The rise of the invisible utility

In these disruptive times, utility companies need the technology that enables them to give customers smooth and seamless service.

The rise of the invisible utility

Consider a scenario in which your power or water service goes down without notice.

In the past, you would have to call the utility’s customer support centre to get a status update and an estimated time for the service to resume.

But rapid advances in technology mean that, in the near future, a utility will be able to identify the issue in almost real time, via an intelligent network or social media. Residents in the affected area will be notified automatically of an issue, and periodically updated via their preferred communication channel until the service has been fully restored.

During and after the outage, the utility will also launch a social media campaign to provide updates and manage the fallout and, in turn, limit reputational damage.

This ambitious scenario revolves around the concept of “the invisible utility” - basically, a utility that performs so effectively that its customers never need to contact it.

The concept is grounded in the idea that, with the aid of technology, a service provider can perform so well that only in exceptional circumstances will its customers need to contact the utility company to discuss services.

The idea is to make the service experience more seamless for the customer while giving them greater control and visibility into critical, sought-after information such as billing and usage details.

The approach has already been adopted in diverse industries such as banking, retail and telecommunications - by organisations that use the "invisible" models to engage and interact with customers and to improve efficiencies, says Stuart MacDonald, chief operating officer at enterprise software major TechnologyOne.

However, "invisibility" is particularly relevant in the energy sector at a time when utilities are being buffeted by regulatory uncertainty, more efficient renewable energy sources, rising power costs and increasing expectations of service levels from customers.

While some utilities provide apps to monitor usage and billing, technology adoption is set to expand, MacDonald says.

“Think of a future which allows consumers to monitor in real time their power generation, efficiency and consumption, allows them to modify their behaviour to match demand with supply and potentially sell any excess power back to the wholesale market or even to their neighbours,” he says.

To deal with this, many utilities are undertaking digital transformation initiatives to boost their agility and focus on service.

TechnologyOne holds valuable experience in this area, with nearly 400 of its customers - including utilities, airports, ports and councils - reliant on large asset bases to deliver services. Major utility customers include up to 70 per cent of Victorian water authorities including Melbourne Water and South East Water.

“Digital transformation is not solely an IT project," MacDonald says. "It's also a mindset change from an organisation perspective. This means that the whole organisation needs to become more agile and change the way they would have traditionally delivered IT projects."

Organisations are increasingly recognising that traditional methods of IT delivery – which have focused largely on keeping the lights on with an occasional large-scale upgrade or replacement projects - need to shift to ongoing innovation through digital transformation.

The concept of a borderless organisation is of particular value to utilities in today's disruptive environment that is pushing them to find better and more proactive ways of interacting with stakeholders.

This approach involves breaking down the barriers between information technology and business and enabling smaller, multi-discipline teams to work, which allows the organisation to deliver continuous innovation.

TechnologyOne offers advanced solutions to support continuous innovation and the concept of a borderless organisation. It's enterprise solutions for asset-intensive organisations help to manage assets throughout their lifecycle. This includes all required supporting back-office functions such as corporate services, human resource management and customer-information systems.

In addition, the ASX-listed company has developed its industry-specific solutions, such as OneEnergy and OneWater, which help make very sophisticated software easy to use because they are pre-configured for the requirements of a particular industry.

MacDonald says there has been a massive change in thinking about how software can be used to manage an organisation, with a clear shift towards making enterprise software more knowledge-based.

“Organisations don’t want personnel in different departments spending the bulk of their time manually entering information into systems and then spending more time trying to get it out again to report on it," he says. "TechnologyOne's systems are intelligent enough to simplify these processes and present information back in terms of meaningful actionable insights allowing them to make informed decisions.

“That is allowing individuals in the organisation to concentrate more of their time on strategic initiatives and on more value-add work.”

Learn more about TechnologyOne's work with asset-intensive business at www.technologyonecorp.com/assets

Originally published in The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday 12 July

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