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Friday, June 18, 2010

Hohm Improvement.

I’m trying hard to use Microsoft Hohm, but someone is making it difficult.

Hohm is a home energy management service with a lot of potential to help people understand more about their energy use through measurement & analysis and change
their behavior to save money & be a better steward of natural resources.

What makes it “work” is data – specifically a periodic intake of the electricity & natural gas usage information from your home.

The theory goes that Microsoft connects with your local gas & energy supplier, who feeds monthly usage data to the service, and the analysis begins.

The problem is, neither my energy nor my gas provider is linked. When I first signed up for an account, I got a message that Hohm was connecting with new providers by the day. All I had to do was wait and mine would surely get onboard. Half a year later, they’re still not connected, and wanting to see how the service works and realize its benefits, I’ve started inputting my own bill information, manually.

I emailed each of Hohm, KCP&L (my power company) and Atmos Energy (natural gas) to see whether they were working on a linkage that would enable the service to work for me. I received only one response, from KCP&L, stating that they were evaluating a linkage, but had no commitment planned. They pointed me to some helpful energy-saving tips on their website.

There’s plenty of blame to share on this one. (Even ingnoring the fact that hat two of the three inexcusably declined to answer me at all.)

Of course, there is no incentive for my natural gas and power companies to link to a service that allows customers to analyze reduce their energy usage – it represents customers tracking their usage and making better decisions - essentially money out of their pocket. I don’t know which is worse – that the regionally monopolistic utilities so blatantly ignore the desires of their customers or that Hohm didn't have the foresight to see that the main value their new service provides required input of outside parties and working with them ahead of launch to gain their support.

I’m guessing I’m a lead user of Hohm – at least in my market. Microsoft should know that lead users of services aren’t typically as forgiving as they are for software products, where they’ll often tolerate, point out and even help fix problems. With a service, if the process doesn’t work and the customer has no way to fix it, there can’t be a successful encounter. If the failure looks unfixable – as it does in this case with the providers unwilling to connect – the customer will likely abandon it entirely, rather than live with something substandard while they “work out the bugs”.

If your service depends on an intermediary or a 3rd party for fulfillment, make sure that it offers more than a reduction in revenue for them, and if you haven’t fully worked out connectivity processes, don’t launch beyond where you have.