Does your outage app have to be an app?

Updated: Oct 6

I get asked a bit, (usually by people who “want” to build an app), why we don’t make some of our applications like Outage Reporter and IFS “apps” for iOS and Android. Well they are… you just don’t have to download and install them. 

Well they are… you just don’t have to download and install them. It’s a mobile optimised web application.

Power Outages are different from day-day activities where you might have an app you use regularly for tasks such as banking, news, maps, social media or email. You have it handy, you know how to drive it from plenty of use.

Services you don’t use often, such as checking details about a power outage, have a quite different overall use case. They demand different usability as well as functionality.

We develop Android and iOS apps, and for certain functions they are perfect. For power outages we have an intrinsic understanding of how people (consumers) operate and what they like and don’t, so here’s some thoughts on why having a downloadable app may not be the best option for your customers.

Is it Quick to access the outage information, how they want? (not how you want them to…)

  • It has to be quick – Consumers have no idea when the power will go off, and so won’t be able to plan ahead as to when they would need the app (and so download it ahead of time). They certainly won’t have a 16 digit alpha-numeric meter or account number at hand.
  • It has to be quick – Most consumers experience power outages very infrequently, meaning they just don’t use the app regularly.
  • It has to be quick – The last thing they will want to do is have to download an app, particularly as their Wi-Fi probably isn’t working so they’ll have to enable app downloads over cellular.
  • It has to be quick – App developers are notoriously good (bad..?) at adding functionality that cumulatively makes a simple requirement, harder. Consumers don’t want to have to learn something new, particularly while the lights are out.

Is it Easy to get the outage information and what they actually want? (not what you want to supply…)

  • It has to be easy – Consumers already have dozens of apps they have to remember how to use, log into etc. hunting around for that app (what’s it called.. what does the icon look like…)
  • It has to be easy – Having yet another one they use extremely infrequently is a hindrance to improved customer service.
  • It has to be easy – Most people won’t have a shortcut on their home screen, and so will have to hunt for it anyway, or may not even remember that they have installed it!
  • It has to be easy – Utilities love maps. They like showing things on maps and providing the whole picture. Zoomable, draggable with lots of detail, that only they really care about…. Consumers don’t care what’s happening outside their suburb, or even house!. They want information focussed on them, not how many other outages a utility is dealing with or if they are gas or water or electricity.

Over the past 1-2 years web apps have become more powerful, with a greater level of functionality and real-time feedback. You are now able to do things in a web app which could previously only be done in a downloadable app.

Quick! and Easy! – Consumers can click on a link contained within a TXT message or email, or on your website, and hey presto, there is a fully branded app from your utility that allows them to quickly do exactly what they had in mind when they clicked the “report a power outage” or “View Outage details” button.

  • Cost – For the Utility deploying and maintaining a fully functional web app is significantly more cost effective, than managing apps that have to work on different operating  systems, different versions of those, and different phones/phablets/tablets.

So before you get cornered into building an app and have to manage that across platforms and OS versions, just ask: “Why do our customers need another app for outages”?