image credit: ID 159861902 © Igor Borisenko | Dreamstime
Bob Champagne's picture
Vice President, Customer Experience Innovation Smart Energy Water

Bob is a 34-year veteran of the Energy and Utilities Sector, focused on data-driven, customer-centric transformation across the energy and utilities sector. After starting his career at Entergy...

  • Member since 2020
  • 10 items added with 13,469 views
  • Feb 6, 2020

This item is part of the Predictions & Trends for 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

2019 was quite a year for “digitalization” in the Utility sector. Almost every major gathering of Utility peers sported the digital theme in some way shape or form. Internal presentations and meeting agendas looked naked without some reference to “Digital Engagement”, “Digital Transformation”, or “The Digital Utility”.

There is no doubting that digitalization has now become a dominant, if not permanent part of the Utility lexicon. So much so that, as the year drew to a close, even practitioners like us (TMG Consulting) were starting to feel some of that “buzzword fatigue” setting in.

Putting semantics aside, it is an accepted fact that digitalization has become a real and integral part of most Utilities’ future-proofing agendas. As an industry, we’ve moved from a time where digitalization was merely a topic reserved for conference keynote addresses and Utility-of-the-future ‘parlor games’ to being recognized by most Utilities worldwide as a required core competency, deeply woven into the fabric of their operating models.

Global investments in Utility digitalization are growing at a breakneck pace. It is estimated, that in 2019 alone, the Utility Industry will have spent over $60 Billion on digitalization initiatives and projections are that another $500 Billion will be added to that total by 2025. Digital initiatives, that for many companies showed up just a few years ago as rogue collections of small proof-of-concept (POC) “projects”, have transformed themselves into fully-fledged, company-wide digitalization “programs” now delivering steady streams of value to their customers and bottom line.

So, where have we seen the most traction from Utilities in their digitalization programs? And where is all this headed?

With our on-going work with our network of utilities and vendors, almost all of which are in some stage of their digital journey, 10 themes prevailed as likely to drive Utility digitalization priorities and investments in the next decade:

10 Trends Shaping the Future of Utility Digitalization

  1. Hyper Targeting & Personalization — Proliferation of new data and digital technologies are now enabling utilities to ‘precision-match’ most aspects of their customer engagement strategies (content, style, and delivery channels) with the unique needs and channel preferences of their customers. This “segment-of-one” operating philosophy is quickly becoming the standard around which many Utilities’ customer experience strategies are being built.
  2. AI-Enabled Smart Automation — “Bots” and other artificial intelligence (AI) enabled technologies have now taken root in customer billing (e.g. exception processing) as well as other back office processes and trials are beginning to surface in other customer workflows like inquiry resolution, new connections, move ins/outs, program enrollments, rate/plan switching, and others. Look for these trends to continue in any aspect of a Utility where high volume transactions, dependent on predictability of data driven decisions, are ripe for automation.
  3. Rethinking Customer & User Journeys — After claiming initial gains from early customer experience (CX) initiatives, utilities are now looking to drive new tranches of value. In light of new data and digital innovations, many utilities are now revisiting their earlier customer journey and user mapping activities to discover new possibilities for digital enablement and embed them into their operating workflows.
  4. Integration with Smart Cities — 2019 showed us many innovative examples of utilities integrating more effectively with the cities that they serve, helping communities modernize and drive new sources of value for their residents. This included more seamless coordination across basic Utility services (electric, gas, water, sewer, etc.), better orchestration of grid-connected assets, and new innovations in cross platform automation (city services, public transit, airports, etc.)
  5. Decoupling/Cross-Leveraging of Data — There has also been an acceleration of a previously emerging trend to move the ownership of data and analytics out of the application/business unit “silos” into shared environments where data can be more effectively governed, maintained, and repurposed across business units. This should continue to emerge in 2020, as customer-oriented data is applied more directly to operating and infrastructure challenges, and vice versa.
  6. Digital Factories — Structured environments for managing digital innovation became more prevalent across a growing number of utilities in 2019, centralizing competencies around data, analytics, and automation; providing agile infrastructures for quickly developing and testing use cases; and installing governance models for managing, monetizing, and scaling their digital innovation pipeline.
  7. Unbundling of Core Systems — The past year saw more Utility executives rethinking what their “core” IT systems should look like at a fundamental level. The main consideration of which was the potential benefits of unbundling their systems’ investments (e.g. CIS, ADMS, etc.) to facilitate the inclusion of new best-of-breed point solutions. We also saw the emergence of new “system of systems” platforms to enable faster and more adaptive integration between legacy environments and these rapidly emerging technologies.
  8. Best Practice/ Process Integration — There has been a large proliferation of IT implementation partners coupling software solutions with predefined and configurable “best practice”/ “best process” templates and workflows. This helps utilities avoid the cost and implementation risk associated with recreating complex software logic that already exists and is actively supporting mature business processes elsewhere in the industry.
  9. Next Best Steps for the Cloud — The debate between “cloud” vs. “on-premises” solutions continues to evolve away from questions such as “does it make sense?” and “is it cheaper?” – which clearly vary from environment to environment – to debates around deployment methods, practices, and managed services models. Cloud deployments will undoubtedly characterize larger parts of our Utility ecosystems going forward. Look for solution providers to bring more creative and hybrid alternatives to the table which eliminate risk and barriers to cloud adoption.
  10. Re-skilling for Digital — There are a variety of models emerging for the acquisition and retention of the skills required for digitalization initiatives both internally and outsourced. There is no right or wrong answer here but, as the supply of data science, software engineering, and other critical skills required for digital success has tightened, we have seen an increase in companies using outsourced models and shared platforms to satisfy their digital re-skilling requirements.

