Innovation in the Hera Group
The customer experience project to improve customer relations
The activities relating to the customer experience project, launched in 2015, are nearing completion. The project aims to reduce the gap between the service provided by the Hera Group and customer expectations.
Many important projects were implemented in 2017. The most noteworthy are:
- implementation of digital signing at counters, to support the digitalization of documentation: customers can already sign contracts digitally on tablets at the Ravenna and Ferrara branches, in 2018 it will be extended to other branches;
- completion of the “new language” project, aimed at improving customer relations, which involved all front-end structures, both inside and outside the company. The project will continue in 2018 by involving back office structures and the reviewing the current knowledge management tool.
- the launch of the new “My Hera” app to manage supplies on the go, and the update of the On-Line Services, now also available for the Triveneto region. In 2018, we plan to integrate the information systems of the companies acquired in Abruzzo, to further extend the number of customers who can benefit from them;
- implemented a text messaging function that reminds customers of appointments for gas, water and electricity services.
Social innovation: The Heureka+ Project
Heureka+, launched at the end of 2016, is a social innovation platform in which all employees can forward their proposals and also jointly develop an idea with their colleagues, contribute to ideas or vote on the proposals of others. Ultimately, the Heureka+ platform permits direct and immediate interaction among employees to contribute to the Group’s development and innovation.
To fine-tune the focus of the proposals, the Heureka+ platform has been organised into areas or “challenges”. During 2017, 3 challenges were launched, for which a total of 79 ideas were proposed:
- the first challenge started in 2016 and ended in 2017 and concerned the communication/promotion of the Hera brand towards external stakeholders and employees (36 ideas);
- the second challenge concerned the reduction of Hera Group’s consumption by implementing energy efficiency improvement initiatives (26 ideas);
- the third challenge concerned the circular economy (17 ideas).
In total, 381 comments were received and 1,439 votes were cast for the three challenges.
At the date of approval of this Sustainability Report, 6 proposals had already been implemented:
- PattumiHerapop: transformation of waste bins into “street furniture” objects through decorations made by artists;
- The market in Hera: organization of a market with stalls of producers from our area (hosted at Hera’s offices);
- Time to go to school: creation of teaching materials with the Hera logo made of recycled material to give to schools;
- Skype: use of Skype for meetings and document sharing;
- Electronic payroll: pat slips sent electronically;
- Hera social: New profile Hera social network.
In addition, 8 other proposals are currently being implemented:
- Data steward: introduction of the Data Steward figure for data management;
- Customer app: Creation of an app to allow customers to photograph their meter for self-reading;
- Hybrid cars: renewal of the car fleet with hybrid cars;
- Car sharing app: A web application similar to Blablacar for publishing or viewing car sharing opportunities between Hera locations;
- Office 365 in the Cloud: Install Office 365 to manage email in the cloud;
- Signature of contracts: introduce a system that allows customers to sign contracts immediately;
- Smart working: possibility to work at a location other than the assigned one;
- Heracover: making covers for mobile phones with environmentally sustainable materials.
Lastly, one other idea is being examined further or undergoing a feasibility study:
- A coat for water meters: design, creation of a thermal insulation to cover water meters to prevent breakage from frost.
Three new challenges will be launched during 2018, including one on health and safety.
Innovative projects in the integrated water service
The “Ultrasonic sludge hydrolysis system” project was developed after research carried out in 2017 to identify new technologies to optimize the water cycle and dispose of the sludge from urban wastewater treatment.
The ultrasonic sludge hydrolysis system requires that a part of the thickened sludge from the sewage treatment process (20-50%) is subjected to sound waves which, by cavitation of the liquid to be treated generate a cellular breakdown which makes more of volatile solids available for biodegradation, increasing biogas production and reducing the final dry matter in the sludge and thus reducing its volume.
During 2018, the aim is to test the applicability of technology in the Group’s treatment plants.
Smart working project
In 2017, following an in-depth benchmark with other companies and the enactment of Law 81/2017 on agile work, we launched the “Smart Working” project, which brings together four different aspects: behaviours and organizational culture, technologies, time and workspaces. The project’s objective is to promote productivity and work effectiveness, to use new approaches to work, rethink collaborative and teamwork methods, seize the opportunities that technologies and the layout of spaces can offer people, finding a better balance between work and private life and privileging flexibility, autonomy, trust and accountability (of people and also of their managers).
