Implementing Digital Transformation (Part 3—Utilities Industry Case Study)


Our first post in this series on “digital transformation” set the stage. It defined digital transformation and made a compelling case for why it matters for companies that want to prosper. The second post provided guidance on implementing initiatives that lead to transformation. And this blog post provides a deeper look at TechBlocks’ work in the utilities sector, an industry vertical that is ripe for transformation. There’s multiple drivers for such a transformation, including an emphasis on energy conservation, a mobile-centric populace, and the benefits of Big Data analytics. The industry as a whole is challenged by the economics of power generation, the growth of renewables, regulatory changes, and Distributed Energy Resources (DER), all of which are fundamentally altering the industry. And much of the infrastructure involved in providing power and water to homes and businesses is decades old, and represents a major current and future capital cost that must be addressed.


Utilities Slow to Transform

While many utilities are legal monopolies, they still have incentives to embrace digital transformation. Several have essentially operated the same for decades, with little impetus to improve through technology. However, a broader emphasis on conservation means many consumers are utilizing less utility services, and therefore reducing the revenues coming into the provider.

Such broad-scale changes in operations mean more than just installing smart meters or offering customers mobile account management. It can mean improved internal processes and decision making due to better information sharing. Utilities can use tech such as IoT sensors to uncover new data points to allow them to conduct proactive maintenance of their infrastructure. The opportunities are limitless, since digital transformation is intended to improve all facets of the business. Utilities need to engage in a cultural shift that embraces instead of shuns change, and uses technology to ensure sustainable futures.


Customer-Facing and Internal-Facing Transformations

Utilities are looking to develop stronger relationships with their customers to improve satisfaction scores and lessen customer support resources. And utilities understand there’s a generational shift, with Millennials poised to become the primary utility customer supplanting Baby Boomers and older individuals. These customers grew up with paperless billing, and want more digital tools such as personalized alerts, mobile payments, and real-time accessible usage meters. They expect customer-to-business interactions to mainly involve the phone—meaning apps, not actual phone calls. Millennials and younger consumers interact with companies with the expectation that information is at their fingertips.

Accessibility and transparency are essential, and utilities should embrace both of these philosophies if they want to develop bases of satisfied customers. Consider a well-designed app that allows a utility customer to view their real-time usage, understand the impact area and expected duration of an outage, and engage in immediate communication with a utility service representative. This type of interaction is essential, but it must be carefully designed and implemented. Utilities making this move should strongly consider bringing on board a consultancy that understands best practices in terms of customer-facing functionality and the UI.

Digital transformation is at the forefront of this goal for improving both customer and internal relationships. Utilities are embracing technology such as business process automation (BPA) which seeks to better route queries and problems to the right person at the right time. It’s an approach that connects people with process, by having systems in place that consider the capabilities of the people that are available to conquer any type of problem. So if multiple customers are complaining about an outage via the app, an intelligent system will also provide updates to the technical team so they can further investigate. BPA reduces redundant tasks, keeps people focused on the customer experience and revenue, and gives managers more visibility into the actions of employees. All of these taken together can provide significant efficiency and labor-related savings, which are vital for utilities that are faced with mounting capital costs.

TechBlocks works with utilities to develop tech such as self-service portals, BPA, and mobile apps. These solutions can then provide a wide range of functions, from enabling customers to manage their energy or water usage to speeding up businesses processes. It’s this type of connection and pro activity that’s at the heart of digital transformation.


TechBlocks’ Capabilities – Moving Utilities into the Future

A primary capability for TechBlocks is guiding utilities clients on a path towards Big Data. The consultants at TechBlocks conduct data needs assessments for clients, and then they put in place Big Data analytics tools to meet or surpass those needs. As opposed to conventional BI tools that mainly handle structured data, more advanced tools can manage unstructured and structured data from a variety of sources. Such data provides utilities with new insights into their operations, usage patterns, and a range of other metrics that are dynamically adjusting in near real-time.

Consider the work TechBlocks has done with Just Energy, a provider of electricity and natural gas to more than 1.6 million customers throughout the United States and Canada. The company’s goal is to provide competitively priced energy that is also environmentally conscious. The company has expanded rapidly, as consumers embrace its high-level of service and affordable energy offerings.

Just Energy brought in TechBlocks to help it with several persistent challenges that came along with its impressive growth and expanding amounts of data. These challenges included a lack of external-to-internal collaboration, redundancies, maintaining agility, and improving security and privacy. TechBlocks carefully reviewed the problems, and then suggested a customized Microsoft SharePoint Solution to improve Just Energy’s IT infrastructure and optimize processes. The new SharePoint-powered platform included a self-service tool, a mobile application for contractors and other remote employees, and an improved searchable database. It was also built with several collaboration tools for improved communication, and digital asset management that transitioned training and learning services into a shareable and accessible cloud.

The results for Just Energy were swift and profound. The company improved numerous efficiency metrics and its intuitive platform was broadly adopted by employees and customers. The adoption rates for the SharePoint solution were very high for the employees, and represented a broader cultural shift towards a cloud-based company that can handle growth while streamlining processes. The company can now handle sales leads at a pace that parallels the firm’s growth, and managers have access to real-time information that allows them to change quickly.

Digital transformation for utilities represents a massive opportunity that will only come through committed leadership and a willingness to invest in technology. TechBlocks provides guidance on clients to help them choose the right transformation projects that will pay the most dividends for the long term while allowing them to adjust to changing conditions dynamically. A mixture of customer-facing and internal technology allow utilities to improve their service levels for mobile-centric customers and to save costs as they prepare for the challenges of ageing infrastructure and new energy-producing realities.