Utilities that provide essential services, including power and water supplies, have dealt with a complex range of business challenges for decades. Often operating as commercial enterprises within deregulated markets, they have to meet stringent delivery targets or face punitive fines, while still delivering returns to stakeholders.
At the same time they need to operate with ageing infrastructure that is expensive and difficult to maintain, an engineering skills shortage and changing customer expectations for the service and pricing they receive. New digital first utilities are also emerging to fill this perceived customer service gap.
As if this wasn’t enough, 2020 brought even more pressure to bear on utilities that were already spinning many metaphorical plates. The pandemic forced utilities, along with every other industry sector, to shift office staff to work remotely. Customer service teams were depleted and process inefficiencies exposed.
As a result, the need for greater intelligent automation has never been more urgent than it is today. This is especially true in light of the economic uncertainty that is set to continue in the years ahead, as government support schemes roll back, and unemployment rates grow.
It has become only too clear that current business models cannot be maintained if utilities are to meet their regulatory obligations, while meeting the expectations of customers and stakeholders.
Through our extensive work with utilities across the globe, including United Utilities, DTE and Utilita, we have identified the top six priorities for the year ahead. This article serves as an introduction to a series of new blogs, in which we will dive deeper into each of the six priorities—and how intelligent automation can address the big challenges today’s utilities face.
Priority #1: Transform customer experience
Customer expectations have changed dramatically in the last few years and new entrants in the market have greatly increased competition. Customers want to access online, digital channels, self-service, proactive personalized service and communications. But these elements must be delivered by organizations that are also dealing with legacy infrastructures, traditional ways of thinking, outmoded working practices and cultural inertia. Using intelligent automation, utilities can transform key customer service areas by arming agents with modern technology to assist customers more efficiently while supporting work from home. This promises to help improve first time resolution metrics, increase customer satisfaction and decrease cost to serve as well as agent turnover.
Priority #2: Deliver financial sustainability
Returns on equity and profitability are falling while costs, debt levels and competition continue to mount. Cost to service customers, contracts and claims are high, while ageing infrastructure and pressure to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 both mean increased spending. The pandemic is putting further pressure on utility providers to adapt at speed, which has unplanned costs attached. Utility providers must reduce operating costs and increase competitiveness by building agile, forward-thinking and lean organizations. Intelligent automation can help remove barriers between information systems and negate the need for additional staff while still enabling commercial growth.
Priority #3: Mitigate ageing infrastructure and workforce
The infrastructure utilities operate is outdated, while the expert knowledge of the legacy systems they use continues to exit the industry. Intelligent automation helps utilities deliver robust, frictionless services to customers by connecting new technologies with legacy systems quickly and cost-effectively. New technologies enable proactive, adaptive and consistent maintenance of infrastructure, the optimization of inventory controls and accelerated restoration of service.
Priority #4: Innovate for climate change and sustainability
Sixty countries have signed up to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and the changed US regime and leadership will create more impetus for the war on climate change. The shifts in generation methodologies that these trends imply—as well as in the consumption of resources—will require innovation in the very near future. Intelligent automation enables utilities to gather and aggregate vast datasets from internet of things sensors and devices across the energy grid to enable predictive maintenance and forecasting.
Priority #5: Ensure regulatory compliance and risk management
The amount of regulation faced by utilities continues to escalate, but adherence to evolving regulation can be maintained through process consolidation and technology convergence. Using intelligent automation, utilities can respond more quickly to new regulation requirements, reduce compliance risks with proactive automated auditing and generate accurate compliance performance reports.
Priority #6: Create the future operating model
Current operating models are proving unsustainable in the face of dramatic change in the industry. The dependency on large numbers of people to perform low value, repetitive tasks cannot continue in the face of competition from new entrants that were born digital. Dependence on large numbers of people working in expensive offices to rigid schedules and prescriptive practices limits the responsiveness and rapid evolution of business models. Intelligent automation forces the examination of processes and how they could be done better and helps to standardize processes across products and functions.
There’s a lot on the ‘to-do’ list for utility leaders to consider for the year ahead—but there’s also a clearer direction to follow, and technology that enables rapid transformation across all six priorities. Stay tuned for the next two blogs in this series, on transforming the customer experience, and creating the future operating model.