ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Ah, the good old days.

"Think about the original data center. It was the once-a-month meter reading. That was really the one data point you had on your members," said Jasper Schneider, vice president, member and industry, at NISC.

"You'd send them a bill. That would be your one engagement opportunity with the member."

Today, AMI and smart meters generate "8,640 pieces of data every single month," Schneider told a Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives NET 2018 session. "It's just incredible."

As overwhelming as it seems to many electric cooperatives, Schneider said it can't be ignored.

"We have an obligation to our member-owners to use that data, and to use it for their gain," he said. "That doesn't mean selling it to a third party. It means using it to increase efficiencies, using it to increase engagement, using it to design rates. There's a whole host of things that we have to figure out, because this data is as valuable as anything else that we have as co-ops."

Schneider—who served as acting administrator of the Rural Utilities Service in 2014 and 2015—said there's a wealth of information that co-ops can include on bills, including comparing energy use to neighbors and to homes of similar sizes, and the impact of weather.

"There's a lot of different information that you can put into a bill to not only increase that engagement experience, but also to have a broader conversation with members besides 'this is what you owe us,'" said Schneider.

Looking toward the future of the electric utility industry, Schneider questioned whether the old benchmark of success—kilowatt-hour sales—remains valid.

"Or is it going to have to be something new, like engagement, or that switch to be an energy services provider? Because if we don't figure out that question as an industry, a lot of companies will try to get between you and your members and will quickly win over that space."

For those still skeptical, Schneider noted that rideshare services Uber and Lyft maintain a wealth of data on customers, including names, trips they've taken and credit card numbers.

"They have so many data points on you that improve their relationship with you, and also you with them," said Schneider.

Cabs, on the other hand, "essentially have one data point on you: They know where you're going."

"Uber and Lyft are winning the war against taxi companies because of data," said Schneider, who asked co-ops to look in the mirror.

"The utility industry as we know it today: Are we the Uber or are we the cab?"