Digital transformation has been all the rage in business recently. As the process has been accelerated by the global pandemic, more and more businesses across industries are looking into digital technologies to help them stay ahead of the competition.
Utility companies are no different. The utility industry is being taken by storm by new developments in power generation, renewable energy. Businesses in the sector, such as gas companies, are looking for ways to take advantage of developments such as distributed generation.
Therefore, a digital transformation within the utility industry can provide immense benefits such as increased customer satisfaction and cost savings. Additionally, it may improve all-around decision-making and bring new business models to light.
However, in order to implement a digital transformation properly an in-depth understanding of the process and requirements is needed. Hectic digital transformations can lead to the opposite effect – reduced operational efficiency.
What is a digital transformation?
A digital transformation, loosely defined, is the process of integrating technology into the core business activities, changing current processes, and creating new ones. Usually, new technologies and software are involved in the process.
Digital transformations open up completely new opportunities in many areas of business. Implementations of tracking software and cloud computing allow companies to collect data on nearly any stage of activity. Data scientists can then use the information to find areas for improvement using advanced analytics.
Additionally, new technological capabilities might provide the entire company with more automation. In turn, that reduces the amount of manual labor across the company, allowing highly skilled experts to focus their attention on more difficult tasks.
Finally, companies that truly invest in a digital transformation can begin utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence. These implementations can further increase overall company efficiency and ROI. In some cases, these may become a completely new solution that can be sold to third parties.
What does a digital transformation mean for the utility industry?
Industry leaders in the utility sector control immense amounts of real estate, equipment, and employees. Additionally, the number of customers served by a single company can outmatch even the largest enterprises.
These services play a crucial role in the everyday lives of all people. As such, the utility sector has high expectations, is tightly regulated, and is extremely competitive. The only way for such companies to stay ahead is to implement new digital technologies.
In the utility sector, a digital transformation should include at least several key features:
- Workforce management solutions. As the number of employees across a particular company rises, managing both the back office and the field crews becomes exponentially more difficult. Implementations of workforce management solutions allow utility executives to manage all assets and personnel in one place. In turn, these solutions provide the ability to manage everything at a fast pace without sacrificing quality.
- Mobile solutions. Most companies in the utility industry are already utilizing phones in one way or another. However, applications and mobile solutions can be utilized to much greater efficiency. They can provide real-time data about field crews and connected IoT devices, allowing companies to react to new developments a lot faster than before. Additionally, it allows companies in the utility industry to more accurately gauge employee efficiency and do performance management.
- Internet of Things. Most devices and equipment can now be connected to the internet. With the usage of smart grids, devices can deliver data about the status of equipment without any human interaction. Such data can then be used to perform predictive analytics, derive business insights, or provide services. In short, IoT helps companies to move regular utilities (e.g. power utilities) online, turning them into digital utilities.
- Predictive maintenance. As a result of implementing the Internet of Things, data from a smart grid can be used to plan maintenance ahead of time. Essentially, the Internet of Things enables businesses to utilize new technologies to reduce maintenance costs while at the same time creating opportunities for better equipment management.
However, the list above isn’t exhaustive. Power and utility companies can utilize new technology in many more ways as there are more disruptive forces at play. For example, regular people can now produce power themselves, reducing their reliance on providers, which, in turn, makes customer experience much more important.
3 pitfalls to avoid during a digital transformation
It’s easy to get lost in the new digital ways and start seeing any digital technology as beneficial. However, digital technologies are only as good as they can be used. Many businesses get enveloped by the hype and start implementing tools such as smart meters and smart grids without carefully thinking about how they will be used to improve products and services.
Digital technologies for the sake of digital technologies
Adopting technology for the sake of technology, especially highly advanced ones such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, may actually be detrimental if the business cannot support it.
Outside of creating feature bloat and taking up valuable time, these innovations need a lot of computing power. Thus, digital innovation often has the creation of new operating models as a requirement. If they aren’t created along with the addition of new digital technology, the effect may be minimal or detrimental.
Another common pitfall is collecting data without having a use for it. In fact, this phenomenon is so common that a word had to be invented to describe it – dark data. All industries, including the utility industry, are at fault for collecting dark data. Some estimations consider up to 90% of all business data to be dark.
Many utilities companies are already used to collecting lots of digital data. Since the value chain is so fragile and prone to breaking, closely monitoring equipment and performing asset inspections is par for the course for the utility industry. Adding more data on top for a digital utility may in fact be wasteful. Most businesses would be better off reducing the amount of information about most utilities to lean out the value chain.
Usually, the proliferation of data happens quickly, especially after the implementation of the Internet of Things. However, since the process is so important for the creation of new services and new offerings, it’s essentially unavoidable. The best way to approach
Digital innovation without cultural change
Utility companies are not the only ones at fault here. All businesses that provide services and undergo a digital transformation, regardless of business models, forget to implement cultural change along with technological one.
A simple way to see the digital transformation is to think of it as “everyone’s deal”. It’s not just the IT department, the data scientist, and the senior manager who should be involved. As the transformation will greatly affect employee experiences, services, and customers, it’s important to have everyone on board.
In fact, the latest thinking in digital transformations suggests that a company should create an in-depth plan that involves everyone and everything (e.g. products and services). Customers will be indirectly affected by the transformation, therefore it’s important to think of how services will be changed in order to communicate with them effectively.
Every business should begin undergoing a digital transformation. As companies with many different business models have shown – a proper implementation brings immense benefits. The utility industry is no different.
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