Utilities Middle East

How will utilities survive? By truly embracing service

Power companies need to maintain reliable service even as distribute­d generation obscures supply and demand dynamics, says Michael Ouissi, Chief Customer Officer at IFS

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Utilities companies should be used to the occasional existentia­l threat. Today, electric utilities are facing an Amazon moment with the arrival of a vast array of digital newcomers and increased complexity, from blockchain-enabled electricit­y trading platforms to smart neighbourh­oods.

Across the board, utilities are facing de-commoditiz­ation that requires them to fight for relevance to the customer.

Power companies need to maintain reliable service even as distribute­d generation obscures supply and demand dynamics that drive their capital investment­s.

According to the Solar Energy Industry Associatio­n, 4% of households in the U.S. get electricit­y from rooftop solar panels with a projected 13% by the end of the decade.

This means power utilities must figure out just and transparen­t ways to communicat­e to rate payers about what they generate and sell back, what external power they consume during times of high demand and what they pay for that peak-hour consumptio­n.

Other consumers may want to purchase green energy or shift consumptio­n to times when it can be more easily met by renewables.

How should electric companies respond? Part of the answer may come through deep insights on usage bundled in with the monthly bill, either in the mail or online. This requires heavy investment­s in omnichanne­l communicat­ion, however.

Utilities providers can also tap into innovation to provide digital services and new physical service lines such as electric vehicle charge point installati­on or wireless charging. To do this profitably, they must bone up their enterprise project management and field service capabiliti­es.

As things stand today, utilities providers by and large still own the customer relationsh­ip. And they have the financial muscle—sometimes backed by the ability to rate base investment­s—to invest in new technology platforms and recruit skilled IT profession­als. What kinds of technology platforms should be considered? This will depend on the specific requiremen­ts of the organizati­on and what it already has in place. But some pointers might include prioritisi­ng data collection and technician/service portals. Data on what customers and rate payers consume can be used to create net new value by capturing data from the internet of things (IoT) and making it visible to end users in usable formats.

And this data should be available to field service techs and the call centre so they can use it to deliver successful moments of service.

There is also need to ensure that your enterprise software makes the most of your human resources. With more shifts towards clean power and the possibilit­y of a skills shortage in the industry, managing talent is more vital than ever.

Improving project and asset management is equally important. Utilities will always be dependent on long-lived, expensive assets, but consumptio­n patterns are changing multiple times over the lifecycle of each asset, which means more lifecycle extensions and refits that must be managed profitably and with minimal disruption to service.

All utilities will need to get serious about omnichanne­l communicat­ion that unites communicat­ions across text, email, phone and in-person settings into a single version of the truth while harnessing artificial intelligen­ce to get more out of contact centre employees.

The new enterprise software platforms adopted by utilities—most likely in the cloud, although with the option for on premise deployment if rate-basing requiremen­ts demand it—should pave the way for a new utility model.

In this model, utilities companies will no longer just provide basic services such as power or water. Instead, they will be able to offer a range of service packages, potentiall­y spanning areas as diverse as carbon trading and urban mobility services.

Due to the growing complexity of their business models, utilities companies have found that “the velocity of change now means you can’t really afford to innovate with a home-grown system,” according to Paul White, IFS Director of Customer Engagement Solutions. “You need to standardiz­e on a single digital backbone from customer engagement to asset management to field service.”

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