The Digital Utility: Harnessing Data-Driven Enterprise Transformation

Rodger Smith, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Oracle Utilities
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Rodger Smith, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Oracle Utilities

Rodger Smith, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Oracle Utilities

Today’s utility industry business climate is ripe for digital transformation. A new regulatory environment, increasing operational performance and customer demands, and the attractive economics of digitalization all paint a compelling picture for incorporating digital technologies into the utility enterprise.

Digital connection is now the norm in the business-customer experience. The new digital environment offers utilities the opportunity to explore value-added services for its customers, and truly transform the utility-customer experience. On the operations side, the digitalization of plant and T&D assets provides new opportunities for proactive maintenance and performance improvement. Digital technologies provide utilities with the increased real-time visibility, flexibility, automation and control needed to increase efficiency and respond more quickly to changing grid needs, both with traditional generation and new edge-of-grid energy resources.

  A digital utility will not have information silos, but instead, fluid integration between all systems and processes, allowing the free flow of information between operations and customer care 

But, while there is an increased will to adopt digital transformation, the move is a major generational shift requiring each utility to examine the myriad opportunities available to them, consider how best to navigate the impacts on the organization, and decide where best to start.

Three focus areas of digital transformation

For the utility enterprise, there are three core areas in which digital transformation occurs: within the customer experience, within the workplace, and in technology and information.

Typically, the digital experience starts with customer communication, as numerous technologies are readily available, and customers have increased expectations in this area (thanks to their digital experiences with other industries). It has now become critical that utilities move to leverage omni-channel engagement with their customers, providing them with a more seamless utility experience.

Then, learning from its advances in customer experience, the maturing digital utility will begin to deploy similar technologies within the workplace, uncovering new ways to work by leveraging improvements in access to information, process automation and integrated business processes. There are enormous opportunities here to transform how work is completed: machine-to-machine communication allows for increases in productivity, and processes can become more system-driven.

Finally, as utilities transition from reactive to proactive use of information, and rely more heavily on analytics, they will require more advanced, integrated technology to support the new role of information and share it freely across technology systems, taking advantage of the full business value of the data. Digital transformation isn’t just about new software applications—it’s all about rebuilding the technology infrastructure, and deciding what end-to-end platform you are going to use to effect digital change across the entire utility enterprise.

What does utility digital transformation look like?

Let’s focus on the specifics around digital transformation on a utility level, using examples from the three focus areas noted above.

From a customer experience perspective, digital transformation will play out in three key areas. In billing and account management, the utility will provide an interactive billing experience with usage alerts and recommendations, moving ultimately to customized, web-based bill views as well as tailored rating packages and automated alerts for better rate plans based on customer usage. To better engage with customers, the utility will begin to leverage detailed segmentation for a targeted, customized customer experience.

The utility will be able to leverage its 360-degree view of each customer to serve as a customer experience curator, enabling third-party providers to connect with the customer via the utility. Service delivery will change, including priority-based appointment booking and proactive organization of field resources to serve customers, culminating in the ability to predict customer needs and influence buying decisions and expand service offerings.

Workplace transformation will take place primarily in the areas of training, processes and field and remote work. Employee training will be digitized and pushed to employees on demand as part of a continual improvement process, and digitization will bring about integrated, real-time communication of information between service reps, field crews and customers, often using the same systems. Processes, too, will change as digital processes throughout the business will enable expanded job knowledge and algorithms are used extensively to optimize processes automatically. Ultimately, this will result in automation transforming complex work processes, with automated processes delivering on-demand job knowledge.

Field and remote work, already changing (thanks to digital technology), will continue to transform. A visual record of all field work will become a standard; augmented reality will make remote work common; mobile devices will influence all field work; and wearable devices will be central to many field work processes.

The transformation of information and technology within the utility will be profound. A digital utility will not have information silos, but instead, fluid integration between all systems and processes, allowing the free flow of information between operations (for network management) and customer care. Digital information tracking and management will have moved to the cloud, and all business decisions will be driven by real-time data. Standardization of processes will have become a priority, and will drive best-of-breed IT system selection. Cloud deployment will expand to all systems, and system upgrades will be automatic, immediately delivering the latest capabilities.

Does this sound more like the utility of 2030? It’s not: the future utility is digital, and it’s happening right now.

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