The project focused on several aspects:
- Remote Working;
- working in places other than the usual place of work (for eligible employees);
- rethinking workspaces to make them more usable and better suited to working requirements;
- information and training provided on technological tools in relation to the activities to be carried out.
Under the project, the approach chosen to implement the Remote Working initiatives, included the activation of 6 pilot projects in several business areas to monitor their application in view of a subsequent broader wider application.
The trial (from October 2017 to March 2018) was started in the following areas:
- Quality, Safety and Environment Directorate of Hera SpA;
- Commercial and Marketing Directorate of Hera Comm;
- Sales Directorate of Herambiente;
- Information Systems Directorate of Hera SpA;
- Information systems of AcegasApsAmga;
- Information systems of MarcheMultiservizi;
At the start of the project, several in-depth training sessions were held on Smart Working issues, to raise a correct awareness of the matter and present the model and application methods that Hera has chosen to adopt. Specific training sessions were also held on IT tools, with voluntary participation.
As part of the pilot projects, a survey was carried out to launch the initiatives, which will be repeated in the first quarter of 2018, in order to identify the differences in terms of expected benefits and expectations. In addition, as part of the listening initiatives, in February 2018 specific focus groups (for managers and collaborators) will be organised to identify indications and good practices following the application of Remote Working, which took place during the months of the pilot project.
The project has encouraged the “smart” redesign of some spaces within the Group’s facilities, as well as setting up temporary offices in the main areas.
Since 2015, some Hera employees have been meeting periodically to study and develop small projects to improve and increase the efficiency of working tools, and to introduce innovations. They have already carried out a series of activities, while others are ongoing.
The initiatives carried out in 2017 include:
- completing the project to provide Wi-Fi coverage at all of the Group’s main sites;
- the creation and launch of an internal app for employees to facilitate the use of a series of services for employees (booking of meeting rooms, purchase request approval, reporting of near misses, voice communication requests…);
Ongoing initiatives include:
- virtual receptions for managing visitor access to Hera sites through remotely connected operators;
- the implementation of new technologies applied to company badges;
the introduction of highly reliable systems that ensure operational communications in the event of emergencies that make regular voice transmission networks unavailable.
With HER@futura, the Group has started a process to develop a culture favourable to digital technology and widespread know-how on these issues, also strengthening vertical and cross-functional skills.
The first phase of the project involved creating a survey, based on an online gaming path and aimed at exploring the Group’s propensity for Digital, Data Analytics, Smart Working and ICT topics.
The level of participation in the initiative was approximately 60% of the entire company population, 76% considering the resources with company email. Initial evidence shows enthusiasm and willingness to embrace digital innovation and the benefits it will bring to the world of work. There is also a widespread propensity to work with flexibility, agility and adaptability, which are essential to encourage smarter working methods.
The next steps include a training and application programme differentiated by channel, target and content, aimed at strengthening basic skills and managerial approach, and increasing the speed and effectiveness of corporate projects in the digital environment.
Hera, Iren, and Smat together to improve the integrated water service
In 2014 Hera, Iren and Smat signed a 5-year partnership agreement to carry out applied research to develop joint research, innovation and training projects in the sectors and activities related to the integrated water service.
Subsequently, the activities were regulated and the first projects for the 2015-2016 period were identified, within the following subject areas:
- potable water treatment and purification treatment processes;
- analysis by specialist laboratories, online measurement systems, innovative sensors;
- development of remote control systems, expert systems and modelling.
Three projects were defined and then implemented for each area, each of which coordinated by one of the three companies but jointly developed by all.
The common denominator each of the projects had, was the industrial development of techniques and systems to optimize the efficiency of networks and plants, so as to reduce their management costs, and/or to improve their operational performance.
The last activities related to these projects were completed in 2017. The topics of interest for the projects of the 2017-2018 period were also defined and started. The three projects concern:
- breakage of aqueduct networks: analysis and decision support systems;
- integrated environmental modelling used to assess the impact of intense weather events to support the management of urban drainage networks;
- recovery of material from the urban wastewater treatment cycle: struvite.
