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Digital Utilities: More To Them Than Meets The Eye

Having spent a good part of the last two decades working with enterprises in the energy and utilities sector, I’m always surprised when talk about the industry revolves around the following sentiment, or some variation of it: “Digitally speaking, utilities are way behind the curve. Now the pressure is really on to start the process of digitalization.”

The fact is that utilities – those steady, essential businesses that provide us with the power, light, heat and gas that we need to run our lives, not to mention the economy – have been digitally transforming for the past decade. It’s just that you may not have noticed this phenomenon because their digitalization has been about automating processes, meters, or the distribution grids that operate backstage.

Utilities in North America (my patch of the woods) have spent a great amount of effort and resources to digitalize those back-office functions that are not flashy but actually make the next level of digital experience for a consumer utility customer possible. At Hansen, we know this because our people have been incrementally innovating in their operational systems for a long time.

Some examples include implementing smart meters (electricity and water) and meter data management (MDM) systems; field service workforce management systems; billing system upgrades; and complex billing tools to manage the smart-meter pricing algorithms.

I will concede that utilities are behind the curve when it comes to providing the type of digital customer experience that you get from an Amazon or a Netflix. The key difference, and the thing that utilities are now striving to provide, is that every part of the experience is decidedly digital and can be personally experienced over our mobile devices. Examples include service activation, monitoring and managing your usage, viewing your bills and bill history, making payments, notifying utilities of outages, and shopping for new price plans or products. That’s the next frontier for utilities.

While the challenge to become the next digital experience provider will take time, I believe the foundations to provide those next digital experiences are already present in most North American utilities. There’s a strong desire to transition to a digital future and I will enjoy the process of helping utilities reach their goals.

John Baksa,
President, Americas Utilities