The Australia utilities sector is focused on enhancing the experiences of customers while also improving the efficient and effective utilisation of their infrastructure assets, according to a  survey of local leaders.

Customer services was identified as the business function most likely to be radically transformed in the near term with local executives also expecting to invest heavily in improving operations.

According to a survey of local industry executives, commissioned by OpenText, 42 per cent say customer service and experience is the area of their business most ripe for disruption.

From that same survey, 35 per cent of respondents said operations, 19 per cent said workforce/field staff management, 16 per cent said asset management and 3 per cent said supply chain.

 

 

The findings are outlined in a report Digital Transformation in the Australian Utilities Sector, from Which-50’s Digital Intelligence Unit.

One of the areas of transformation, according to the report, involves applying digital technologies such as big data analytics, IoT, or cloud computing to hard, expensive physical infrastructure assets needed to generate, transmit and sell the utility’s service.

The report explains, “Predictive analytics can save significantly on maintenance costs, sensor technology in IoT can provide a real-time view of performance of the network, while drone technology might improve monitoring or response in a hostile environment.

“When coupled with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, it might be able to improve response times or even stop problems before they occur.”

In the report, Zarko Sumic, Distinguished Analyst at Gartner, explains the role of the customer has evolved. Where once they had “captive ratepayers” now they have customers who can switch providers or begin generating their own power.

He says, “So if you have captive ratepayers you don’t really have to pay too much attention to [customer experience]. In a sense you don’t need to understand them, you need to know how much energy or water or gas they use and where to send the bill and did they pay it. It’s simply what the business required.

“The customer was really a regulator who acted as a market proxy, making sure that you follow the rules.”

As soon as governments began to deregulate the sector, the incumbents came to the uncomfortable realisation that customers had choices and tended to exercise them, causing an attitude change within the utility sector.  

Sumic said in the report, utility companies then moved to implement CRM products to better understand what customers wanted to buy and their propensity to buy. A new wave of consumer-led change is coming even as utilities are still grappling with the initial deregulatory impacts.

He said this is a second coming of customers, “Because they know potentially there will be new players, they want to be on the good side of the customer. Customers have a choice, so this is why they are putting emphasis on the customer experience.”

“Not because they want to necessarily sell them more but they may want to work with them as partners in future”, he said.

Graeme Rix, CIO of SA Water recently spoke on an industry panel hosted by Gartner about the future of smart assets said, “We have been maintaining our cost and our price, but our customer expectation over price is high on the list of what they need from us and keeping prices stable and low is the priority.”

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