Besides in-depth examination of the specific issues of each project, sharing the diverse experiences and approaches helps the Hera Group critically analyse the methods used, with reference to its own modus operandi and to structure a network of relationships – both within the companies and with the relevant external qualified partners – that will surely be very useful even after the end of the projects.
Waste Management Services System: Information technology for waste management services
During the year, the “Hergo CDR” project was implemented, thus completing the scope of services managed under an integrated approach, and anticipating some functions in view of the “Quantity-Based Tariff” project. The roll-out of the 130 CDRs managed by Hera SpA will be completed by April 2018.
The Location Business Intelligence project has been designed and is now available for use by the Group. According to the analyses carried out, this project will evolve further in 2018.
Digitalization for our customers
Il Rifiutologo (the Wasteologist), an app for separate waste collection and more: 95,000 residents use it!
Il Rifiutologo is a free app with several features, available both online on Hera’s website and as apps for smartphones and tablets. As of 31 December 2017, the number of downloads reached over 184,200 and there are almost 95,600 active users, proving the usefulness of the tool. In 2017, internal work was carried out to make the Rifiutologo an increasingly interactive tool, able to provide residents with the real time status of waste management services, geolocalised for each territorial area. It is a great change for the service information that will be made available to residents through the new customer site, as well as with the new release of the app, planned for spring of 2018. The breakdown of all each service information within the new system will make it possible to find out about the individual services offered (e.g. eco-mobiles, cooking oil collection stations, location of mini underground islands…) and to view the door-to-door collection schedules, so as to be always updated on the individual services in real time. In addition, the “environmental reporting” feature is expected to be even easier to use. Residents will be able to use it to send customized messages or real time georeferenced pictures to Hera’s staff to point out problems with the waste management services and/or request action, and correspondingly receive a report when the issue has been dealt with.
In 2017, 29,840 (+51% compared to 2016) reports were sent concerning emptying bins, cleaning roads and removing abandoned waste; 5,660 suggestions were sent on new types of waste to be added to the database (+34% compared to 2016). The “Scan barcode” feature is also quite popular. It helps the user recognize materials by scanning the barcode printed on products and shows how to properly dispose of each package, by accessing an archive that as of 31 December 2017 includes 1,300,000 barcodes of the most widely used products. For packages made of multiple materials, the app can provide instructions on where to dispose of each component. If a code is not recognized, or a type of waste is missing, the resident can report it via the Rifiutologo so that it can be added to the system: in 2017 there were 7,529 reports of bar codes sent by residents to update the database compared to 11,850 in 2016. The searches carried out by scanning barcodes grew from 104,081 in 2016 to 282,804 in 2017.
With the Acquologo, the entire water service is smartphone-accessible
The Acquologo (The Waterologist), released in July 2016, is a free application on the local water service for residents who live in the areas served by Hera. It provides many useful features for users, from self-meter reading to checking data on the quality of the water in their municipality, and includes alerts for water network interruptions for ordinary maintenance work and reporting breakage or leakage of water on public land.
In 2017, the application was downloaded 11,159 times for a total of 44,223 accesses. Residents with Hera bills can use the Acquologo to report their actual water consumption by easily reporting their meter reading and in 2017 5,420 readings were sent in using this system.
Hera manages the water service, providing good drinking water for its customers, that is complaint with regulatory requirements and carefully monitors the entire drinking water supply chain. To confirm this, users can use the Acquologo to consult the main quality data (average values) of the water supplied for each of the municipalities served by the multiutility, comparing them with the regulatory limits. In addition to this function, the application also shows the savings generated by the drinking tap water instead of bottled water. And to contact experts with questions and inquiries about the local water service or the read answers to frequently asked questions on the subject, see the “Experts answer” section. In 2017 there were 58,823 accesses to the Aquologist pages on quality, 8370 views of specific qualitative data and 23 requests for further information through the “Expert answers” service.
Experimentally, in Bologna, the app can also be used to report major water leaks due to breakage of pipes under the road surface. After taking a picture and adding a brief text, users can send the report directly to Hera’s Emergency Service. By using geolocation, the system can rapidly detect the location of the report and provide it to the service personnel who will go to the site. During 2017, 190 reports were made using the app (photographic reports and calls to the toll-free number).
