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Utility Digitalization: The Pressure is Rising

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

While I would agree that the pressure is on, the fact is that utilities – those steady, essential businesses that provide us with electricity, gas, and water that we need to run our lives – have been digitally transforming for the past decade. It’s just that many may not have noticed this phenomenon because their digitalization experience has been about automating processes, meters, or distribution grids that operate backstage.

Utilities in North America have spent a great amount of effort and resources digitalizing business operational functions that are not flashy, but make the next level of digital experience for a consumer utility customer possible. I know this because my colleagues and I have been incrementally innovating our customers’ business 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 usage, viewing bills and bill history, making payments, notifying utilities of outages, and shopping for new price plans or products. Investor owned and municipal utilities and energy providers will bring more digital experience improvements as part of the next frontier of digitalization.

Is the current pressure greater than ever to digitalize utilities? Yes, and for two reasons.

First, the effects of the utility transition are starting to take hold and automation of business processes is even more of a necessity. For example, Community Solar (and other renewable energy projects) and the automation of managing the use of our critical water resources more efficiently is accelerating.

Second, large-scale digitalization projects, in both energy and water utilities, are costly and prone to failure if the goals, risk management assessment, services, software systems, and partners/stakeholders are not aligned. Thus, the pressure to deliver digitalization happens amid trying to ensure success of the endeavor when multiple parties – software, services, partners – are part of the process.

I believe the foundation to provide these next digital experiences are already present in most North American utilities. There are new digitalization frontiers to reach – with careful planning and working with trusted business partners they are well within reach.

 

John Baksa, Hansen President, Americas Utilities

 

Originally published by TMG Consulting in “What’s Next 2021: The State of the Digital Utility”