No one denies that utilities have faced—and continue to face—unprecedented challenges to their traditional business models in recent years: the rise of distributed energy resources, net-metering policies, stagnant demand and growing energy efficiency requirements.
But, in many ways, the rising customer culture for utilities (and the related technology that makes that culture possible) is coming to the rescue. This large-scale digital transformation is rippling across utility businesses.
While that can appear daunting on the surface, there are progressive utility innovators embracing the opportunity to open new revenue streams and better serve their customers—and that pool of progressive utilities grows every single day.
What’s important to note about this digital industry transformation—it carries limitless potential and opportunities for synergy as those growing customer expectations meet the rise in data use and analytics, especially within your customer information systems (CIS).
CONSUMER DEMANDS ARE PUSHING TECHNOLOGY TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Today, you need usage data in addition to your CIS to meet growing customer expectations.
Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and meter data management systems that are interconnected and tied to the CIS work more efficiently as a team, providing more granularity around customer use patterns. (For instance, they can be used to discern peak demand times and help users understand more about how different customers consume electricity.)
|WHAT WAS THE CIS NORM THEN:||WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN CIS NOW:|
|Expensive implementations that took years to complete and an army of IT personnel to maintain.||Quick, cloud-based implementations that take less than one year to complete and zero IT to maintain.|
|Difficulty extracting data, analyzing that data and putting new insights into practice without considerable customization.||Core system analytics that make data extraction, discovery and analysis a breeze—all without a ton of customization.|
|Website that didn’t meet customer wants and needs built as custom application on top of CIS.||Multi-channel customer experience component that keeps up with changing customer wants and needs through continuous improvement.|
|Nearly 100 custom interfaces in and out of CIS had to be individually built and maintained.||Core integrations out of the box that support increased automation, data visibility and lower costs.|
Paired together to meet customer needs, the interconnection is creating more digital doorways—options for utilities to expand upon old services and build new ones, too. The right back-end tech combo—the one a customer never sees—has the ability to make them happier and a utility’s infrastructure healthier, too.
“The utility industry is becoming much more customer-oriented,” said Guerry Waters, an expert with more than 30 years in the power business who is currently vice president of industry strategy at Oracle Utilities.
With these paired systems from AMI to analytics to CIS, “we are able to offer value-add programs to customers around improving energy efficiency and participation in demand response that can help the
environment and help reduce costs on customer bills,” he added.
And those new programs and options can help offset the cost for these new systems and technologies as well because new technology is rarely cheap.
“This is where real investment is heading,” said Mario Bauer, CEO of TMG Consulting, a leading adviser to utilities with a strong focus on CIS. Bauer has completed more than 400 digital transformations with utilities since 1992 and has more than 50 going right now.
“Costs are higher for AMI than CIS, but you need CIS to accommodate the data requirements of AMI,” he explained. If Bauer is correct in his prediction that most U.S. homes will have a smart meter within the next five years, just about every utility in the country will be eyeing all the layers, doorways and interconnected options these systems can work together to provide. They will be looking at everything from grid-connected water heating and intelligent control over appliances to smarter, more personalized marketing for unique utility services, better billing practices and up-and-coming solar programs.
Some progressive utilities have already taken this better customer service better tech symbiosis to heart. Avista, for example, replaced a 20-year-old legacy system recently. (Called Project Compass, the program was smoothly implemented, which makes for happy customers.) Additionally, Kansas City Power & Light has a new smart meter push and a series of application upgrades that have helped them confidently step forward with a next-level customer strategy.