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Get set for the smart revolution

Why North American utilities must harness technology and data to thrive

December 05, 2017

 

 

CloudSense’s John Garofalo, a business growth, strategy and tactics professional with more than 15 years’ global experience in the energy, utility and power industry, takes a look at the growing trends in energy and how harnessing technology and data will enable North American utilities to meet these ever-evolving demands.

Utilities around the world are subject to a surging current of change. (Pun intended.)

Despite North America’s largely regulated energy system, US and Canadian utilities aren’t immune to the factors that are forcing energy providers around the world to reinvent their technology, processes and culture.

It isn’t yet a case of adapt or die – for the foreseeable future, customers big and small will require energy to sait increasing demand.

But, it’s without question a case of adapt to thrive.

The continually increasing wave of digitization, new customer expectations and the prospect of competition from new areas, along with the need to drive efficiencies and meet or exceed regulatory mandates means that if you aren’t evolving, you’ll soon be left behind.

With pressure for businesses and consumers alike to reduce their carbon footprint, utilities are already starting to see a growing revenue gap due to their traditional, sometimes archaic and costly business models.

In order to grow and thrive in this ever-changing environment North American utilities are looking to technology. In particular, the need to focus on how technology can capitalize on the mountains of data available to drive efficiencies and meet customer and regulatory expectations.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fastest growing trends in North American energy and why harnessing technology and data will enable utilities to meet these evolving demands.

Are you ready for the smart revolution?

Smart businesses, smart homes, smart meters, smart appliances, etc. – there’s been a buzz around the application of ‘smart’ technology in utilities and it’s getting louder.

This smart energy revolution is founded on among other things, the smart grid. This ongoing modernization of the archaic energy infrastructure is set to transform the energy grid and utilities with the same technologies and ideas that powered the internet, promising better reliability, affordability and efficiency in the process.  

Smart grid applications open up a two-way line of communication between you and your customers around the supply and demand of power 24/7 – enabling better informed decisions around its usage for all parties.

But, are you well placed to make the most of these benefits with your current technology systems?

While interest is high, for most utilities, the answer is a resounding no.

Many utilities still run on archaic systems, not built to accommodate the demand that’s already in motion let alone how their needs will evolve going forward. In many cases, utility legacy systems mean that they’re currently only using 2% of the data available to them.

With smart grid and smart applications use skyrocketing, utilities that don’t have a platform to provide the digitization and automation required to harness the bundles of data from these channels will find themselves behind the competition, but even more so behind a probable regulatory 8 ball.

So how can the right technology systems ensure you catch the smart energy wave and not only ride this wave out but prepare for those that will follow?

On top of the core systems you rely on to get energy/power to the customer, you need an agile business system layer that enables you to adapt to the demands of change – today and always.

The need for a technology platform that can talk to the smart grid and its customers along with the products within the ecosystem (appliances, meters, etc) has never been this important. The plain truth is;  the platform that can adapt to change and centralize customer data leveraging everything in real time to make smart recommendations to your customers around energy usage will be King.

This not only delivers value for your customers, but enables you to harness and automate the likes of demand response to seamlessly ensure your supply always meets demand, all while maintaining data integrity and providing the audit trails necessary to help you meet regulations.

Creating a new kind of customer experience

With readily available tools providing options for consumers, and a growing number of customers wanting to compare products and services to get the best deal, the importance of the customer experience is rising to unprecedented heights.

In the past, providing customers with recommendations on how to save money (slow the meter from spinning) might have seemed counterintuitive and in some cases blasphemous. Today, it’s an integral part of what utilities are chartered to do with their customers. Utilities understand that they must continue to build trust with their customers and be more than just a source for power/energy.

We’ll delve deeper into this area later. First, let’s quickly explore what customers now expect from utilities.

Rampant digitization has led to a considerable shift in customer expectations. As a result, an ever growing portion of your customers expect the same, if not better service from their utility as they now get from their retailers and banks.

In other words, they want a seamless customer journey in whatever channel they’re interacting with you on. While the preferred channel has quickly become online, however and whenever your customers decide to reach you, they expect a personalized, joined-up and convenient experience that offers easy access to information, advice or services.

The desires of your evolving customer base are typified by the fastest growing customer segment – millennials. And, with recent research from our partners at Accenture revealing that nearly 80% of millenials would consider switching energy providers if they aren’t given a seamless digital experience – meeting changing customer expectations has to be a priority.

But how can you provide this joined-up customer journey?

The starting point is getting all your customer data onto a single platform. From this single view of your customers, sales and services can be transformed using data to identify a customer’s history and preferences to contextualize every customer journey and provide the personalized experience they expect.

Again, this doesn’t just benefit your customers. Serving more customers through digital channels reduces errors, saves time, and reduces your FTE  – all while growing your margins in the process.

Shifting perceptions around selling products and services

As we’ve seen, today’s customers want you to do more than supply power.

But, to get the experience they want, with visibility and greater control over their usage, customers know they need additional products and services. As the provider of the energy that powers these appliances, products and services, utilities are the would be natural place for customers to get them, but as are with most situations, the buyer now has options (something the regulated utility space has limited experience with).

If you haven’t already, this requires a shift in thinking around selling in utilities.

Sales is no longer a dirty word. It’s about helping your customers get the products and services they need that align to your energy efficiency initiatives, in a fast and convenient manner. From refrigerators and boilers to thermostats, smart meters and more. The need is real, the need is here and the need will continue to grow. Being able to perform effectively under these new demands provides a win-win scenario. Your customers get what they want, from a trusted resource, and you can explore new revenue streams for your business.

You just need a technology platform that facilitates this.

By combining coherent customer data from your CRM with smart customer service working in concert with a selling and order management system, you can guide customer agents and field personnel alike to support the needs of any customer with the “right” products and services offering personalized recommendations based on a customer’s data and history.

An end-to-end integrated platform can deliver the full customer journey. From customer inquiry and appointment setting to quote origination through delivery of products and any services and beyond all while providing the single source of truth and full audit trail required for regulatory compliance.

With these and other efficiency needs, 360-degree visibility, optimal customer experiences and the sales prowess we’ve mentioned, utilities can ill afford to ignore the new kind of technology platforms that can harness data and help them meet and then exceed the rapidly changing market today and in the future.

 

John Garofalo III (JG3)

Director Sales – Americas, CloudSense

 John Garofalo is a business growth, strategy and tactics professional with more than 15 years’ global experience in energy, utility, power and other industries.

 

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