On April 5th, 2018, the Enel Group partnered with the startup Pedius to become the first energy company to make its telephone services fully accessible. Pedius is a mobile application that enables the deaf and hearing-impaired to make phone calls without the use of intermediaries. The dual initiative, which was launched as part of Enel’s support and caring effort, stemmed from the need to solve the challenge of fully integrating people who are hard of hearing in order to facilitate effective communication both in their homes and in their work environments.
Internally, the collaboration with Pedius aims to fully integrate Enel employees by enabling them to make calls, interact with the Group’s call centre, as well as take part in Skype conferences. Externally, the introduction of this initiative offers telephone services to the deaf, whether they are current customers, or potential customers who may be interested in getting information about Enel’s services.
Lorenzo Di Ciaccio, the founder of Pedius, first came up with the idea while watching a television interview with a deaf man who was unable to contact emergency services after a car accident. Lorenzo recalls thinking that it was “absurd that the technology wasn’t available [for Gabriele] to call a tow truck or an ambulance.” Realising that Gabriele was not the only person facing this problem, Lorenzo spent the following six months working tirelessly to develop the technology that would later become Pedius. 2,000 test calls later, Pedius was officially launched in 2013.
Although the technology that makes Pedius work is complex, the use of the app is straightforward; it uses sophisticated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology which converts sounds into text and vice-versa. When making a call, users can either speak or send a text message to the receiver. Pedius converts the message into a voice recording which the call receiver hears. When the receiver speaks their response, Pedius records the reply and converts it into a message for the user to read in real time. The only requirement for using the app is a working internet connection.
While centres such as Relay Services exist in many countries to support those with hearing impairments, these services can be expensive. They also have long wait times and are not always available 24 hours a day. The introduction of Pedius addresses a human need that was previously left unfulfilled – independence, especially in Italy, where there is no official relay service. Lorenzo and his team saw making basic phone calls as the biggest challenge. Lorenzo commented: “[the impact is] usually measured in terms of return of investment, but we measure social return on investment. We measure how much society has gained from our existence.” Currently the app has 20,000 consumers a day using Pedius to make calls to satisfy their basic needs.
Pedius is now launching its service in new markets. Last year it successfully entered the Brazilian market, growing its consumer base to over 4,000 users in less than six months. The next big step is to launch the app in the Chinese market - “[...] our goal of course is not to make money, but to have the biggest impact [on our users] … a significant percentage of the world’s deaf population lives in China, so we should be there.” Last year, Lorenzo and his team spent several weeks pilot-testing the app with 100 users in the market. After the successful app trials, Pedius is now working on creating the best entry strategy and finding partners to launch Pedius in China.
The partnership between Pedius and Enel came about as a result of a survey in which Pedius asked its users which services they needed to access. In addition to things like the health system and emergency services, a majority of respondents commented that they wanted to be able to communicate with their utility providers. Whether users were experiencing issues with their bill, or needed to schedule an appointment with a technician, Pedius realised the potential for addressing their needs and pitched the idea to Enel. Lorenzo connected with Paola Magrini, the Group’s disabilities manager. Lorenzo says: “[Paola’s] job is to find help for the people with disabilities within the company and she was the first person to understand the possible impact for Enel employees. She was our internal sponsor for this project, for the marketing and for the customer care for the call centre.”
While it initially seemed like an unlikely collaboration, Lorenzo found that Enel was a committed partner. The Enel team was very motivated, the project fit in with its ongoing efforts to improve the workplace and make it inclusive for all its employees. Lorenzo recalls that when the initiative was being developed internally, not only did Enel organise technical training to teach operators how the app worked, it also held a seminar on the power of diversity.
After the successful launch of the initiative, Lorenzo is encouraging startups and other companies to consider Enel as partners. He considers Enel as “all-stars in what they do related to innovation” beyond just energy products. He says it’s a company with a very progressive approach to its own evolution.
Since the announcement of the initiative, Pedius has been contacted by other organisations looking to offer similar services to their employees as well as consumers, “now that we are dealing with other companies, our goal and the next big step is to do something similar abroad.” With this initiative, Enel is leading the way on inclusion by bringing the energy sector one step closer to everyone.