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Why Utilities Need to Pursue Digital Acceleration

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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The idea of digital acceleration has become popular across industries as a way to describe how technology can transform the way business is done. For example, manufacturers can use Internet of Things (IoT) devices to track the location and condition of shipments from the time they leave the plant to the time they arrive at customer locations. Through the use of digital beacons, retail establishments can gather detailed customer data, enabling them to provide an enhanced customer experience. And transportation providers can use digital booking systems and apps to offer seamless trip planning and travel.

For utilities, technology can be used to advance many areas of operations, including gathering data for high-level planning, improving infrastructure security, supporting renewables and net-zero goals, and upgrading customer care. Here we explore why utilities should pursue digital acceleration in these areas and more.

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The Need for Data

Data collection and analysis are critical across many utility areas, including electricity production, customer care, and high-level decision-making. It is also needed to transform one-way power distribution (from utilities to customers) to two-way partnerships. Utilities can use meter data to better understand customer usage and develop programs that help them take control of their own power use. They can also use data gathered from drones to prioritize vegetation management efforts.

Infrastructure Stability

Technology solutions can contribute to asset performance optimization, resulting in more consistent service to customers. Infrastructure can also be stabilized with cybersecurity elements that prevent cyberattacks, further ensuring reliable service.

Such technology can additionally support asset maintenance with sensors that detect when equipment needs repair or replacement. This type of system contributes to financial stability as well because utilities can save money by moving planning ahead for equipment maintenance rather than being caught off guard by it.

Supporting Renewables

Technology solutions such as DERMS are needed to manage renewable energy sources and enable consumers to become prosumers who not only use energy from the grid but also contribute power to it. Only through smart use of these systems can utilities attain net-zero goals.

Customer Care

Like many other industries, utilities are subject to customer demands that reflect the service they receive from other providers. For instance, service centers can no longer rely on phone contact alone. Many customers expect to be able to get help immediately via text, messaging, website, or social media, with calling as a last resort. If they must switch from one method to another, they expect previous conversations and information to be available to all representatives.

And that’s just one example. Customer care can also be modernized through technology that enables faster, easier processes for sales, remote diagnostics, service dispatch, and restoration.

Another critical customer care component was made clear by the COVID-19 pandemic: the ability to quickly transition to a remote model if needed and have service representatives and other employees work from home.

Utilities may not be ready for a full digital transformation, but digital acceleration is possible in small increments, embracing one of the components mentioned above at a time. Companies that want to move forward should start by developing a strategy for a high-level plan to move forward and focus on new technology in those areas that will enable more reliable service, cost savings, and better customer care.

Has your utility pursued digital acceleration? If so, what has that looked like and what have been the results? Please, share in the comments.

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Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jun 9, 2021

Great insight Karen, thank you for sharing! Your points about the digitization of customer care are vital for our industry. The fact is, Amazon et. al. digitized customer care decades ago. It's no longer a matter of preparing for the future -- it's about meeting basic customer expectations today. Fortunately we see many utilities working to build effective digital relationships with their customers. It's important for all of us to keep moving toward that goal.

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Jun 9, 2021

Thanks for taking the time to review and comment, Brian. Great point below:

It's no longer a matter of preparing for the future -- it's about meeting basic customer expectations today.

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