My Hera is a new, completely free, app dedicated to residential customers to enable them to manage all their services, as well as to access information on the services offered by the company. My Hera was designed to be an easy and immediate tool for customers to use. Users can also customize the content by deciding which parts to focus on.
All the functions can be accessed from the My Hera homepage:
- pay bills online and consult the bills archive;
- perform self-meter reading;
- monitor the trend and detail of consumption;
- display the nearest drop-off points and Hera Points on the map;
- access the “Rifiutologo” and “Acquologo” apps;
- discover commercial offers and new initiatives;
- request electronic billing;
- activate direct debit payment;
My Hera is also an additional channel to contact the company, since customers can:
- receive contract, bill and payment assistance;
- activate the bulky waste collection service;
- make environmental reports;
- alert emergency services operators if a network problem occurs.
Digi e lode
For the Hera Group it is important to prioritize innovation and digitalization, starting with its own services: development of On-Line Services, creation of interactive apps for customers and residents, and promotion of dedicated digital channels and services.
Digi e Lode is the project that brings together customers and the company to digitize schools in the area by promoting Hera’s digital services under the patronage of municipalities. The Group wants to make this contribution to the development of the territory, in continuity with the company’s strategies that identify innovation as one of the key points and in line with the objectives set by the UN Global Agenda in 2030.
Specifically, the project finances school digitalization projects for first-degree public and state-authorized primary and secondary schools in the Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Forlì-Cesena, Ravenna and Rimini areas with Euro 100,000 for their digitalization projects. Every time a customer activates one of the digital services offered by the Hera Group, it donates 1 point that can be assigned to a specific school (in this case multiplied by 5) or distributed among the schools of the customer’s Municipality. During the 2017/18 school year, the Hera Group will award the 40 schools (with Euro 2500 per school) in the territory that has reached the highest score.
The digital services of the Hera Group that contribute to the project are:
- On-line services, to manage services on the website;
- Information and support apps for virtuous behaviours (Acquologo and Rifiutologo);
- Service app (My Hera) for fast and easy management of contracts;
- Electronic billing, to receive it quickly and ecologically;
- Direct debit, to pay bills easily and on time;
- Digital self-meter reading (using On Line Services, the app, SMS or on the phone with automatic answering system);
- Hera Fast Check Up, to be supported in reducing gas and electricity waste.
The evolution of the gas meter with Hera
The innovation proposed by Hera involves a piece of equipment for measuring the consumption of residential gas customers. The current devices, introduced by AEEGSI resolution 554/2015, makes it possible to stop the supply of gas but cannot be used to identify potentially dangerous conditions.
The innovation proposed by Hera is a device for measuring the consumption of gas customers which, as well as the regular monitoring of consumption, also makes it possible to check the working conditions of the gas supply system and to intervene autonomously in the event of anomalies, both automatically and controlled by the customer. Anomalies can be caused by earthquakes or by irregular network conditions in the user’s internal system or in the public distribution system.
By checking the gas pressure and flow data, the device can intervene, blocking the supply of gas using the solenoid valve. Once corrective action has been taken it can perform a test to check that the user system is intact.
Multi-service smart metering: remote management solutions to serve our customers
In 2017, the multi-service smart metering test launched by AEEGSI (now ARERA, Regulating Authority for Energy Networks and Environment) was completed with Resolution 393/2013/R/gas. In the corresponding economic/qualitative ranking, Hera’s project was first among those that were actually implemented. To do this, the Group has built a remote reading infrastructure for over 13,000 points of supply for gas, drinking water, electricity, district heating and waste collection services in the city of Modena. Particular attention is focused on the role of users, who were provided with a website, which is also accessible from mobile devices, that makes it possible to monitor their daily consumption and, in the event of anomalies, to be notified via a text message.
The technical experience obtained with this project has helped us acquire the know-how required to implement large-scale remote measurement services. In addition to remote gas readings, that are fully developed throughout Hera Group’s area, the same technologies have been used to develop the infrastructure of the new quantity-based tariff for waste collection in Ferrara.