With our energy consumption growing, we need to take a step back and look closer at the Utility industry and how industry challenges require a second look into a future-proof digital platform that handles all your data and content needs.
Utility companies currently face multiple challenges that need to be addressed in order to be ready for the next 20 years, and everything needs to be customer focused.
- Production and distribution are changing rapidly, from large central power plants, to distributed production.
- Customers expect retail-like interaction with their utility
- The non-regulated side of business becomes more relevant for growth and profit
We will dig into these points in the next couple paragraphs and then formulate some advice on which technology areas and platforms can enable your digital transformation.
PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION
In the space of electricity, utilities production and distribution has changed a lot over the last 10 years and continues to change dramatically.
Utility Power Generation has shifted away from coal to smaller and more gas-fired power plants. Distributed wind farms have come into the grid and continue to expand. Solar now comes in multiple forms from every customers’ roof, to multiple football fields worth of solar sites. This requires a big adjustment in the distribution grid and power management. The grid needs to be more robust.
Management and predictability of how much power is online and is needed is a much bigger challenge than it was in the past:
- Constantly adding customer-produced energy online
- Expansion of electric car charging stations
- Prediction of energy usage as well as how much energy is available by using more external information (weather, sensors, smart home information, and predictive analysis)
More companies need to focus on managing customer demand through intelligent utility rate plans that drive down peak usage surges. Another key area to focus on is the distribution, it needs more resilience. There are a couple ways to do this:
- Sensors in the grid to report an issue
- Ability to reroute power through different routes without field service work to minimize outages
- Digital surveillance and predictive analysis for maintenance, tree and wire, pipeline inspections with drones
- Digital first field workforce and work order management
All of this needs focus while driving towards cost reduction and an aging workforce.
That is a challenge! But nobody said it would be easy…
At the same time, customers now expect to be able to interact from anywhere with any device at any time while also requiring immediate responses from the utility.
This results in the requirement of more communications based on the customer.
For example, a customer who initiates a move in/move out request on portal, does not want to get a paper letter providing him with a date and time to when the switch on service will be done. A sudden spike in a bill can be handled today by an alert text message or email before the full billing cycle, with useful information such as links and tips on how to mitigate usage for the rest of the month. In conjunction with a smart house, even more detailed information can be provided.
There is a full spectrum of how customers expect to engage with their utility:
- Energy producing customers will probably interact a lot, using utility apps as well as smart home portals, texts and monitoring dashboards, and social media
- Customer with adaptive usage rate plans, need usage and rate information via portals and mobile apps
- Outage management and customer appointments need to be provided through all channels
- Traditional customers who want the classic paper bill, still want information about energy savings and other information, but might use digital payment method
Customer satisfaction is then a result of how well you understand your customer at every touch point and desired frequency.
UTILITIES AS RETAILERS
In this era just delivering electricity, gas or water is not enough. The promotion, partnering and selling of additional products and services around it is key for modern Utilities. Simple examples include the selling of a Nest or Honeywell smart thermostat in conjunction with unusual high bills. Smart appliances, everything around consumption management, but also partnering with solar management and other service providers are key to profitability. Utilities have the advantage of knowing customers usage pattern. Combining this with market customer data can make them the Amazon of energy products. To understand the impact this has on utilities, feel free to click here to view a case study.
HOW CAN MY UTILITY PREPARE FOR THE ACCELERATING CHANGE?
At the infrastructure level, it is important to have solid IT platform that can handle all the below aspects
- A strong adoptive billing system
- A core multi-channel customer service system including website and mobile apps
- A core customer communication platform
- A core content management system
- A digital first work force management and scheduling
- Digital support Asset management
- Retail operations integrated into a shopping site, or run by partners
All these strategic systems need to be fully integrated; data and unstructured content needs to be treated with equal importance and digitally managed.
As customer focus becomes key, much like other industries, the following transformation drivers lead to the right direction.
- Simplifying utility-customer interactions
- Using advanced analytics to process customer data and make interactions personal
- Securing customer loyalty by proactively offering actionable services, products and advice
In the back office, the billing system needs to be able to easily allow the configuration of new products, rate plans, combine regulated and unregulated offerings as well as third party service offerings.
MODERN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Integration and offering new services and products require adding shopping features to your customer portal, or integrating third party offers in the energy saving and alternative energy offerings in your billing system.
Customer requests for work orders need to map with work scheduling, software, Asset Management as well as mobile workforce management software. In all these, businesses process data as well as unstructured content in the form of documents, texts, emails, social media. These notes need to be accessible by any user, and the end-to-end process needs to be digital in order to be efficient and scalable.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Utilities need to decide on a technology stack and pick an ecosystem that provides all aspects by bringing vendors together which have a proven track record to be able to setup an integrated platform and work together.
One of the main utility platforms in the US is SAP with its classic SAP IS-U and the updated SAP C4 Billing system. Customer service is provided via C4 Services, core asset management and work scheduling. S/4 HANA Marketing allows customer analysis, segmentation and predictive functionality. SAP also offers Solution Extensions for Mobile Workforce by Clicksoft, SAP Extended ECM by OpenText (for unstructured data), and SAP Document Presentment (and Digital Documents) by OpenText (for communications).
C4 commerce enables sales functionality and is integrated with the billing services and the customer contract account.
Auritas has a long history in the utility space and can help with guidance into a full digital transformation and information on how the systems work together. We have extensive knowledge in the utility data management space, content and communications areas, as well as end-to-end digital process transformations.
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In the past couple of years we have seen an explosion in data content and systems. We are now at the stage where the pure