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How has the implementation of utility digitalization strategies changed the way your utility interacts with its customers?

image credit: © Mykyta Dolmatov | Dreamstime.com

This item is part of the Special Issue - 10/2020 - Advances in Utility Digitalization, click here for more

I’ll tackle this from less of a utility specific view, but rather what I have observed in my time in both public and IOU spaces (and under the guise of my consulting firm such that my views do not represent my current or previous employers).

Customers today require communication flow to be bidirectional and intelligent. Customers want the ability to easily connect with their utility, which is provided through multiple channels including web, mobile app, SMS, chatbots, IVRs and call center agents. Waiting on hold is not acceptable, and being able to instantly interact with a utility, for whatever reason, is crucial. Outage notification, bill payment, power usage – customers want these functions to be available, and quickly usable, at a moment’s notice. Utilities I have worked for invest heavily in these channels, not only for how they interact with the customer, but also how they integrate behind the scenes – the ability to effectively send data upstream and downstream to systems that need to act on the data in order to address the customer need.

At the same time, utilities are driving digitalization through the grid itself. To continue on the point of customer bidirectional communication, utilities I have worked for are implementing technology on distribution systems so that when a fault is detected, impacted customers are notified. Or better, the fault is isolated and customer impact is minimized. This proactive servicing eliminates the customer need to engage first, and gives the customer a sense of reassurance that the utility knows what happened and is working on resolving the issue.

AMI continues to be a foundational component to digitalization. It opens the door to understanding on both utility and customer ends. AMI data has proven to be an incredible asset for load planning, engineering and distribution analysis, but also for customers to make smarter energy choices. Near real time data has truly helped to take the utility from an archaic, monthly engagement with customers for bill payment, to a continuous partner helping to make informed choices.

What I would like to see from the utilities I have been a part of, is to see technology initiatives that live in silos today, come together to introduce optimal synergies. Imagine the possibilities once you combine AMI, GIS, Asset Management and OMS to build a digital twin of the grid.

Danny Jagoda's picture

Thank Danny for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 1, 2020 12:53 pm GMT

I feel like you hear anecdotally that utilities tend to lag behind other industries in these digital customer interactions-- do you think that's damaging the customer relationship in the meantime, or does it all even out in the end once a utility embraces the right modern approach? I suppose at the very least they don't have to reinvent the wheel and can leverage tech built and optimized by the other industries who used them first? 

Eric Van Orden's picture
Eric Van Orden on Oct 1, 2020 10:42 pm GMT

Thanks, Danny. 
In a presentation from 2019, Landis+Gyr summarized how they see the AMI digital evolution with 1st and 2nd Wave use cases (see page 6). 

  • 1st Wave includes Revenue Protection, Meter to Cash, Remote Disconnect, Outage Detection, Asset Analytics, Distribution Automation, Conservation & Losses, Power Quality, and Remote Move-in/out
  • 2nd Wave includes Bill Forecasting, Demand Management, Outage Management, Time of Use Support, Electric Vehicles, Load Disaggregation, Consumer Portal, and Home Energy Management

The 1st wave use cases provide utility operations benefit and the 2nd wave provides more consumer benefit. 

While about 80% of homes now have AMI electric meters, it seems that many utilities are just starting to tap into wave 2 use cases. Deployment of AMI meters for natural gas is much less and it will be interested to see how demand management evolves for natural gas as electrification continues and creates stranded assets for natural gas delivery. 

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