Guest Blogger: Frederik Ten Sythoff
Developing a digital mindset in energy utilities: 4 ways to win with the digital natives
(This piece was originally published in Greenbird's blog by Frederik ten Sythoff, Greenbird's Vice President of Communication and Marketing)
The energy landscape is an innovative place right now. There’s an influx of new entrants to the industry bringing with them fresh ideas. It’s exciting, but it’s also a bit scary if you’re one of the established players in the market. The competition is not only coming from startups. Large established companies have also spotted opportunities in the sector, such as car manufacturer Nissan and tech giant Google with their ‘Nest’ offering.
These innovative ‘disruptors’ are meeting a demand from a new generation of energy consumers who bring with them a different set of customer attitudes. These are the digital natives who are used to new models of consumption. They are used to digital-native companies, such as Amazon, Uber, Spotify and Netflix providing on-demand and personalized services.
According to a recent survey, 97% of utility executives think it will be crucial to invest in new technology to meet the expectations of the rising generation expectations. However, it’s not simply a matter of investing in new technology. It requires a totally new attitude to customers and customer experience. It requires a digital mindset. This is an attitude that combines technology and a human focus.
This is no easy task for existing electric utilities that have reached today’s energy landscape from a totally different start-point to disruptive new entrants.
As the Future of Utilities Report, 2019 says, “These connected customers are likely to be prepared to share data in order to access the frictionless, personal and intuitive experiences they have come to expect from leading tech companies. This is, however, a high bar for a sector that serially underperforms in customer satisfaction surveys, with utility companies routinely outranked by banks, retailers and insurance companies.”
Utilities are already exploring opportunities to be more agile, efficient and customer-focused. However, the challenge for most is: how do we use our history and assets while learning from nimbler digital startups? There are tangible lessons to be learned from startups and disruptors in the market; ones that can be harnessed to advance your utility. Established utilities do not need to turn back time and hope to be re-born as digital natives, they can start transforming themselves today.
Here are 4 steps power utilities must take to win over the Digital Natives:
1. Create a Human-Centered Digital Utility
One frequently forgotten aspect of Digital Transformation is that as the world grows more digital, we must put humans first.
There is so much excellent technology available to enhance customer experiences and improve productivity across all parts of an organization. However, it is important to understand that humans need to be at the center of technology, not the other way around.
Businesses with a digital mindset understand this. They do not just throw technology at a problem. They focus on what people are trying to accomplish and then use technology to make that task easier, simpler, and more intuitive by creating frictionless experiences and business processes.
Understanding the customer, the person behind the task is the first essential step to developing a digital mindset.
2. Unify the Digital and Physical Worlds
Breaking down silos between the digital and physical worlds, between online and offline is crucial to developing a digital mindset. Emerging technologies make this easier to achieve.
Digital Twins are an area where utilities are already experimenting. These are virtual copies of a physical asset. Digital Twins can be used to test long-term strategies and infrastructure plans, but they’re increasingly being used by power utilities to provide real-time analysis of grid performance and potential failures.
The Internet of Things (IoT) shows enormous potential for utilities. Connected sensors can provide remote asset monitoring and identify faults. This will improve maintenance and reduce outages and outage duration for customers.
We are only at the beginning of the harmonization process when it comes to utility customer experience. The installation of Smart Meters is the beginning of this journey. These enable the introduction of apps that allow customers greater participation and control over their energy provision. This is the start of a continuous feedback loop where better data enables utilities to improve their understanding of their customers, allowing them to offer more personalized and targeted services.
Research indicates that organizations that use customer insights to create a personalized experience, benefit from repeat customs. It pays to develop a digital mindset.
3. Leverage Data Analytics
Utilities now have vast amounts of data they can draw on when making their decisions, including customer data gathered from Smart Meters; Internet-connected sensors and data collected from Digital Twins. It’s not only their own data utilities have at their fingertips. They can gain additional insights by integrating external data, such as unstructured data on weather patterns. To derive the most benefit from this vast resource, utilities must use data analytics to help make informed business decisions.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) applied to data is a powerful combination. AI helps to process large amounts of data quickly, leading to more accurate insights, more customer-focused innovations and an improved decision-making process.
Advancements in analytics are leading to new developments in preventative maintenance for utilities. Image data from line inspections or drones can be analyzed to detect any deviations associated with wear and tear or broken components. This information can then be given to the maintenance department to help them schedule work orders for preventative maintenance. Leveraging data analytics in this way will cut both the frequency and duration of power outages for customers.
Putting data at the heart of the business strategy is essential to developing a digital mindset and staying one step ahead of the disruptors.
4. Take a Collaborative Approach
A recent study uncovered a stand-out trait of companies who were ‘digitally mature.’ These were companies that had progressed further in their Digital Transformation. These businesses were innovating more and crucially, innovating differently from those whose progress was slower. What was the key difference? They were taking a collaborative approach to innovation. This collaboration was taking place between cross-functional teams within the organization, but also with external companies in what the report describes as ‘digital ecosystems.’ The ability to innovate more rapidly enables companies to keep pace with customer expectations.
This approach is dependent on leveraging data and on data analytics. Collaboration is only possible where data silos are broken down and data can flow between all parts of the ecosystem. The most effective way to achieve this is through a digital integration hub such as Utilihive which can provide a platform for innovation in utility companies. By providing access to data throughout the ecosystem, ideas can be piloted quickly, lessons learned and improvements made in a rapid cycle of innovation.
Taking the First Step to a Digital Mindset
A digital approach can be a major driver for growth and create cost efficiencies. However, it’s a daunting process for established businesses and it’s often hard to know where to start. Common mistakes are to run several projects in isolation and to leave out the human element. Using digital processes and new technologies in silos will not allow them to bring their full potential to the business. Having a digital strategy that recognizes how emerging technologies can fit together is crucial. A Digital Mindset brings together technology and a human-centered focus.
Greenbird offers out-of-the-box system integration for utilities. We are a true DevOps company, delivering unique time-to-market and reliability. We were named a Gartner ‘Cool Vendor’ in 2018 because of our domain-specific and flexible integration capabilities, crucial for creating easy-to-consume integrated solutions. Utilihive empowers utilities to manage their data flow faster and smoother than traditional system integration models while accelerating the journey towards the energy revolution. To learn how you can unleash the value of data while removing silos click here and request your copy of the Utilihive executive brief.