Digital is one of the common buzzwords in the market. It combines capabilities of the latest and greatest technology stack, like social, mobile, analytics and the Cloud (SMAC), the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and virtual reality and, most importantly, amplifies them by encompassing a seamlessly connected enterprise experience.
With latest reports showing 4.7 billion mobile users, 3 billion people on the Internet, 1.7 billion Facebook™ users and 1 billion WhatsApp™ users, digital undoubtedly has already been incorporated into our daily life and work routines.
Digital is changing the world and enterprises all over the world have been gearing up to embrace this new way of doing things. Utilities, too, cannot afford to be unaffected by the digital evolution. However, with utilities carrying a tag of being late adopters of the latest technology changes, it would be thought-provoking to evaluate the impact of digital on them.
This article delves into this phenomenon of digital and its impact on utilities.
The Meaning of Digital
Digital doesn’t mean just a technology change. Nor does digital mean implementing a technical solution based on some latest technologies, such as SMAC, IoT, etc.
Digital is about the end to end experience of a connected enterprise. Digital means transforming the complete value chain of an enterprise to make all interactions digital. The value chain here is not just limited to, or within, the enterprise. It includes all stakeholders of the enterprise, such as employees, suppliers, customers, contractors, partners, etc.
Digital means a completely different way of doing business with a different experience. For utilities, this could mean a seamless experience of a consumer changing a retailer in a few minutes, starting from an easier online comparison of tariffs and ending with a new account created. This could mean a field technician completing a field inspection report using WhatsApp™, rather than filling in data on bulky screens on a mobile device. This could mean a complete automation of utilities’ dispatch centers, making them unmanned.
Therefore, digital is not about embracing a particular technology or a technology stack. Digital is not about process automation. Digital is about having an experience beyond the technologies by adopting a strategic design enabled by artificial intelligence. Many are already experiencing digital in their everyday life, with Uber™, Airbnb™ and driverless cars some of the examples.
Utilities’ Response to Digital
Are utilities slow? Yes. They are because they are regulated. They provide essential services and impact everyday lives of human beings on this earth. As such, any disruptive change in the way utilities work can have significant negative impact. Hence, utilities have to be cautious before they embrace any new disruptive technology. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that utilities are laggard. Utilities were the early adopters of various technologies, like field mobility, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, etc.
Utilities also have an interesting situation. They have an aging workforce catering to a much younger customer base. The average age of utilities’ employees is 45, while, as some statistics indicate, the median human age is around 30; developing countries are on the lower side and developed countries are on the upper side. Younger customers embrace newer technology much faster, which keeps them connected all the time. These connected customers have very different expectations. They form their opinions based on peer recommendations, they learn through collaborations, they don’t rely that much on advertisements and they are not too gung ho on customer loyalty. In order to connect with them, utilities need to respond to them accordingly.
The smart meter has probably been the first step in digital, but it should not be limited to just reading and controlling meters remotely. Smart meters should help both customers and suppliers understand the consumption pattern to arrive at a better tariff plan.
The next step should be connecting appliances with networks for a cost-effective, safe, reliable and secure network, resulting into auto selecting the best tariff plan. There are websites today that compare prices, allowing customers to make easy switches for their energy provider. So, customer relationship is taking a backseat, with price and user experience being at the forefront.
Also, today’s and tomorrow’s field technicians will need a different experience to deal with enterprise applications. So far, they are being asked to use the bulky applications that traditionally and historically have been developed to solve complex business problems. New generation employees find these difficult to use and want a user experience they are used to in their everyday life. They need collaborative working that lets them interact with their peers, coworkers, supervisors and crew leads in a quick and effective manner, rather than transacting on an application in a traditional manner.
Today’s field force wants an experience that can be like Facebook™, Google Maps™ and WhatsApp™, where they can navigate, post, like, dislike and forward, rather than save, delete, apply, or approve transactions. While interacting online, they would like to see a photo of the person, online status, role, etc. They would like to chat online and solve the problems, rather than save and send a work order in a workflow. These digital enhancements give them a different experience. It moves them away from a monotonous user interface to a collaborative experience, thus increasing efficiency and productivity.
Digital has the potential to become the lifeblood of the utilities value chain. For utilities, the time is ripe. Forward-thinking utilities are already investing in digital. Adopting cutting-edge technologies require investment, but an investment in technology, if implemented keeping business benefits in mind, can provide multifold benefits. Remember, digital is not about architecting and deploying a technology solution. Digital is about designing an enterprise experience. Today’s and tomorrow’s consumers belong to Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. For them, digital is mainstream, owing to their exposure toward everything online.
Digital transformation requires fundamental change in enterprise experience to achieve operational excellence throughout the entire enterprise. Personalized experience, rapid deployment, operational agility and combining people, process and technology are some of the traits to enable a digital utility.
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