According to Gartner, adoption of intelligent automation by the power and utility industry will reach 85% in some form by 2022, and hyper-automation - rapid automation using a combination of automation tools - will be at the core of these efforts.
But how do organizations in the highly regulated and customer-centric utilities sector ensure that they roll out intelligent automation within an effective governance structure, as well as maximize their investment in the tools and technologies required?
To answer these questions and more, senior leaders from EY and Blue Prism will join Rockie Solomon, Intelligent Automation Centre of Excellence Lead at U.S. power utility Eversource, in a panel discussion that will focus on best practices and lessons learned from hyper-automation projects to date. The event will take place on June 24, 2021 between 6.00 and 7.00 am UK time and will be available online shortly afterwards.
Scaling up intelligent automation
Jeff Aldridge, Consulting Principal, Americas, and Intelligent Automation Leader at EY, will set the scene by stating that he has seen ‘an explosion’ in the adoption of intelligent automation across all sectors. Quoting Gartner, he said that there would be a 30% increase in the use of intelligent automation by larger companies for front office functions by 2023 and that 69% of routine work currently done by managers would be fully automated by 2024.
This will be driven by hyper-automation not just to do things differently, but to also do different things. Such technologies could include natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML) and virtual agents as well as process automation.
However, the next part of the journey will be to move out of the pilot stage, pick up the pace and implement intelligent automation at scale. Only then will the majority of organizations secure the real benefits and value of their projects– Forrester has said that only 10%-15% of organizations are operating top-down, at scale intelligent automation strategies.
Following the megatrends
Mark Hirschey, Consulting Principal, Americas and Power and Utilities Innovation Leader at EY, will talk about the ‘four D megatrends’ currently driving change in the sector: decarbonization, digitization, decentralization and democratization.
The utilities sector is becoming ever-more complex. This is leading organizations to implement a range of technologies rapidly in an agile way, but many are missing the opportunity to automate the entirety of their operations. And by three to five years’ time, utilities will begin embracing intelligent automation not just for back office and front office processes, but for field operations too, using sensors, the internet of things, diagnostic devices and drones, amongst other tools.
The need to lead from the top
Huzaifah Basrai, Senior Manager Power and Utilities and Intelligent Automation Leader at EY, will focus on why any intelligent automation project should be driven not by technology as an end in itself, but by business objectives. The most common value drivers in the utility sector tend to be the need to improve efficiency and improve resilience; and to enhance the customer and employee experience in order to generate revenues.
Any intelligent automation program should therefore start with top level sponsorship and a collaboration between the business and IT. Hyper-automation also requires strong champions with the authority to activate automation within multiple functions or business units, and the ability to demonstrate how success will be measured.
The next stage will be to recognize that achieving a return on investment requires process and role changes introduced by automation, which is why projects must be business rather than technology led. Utilities also need to adopt a balanced implementation approach to automation built around a ‘factory model’ that enables a robust pipeline of automations that can scale across the business.
The case of Eversource
It’s an approach adopted wholeheartedly by Eversource, the largest water, electricity and gas utility in the north-east U.S. region, with 8,000 employees and four million customers. Rockie Solomon will explain that the starting point for the company’s intelligent automation project was the need to improve Eversource’s credit and collections processes.
Not only did the automation of credit and collections yield huge savings, but the credit and collections leader who saw the opportunity of automation in her business area and championed its introduction moved on to provide similar improvements elsewhere in the organization.
While credit and collections acted as a proof of concept for intelligent automation, Eversource understood the need for an effective governance and operating model early on. It’s not just about technology, but about paying full attention to the investigation phase. Eversource looked at what it was doing and why, as well as why it wasn’t doing certain other things. It was also important to realise that just because something can be digitized doesn’t mean it always should be.
The first automations at Eversource were introduced within the first 16 weeks of introducing EY and Blue Prism, but more than 40 automations have now been successfully implemented. While change has been transformational, it has been deliberately designed to be non-abrasive for employees. As a result, employee feedback has been hugely positive and collaborative across the business.
Benefits derived from intelligent automation that Solomon will talk about include a ‘steady state’ of value worth $15 million, the elimination of 300,000 negative customer reactions, and the return of 150,000 hours of work time to the business – the equivalent of more than 75 full-time employees.
Other advantages secured as a result of the program include significant efficiency gains through streamlining processes in areas such as the supply chain, regulatory reporting and vegetation management; a reduction in bad debts and rebilling; a reduction in inventory carrying costs; and mitigating the risk of losing valued employees by reducing low value, monotonous work.
Engagement with employees to uncover which process caused their biggest pain points was an invaluable part of the program at Eversource, and helped to inform the prioritization of intelligent automation. When the team circled back to employees, they said it was ‘working wonderfully’ and asked: ‘what else can it do?’. Join us at 6.00 am UK time on 24 June 2021 to find out more.