Utility Customer Self Service Case Study

Some of the most creative and successful solutions can come out of the toughest constraints. How Sparkbox is helping an Ohio utility company iteratively, intentionally, and successfully navigate toward their largest goals while delivering an eServices portal for customers.

Perfect worlds with overflowing budgets and time aren’t a reality. There are always constraints. Sparkbox aims to recognize and embrace constraints to creatively deliver the best outcomes for our clients.

Dayton Power & Light (DP&L) and Sparkbox have toyed with revamping the now seven-year-old dpandl.com for the last several years. Reality hasn’t allowed that to happen just yet, though. So when budget became available for a new, high-priority eServices site dubbed “MyDP&L,” we saw the new site as an opportunity. MyDP&L would allow the electric utility company’s customers to easily pay bills, look over historical electricity usage, and view and update account and profile information. In addition, MyDP&L could provide a head start on a new dpandl.com and capitalize on budget, our many years working on utility websites, and iterative planning to deliver something awesome that pushed the DP&L web properties forward. For all the success of the actual MyDP&L site, the biggest benefits have been in how we’ve creatively and flexibly tapped into our experience to find the biggest wins for DP&L along the way.

For all the success of the actual MyDP&L site, the biggest benefits have been in how we’ve creatively and flexibly worked to find the biggest wins for DP&L along the way.

Small, Impactful Changes

Our team encourages clients to frequently deliver small features to make sure we’re developing what will have the largest impact—and to see the benefits of our efforts together early and often. DP&L started the MyDP&L effort knowing that the initial launch was just the first step in delivering something huge for their customers. One of the first features we knew customers wanted to understand was how much energy they’ve used over the last year.

We knew there were three key pieces of content customers were most interested in for historical usage: current billing period, previous billing period, and a comparison of the current billing period and the same time last year. In researching how to best display the most important, helpful, and actionable content for customers, our teams decided to visually display the most critical data on small screens and show all data on larger screens only. We felt good about this different treatment since all of the data is available in a table just below the graph.

We treated the graph content as a progressive enhancement and displayed the most critical data on small screens and all data on larger screens only, since all content was available in the table below.

Accommodating Pressing Priorities

We’ve had great success with MyDP&L in using long lived feature branches that allow the Sparkbox team to deliver iterative improvements for the DP&L integration team to launch as its team is ready internally. We recognize that priorities shift, and these branches give us the flexibility to have a feature that was a lower priority (or not imagined before) jump the priority line and launch before some originally prioritized features get integrated—which was the case with the Outage Map.

The Outage Map wasn’t under consideration when we first started work on MyDP&L, but a lot can happen in two years. With customers expecting more and more from their utilities, DP&L saw the need to introduce a more robust Outage Map that would take advantage of improvements they had made to their Outage Management System. Thanks to source control (Github) and long lived feature branches, we were able to deliver this vital feature into production with minimal impact to features in flight.

The new outage map makes use of a full screen experience and interactivity that give the user more information about scale of outages, locations outages have been reported in, and approximate restoration times.

Moving a (re)Design Forward

While DP&L had a pressing need to create a portal for customers, we knew this was a great opportunity to deliver on needs well outside of MyDP&L. We approached design always thinking of how we could leverage elements on dpandl.com in the future, and we made that possible by including a pattern library as part of our development efforts. This pattern library could serve as the foundation for a dpandl.com redesign in the future.

We approached the design as a modernized evolution of the existing dpandl.com design. One subtle, but impactful way we achieved a more modern look was to reuse the same font as the current site, but to add additional, lighter weights and sizes.

Although the same font was used on the portal as dpandl.com, we cleaned up how the typography was used by introducing lighter weights and a more pronounced hierarchy.

From form elements to buttons to messages, the design and development are meant to meet the needs of MyDP&L and to be carried over to a new dpandl.com (when that becomes a possibility). And by making progress on a new site design out of other budget, we make the effort to recreate the main site much more attainable each time we add a new feature. In fact, some recent updates to dpandl.com were created reusing patterns from MyDP&L.

Creatively Navigating Constraints

Some of the most creative and successful solutions can come out of the toughest constraints. While we’d love to be able to dive into a redesign (and DP&L would too), that’s not always possible. However, in looking for opportunities to do right by clients, we can find ways to make progress on larger goals within immediate tasks. After all, recognizing and helping clients iteratively, intentionally, and successfully navigate toward their largest goals is what having a long term web partner is all about.

... recognizing and helping clients iteratively, intentionally, and successfully navigate toward their largest goals is what having a longterm web partner is all about.