* * * * *

Other items, such as digital leadership and culture; applications for emerging technologies like blockchain, grid automation, and transactive energy; and many more that are in early stages of their development can also be found on digital roadmaps around North America.

TMG Consulting plans to build upon each of these themes in 2020 and look forward to sharing our insights as part of our on-going benchmark research, industry workshops, client advisory and professional services engagements, and – of course – later this year at our 2020 TMG Utilities Forum in Scottsdale, Arizona.

About TMG Consulting

TMG Consulting is an independent utility advisory services and research firm that provides expert guidance with application planning, business cases, procurement, and operation of enterprise IT and edge systems. Our industry research focuses on the future topics that utilities need to grasp and comprehend as they plan and implement their strategic initiatives.

TMG has delivered industry-leading excellence in professional services, client-side implementation, and support services for more than 300 utility companies on over 450 projects since 1992. TMG Expertise includes: Digital Customer Experience, Customer Information Systems (CIS), Customer self-service, automated dispatch and mobile data, work management, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Meter Data Management (MDM), Work and Asset Management (WAM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), as well as Application Implementation, Upgrades, and Management Services (post-implementation support). Platform expertise includes SaaS, IaaS, on- premises, and managed Utilities Private Cloud (PaaS).

Based in Austin, Texas, TMG Consulting was founded in 1992 to address an industry-wide need for leadership in critical information technology decisions.

Press Contact, (512) 993 - 6331

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 6, 2020

Hyper Targeting & Personalization — Proliferation of new data and digital technologies are now enabling utilities to ‘precision-match’ most aspects of their customer engagement strategies (content, style, and delivery channels) with the unique needs and channel preferences of their customers. This “segment-of-one” operating philosophy is quickly becoming the standard around which many Utilities’ customer experience strategies are being built

I see a lot of great potential here in targeting advice and tips-- but is there any concern about customers maybe feeling a bit 'creeped out,' like when a single type of internet ad follows them around from site to site? Or is the fact that the utility is understood and expected to have these data sources something that will make this transition more seamless from the customer side?

Bob Champagne's picture
Bob Champagne on Feb 11, 2020

Thanks Matt, for your thoughts...and great question! 

My experience is that the negative reaction customers experience when on the receiving end of this type of targeting, has more to do with the relevance of the customer marketing or communications actions those strategies trigger, than it does the fact that it was (successfully or unsuccessfully) hyper-targeted. 

When I get an ad on my Facebook feed that is ostensibly tied to my browsing history somewhere else, I tend to be ok with that as long as it improves the my overall experience in the long term. What "creeps me out" is when I get an ad on MY Facebook feed for something my WIFE clearly shopped for on Amazon! Regardless of the 'algorithmic genius' involved in being able to infer what someone THINKS my preferences are, it's still a big fail if the resulting content match is poor, or its delivery is poorly executed.

Unfortunately, many companies (not just Utilities!) and vendors still think about the data and algorithmic capabilities separately from the content delivered and messaging strategies they employ. In my view, hyper-targeting is a “privilege” not a “right,” and companies must EARN the right to engage in this manner by spending as much time understanding the customer journey and psychological aspects of the customer segment, as they do 'working the data'. To me, that's where the battles will be won or lost. 

Same goes for technology solutions and vendors, if not more so. Just because a vendor is good at the analytics or AI, doesn’t mean they carry that same expertise into the design parameters of the customer experience. Look for that to become the BIG differentiator between vendors competing in this space. In fact, it's one of the biggest factors I now use when distinguishing solutions of our clients.

That said, privacy considerations, the right to be forgotten, use case governance and other factors like these need to be carefully considered when designing and implementing a digital engagement strategy. 


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 11, 2020

Really appreciate the insights and the response, Bob! I imagine this will be an area that utilities continue to keep an intense focus on, as many of these conversations wouldn't have even made sense a few years ago so who knows what the privacy discussions will be 5-10 years from now. I'll be interested to keep reading about this topic!

Bob Champagne's picture
Thank Bob for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »