whole suite of financial products and services.
From having Meralco as its sole biller, Bayad now has the largest billing network, serving more than 500 various brands and categories, from utilities to government contributions, loan payments, tuition fees, online shopping, and insurance, among others.
Bayad has also provided opportunities to entrepreneurs to generate additional income for their existing businesses through its franchise model, enabling the company to receive various recognitions for its service excellence.
Bayad has aligned its initiatives with the goal of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in achieving a 50 percent increase in digital financial transactions in 2023.
The company has recently rebranded itself as a bigger, better, and younger Bayad to introduce more payment channels and services, and to capture a significant chunk of the internet-savvy market.
Anchored on its “Pay Anywhere” stance, Bayad clinched and maintained partnerships with various billers, utility companies, government institutions, and remittance companies, enabling a network of establishments, agents, online and mobile applications, financial institutions, cooperatives, and fintech companies.
To date, 80 percent of the banks and financial institutions in the country are powered by Bayad for bills payment.
Its extensive connections resulted in successful partnerships with multinational financial institutions such as VISA and Mastercard.
Last year also paved the way for strong collaboration with new digital payment partners, new government billers, and other enriching milestones that have received both local and international recognition, such as Marketing Interactive’s Marketing Excellence Awards and W. Media’s Cybersecurity Implementation Awards, among others.
Shape of Bayad’s future
Bayad continues to create positive strides by maintaining dominance in payments and introducing new digital business solutions like Bayad Checkout, a payment gateway solution that enables institutions and corporations to collect and accept payments online while providing value-added services such as email invoicing, real-time payment posting, and cashback rewards.
Apart from this, Bayad is the only electronic wallet that processes toll payments in real time and shows customers up-to-date balances.
Bayad has a Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard Certification which guarantees the security of transactions.
The certification indicates Bayad passed an information security standard required for all business entities that handle card information.
Bayad also utilizes fraud detection tools such as 3D Secure, a security layer for online credit and debit card transactions, and Multi-Factor Authentication which accurately verifies the identity of each paying customer.
“We will be relentless as we drive innovation and financial inclusion across the country paving a brighter future for our customers. The future is indeed bright, and the future is now,” Bayad president and chief executive officer Lawrence Ferrer said.
Navigating through challenges
Recent global events such as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine dampened recovery prospects for various industries and global economies, the Philippines included.
The country saw its inflation rates touching historic highs as rising fuel costs sent prices of basic commodities to record highs.
Electricity prices, fortunately for Filipinos, have not been a heavy burden.
As the largest power distribution utility in the Philippines, Meralco is relentlessly looking for ways to bring down electricity rates and shield customers from higher generation charges through its contracting strategies that include the conduct of the Competitive Selection Process.
Meralco vice president and head of Corporate Communications Joe R. Zaldarriaga said Meralco continues to look for ways to fulfill its mandate of providing Filipino households with cost-competitive power.
As the Philippines continues to slowly recover from the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Meralco continues to ensure the delivery of stable, reliable, and cost-competitive electricity service to its customers.
Meralco also ramps up its investments to ensure excellent service delivery, while supporting the government’s infrastructure and road-widening projects.
Meralco already spent P14.2 billion in capital expenditures as of end-June, of which 62 percent or P8.74 billion was utilized for new connections, asset renewals, and load growth projects, among others.
Major networks projects completed during the first half of the year include the development of Commonwealth Gas-Insulated Switchgear substation in Quezon City and Escoda GIS substation in Manila; the uprating of banks at Calumpit substation in Bulacan; and the rehabilitation of the control system of the 115-kV GIS at Legaspi substation in Makati City.
Customers as top priority
With various customer-centric initiatives, Meralco proved that it does not stop in implementing programs geared toward further improving its service. Meralco also championed service with compassion.
Even when the restrictions have eased and operations of affected industries have normalized, Meralco remained sensitive to the challenges faced by its customers.
To make the company more accessible, Meralco expanded its digital channels such as Meralco Online and the Meralco App to make settling bills easier and more convenient for its customers.
Through its Appliance Calculator, the company empowered customers to manage their consumption by giving them an idea of how much electricity their gadgets and appliances consume.
As Meralco ramped up customer care, more initiatives geared towards connecting with customers to discuss their concerns safely and remotely were introduced.
“Meralco continues to develop and implement programs that will further improve the stability and reliability of the service we deliver to our customers. This includes our efforts to strengthen our distribution facilities and energizing key facilities to support infrastructure development that we believe plays a crucial role in the government’s nation-building efforts,” Zaldarriaga said.
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