The Australian utilities sector is on a fast track to disruption. Digital technology is very quickly changing how services are installed, operated and managed. Innovation is ripe, and many technology giants are moving in for a piece of the utilities pie. In the power sector, for example, many companies who have not traditionally been associated in this space, such as Google and Tesla, are shaping the future of electricity with their technology and manufacturing developments. Digital technology has made way for cheaper and faster service delivery compared to hard, physical infrastructure, and the utilities sector needs to move fast to keep up with the advancements.
Where does the customer fit in?
One of the biggest gamechangers for the utility industry has been the impact of technology on customer expectations. The democratisation of technology has seen a shift in power to the customer. Customers are increasingly thinking about how they use and source commodities like water and electricity, and many are taking matters into their own hands. This has led to the emergence of what many call ‘prosumers’, that being customers who generate their own power and even sell their own utilities on digital platforms like blockchain. This has particularly shaken up the traditional exchange from generator to retailer to customer. The utility business model has been spun on its head, and as a result utility organisations are scrambling to offer new, sustainable capabilities for customers to keep up with changing demands.
As the utilities sector works towards introducing more digital initiatives, this puts into question how customers will be engaged in the process. While there is in evident need for companies to learn how to harness digital technology, industry leaders need to make sure that digital initiatives are made solely with the customer in mind. Now you may be thinking, who really cares about customer experience – if people have their water and electricity, they’ll be happy. When we look at the big picture, yes, this is true, however this misses a vital step. Utility generators need to find the best way to provide this commodity. Why? Because this can mean cheaper costs for the customer, a reduced risk of malfunctions or service disturbances, and improved management for when things go wrong. While some customers may never have to think about this process, there are still many who experience regular problems with their utilities, and it is these customers who are deeply interested in the benefits digital technology can have on production efficiency.
The difficulty within the utilities sector, however, is that there is an imbalance when it comes to the rate of disruption. Energy companies, for example, are particularly advanced with initiatives like smart power metres and solar alternatives, however there is less competition within the water and gas sector, which has led to a slower rate of evolving for these companies. A culture of innovation needs to be widespread across all utility sectors, even if this speed varies. It is never too early to start looking for new or better alternatives, and customers have the expectation that this is what all utility companies are already doing. This doesn’t mean that every potential technology solution is the answer. Utilities need to take a step back from the whirlwind of technology talk to thoroughly analyse where the customer pain points are to uncover where the demand lies for reformation, whether that be with or without technology. This means mapping out current customer journeys, reviewing internal processes (such as roles, responsibilities, communication channels) and creating opportunities for future feedback management.
What we can gather is that within the utility industry, there is a clear need for companies to come forward as leaders of change and reformation. The industry is far from stagnant, and companies need to listen in very closely to customers if they want to guide their future strategy in the right direction.