19 September 2019


Wholesale / Distribution Grid Operations Off-grid Asset management software

Harnessing Off-Grid Device Data to Strengthen Last-Mile Distribution

Author: Angaza

In the effort to increase energy access in emerging markets, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) distribution of off-grid products, like solar lights, is a game-changer. While PAYG distribution helps break down the affordability barrier for consumers by enabling them to purchase products through installment payments, it also adds a layer of complexity to distributors’ business model. One of the factors that create this complexity is after-sales care, a vital component of the PAYG business model with a unique set of challenges. 

Challenges in After-Sales Care

PAYG consumer financing creates an extended distributor-client relationship beyond the initial sale, as the client repays the device loan over time. Throughout this loan period, distributors need to respond to client needs, deploy personnel to collect payments, and troubleshoot device issues. For instance, if a product stops functioning as intended, the client is often unable to correctly diagnose and troubleshoot the issue. A technician, therefore, has to travel to a rural village to assess the situation and address it — even when the problem is a simple user error, such as a shaded solar panel, that the client could have adjusted on their own. That is, of course, dependent on whether the client alerts their distributor about the product issue in the first place.

Without the data to enhance after-sale care, poor-quality client experiences can increase the amount of delayed or defaulted payments from clients, decrease clients’ likelihood of future purchases, and raise distributors’ operational costs. 


Smart Devices Enhance After-Sales Care

Smart devices can play a pivotal role in enhancing after-sales care. They automatically capture and send highly structured and reliable data on device performance and status to distributors. That data can then be analyzed to detect whether a device is actually malfunctioning or whether it is just being used incorrectly, enabling distributors to more accurately troubleshoot problems. Smart devices can also report on installation locations, providing valuable data that distributors can use to evaluate sales density and better allocate resources and plan for expansion.

Enhancing Distributor and Client Experiences

Distributors can seamlessly unlock the power of smart devices by using different end-to-end IoT solutions, such as IoT by Angaza. Smart devices that are enabled with IoT by Angaza can provide powerful data and analytics to distributors on the Angaza Hub platform, helping them to improve their operations and client experience. With IoT by Angaza, distributors can get near-to-real-time updates on device health and location, receive tamper alerts, and enable remote updates of their sold products. 

For instance, when a device doesn’t perform correctly or isn’t used as intended, IoT by Angaza uses advanced analytics to automatically detect the issue from the smart device data received from each unit. An alert is generated on the Angaza Hub, identifying where the issue originated and how long it has persisted. Distributors can then choose the best course of action, such as calling the client to inform them their panel needs more direct sunlight or deploying a technician to replace a faulty battery.

Alerts enable distributors to attend to problems before their clients realize there is one, improving clients’ experience with their distributors and their purchased devices. And, in the rare case that the smart device firmware needs upgrading, this can be handled smoothly and efficiently. Because they can update the devices remotely, distributors can avoid traveling to the field to manually update the devices. 

Thanks to the powerful data and remote updates that such IoT solutions provide, these smart devices can help distributors not only gain insights into product performance, but also improve their operational efficiency, reduce costs, and increase client satisfaction. 

Additional Advances in Data Analytics

Solutions like IoT by Angaza are helping distributors provide better after-sales care that forges stronger relationships with clients and streamlines business operations. Additional advances in device data and analytics can help the PAYG sector further enhance distribution management. Take, for example, leveraging location data. 

Distributors can geographically map device patterns, such as alerts about solar panels, to prioritize which regions technicians should service first. Additionally, geofencing can act as a deterrent to theft by triggering an alert when the device moves outside of a given geographical range. How other stakeholders will harness off-grid device data will be a fascinating development in last-mile distribution to keep an eye out for.

This article was created in preparation for Unlocking Solar Capital Africa. Be the first to know when the new edition will be held by signing up for updates.