The utilities sector plays a vital role in our society. Yet it’s easy to overlook the challenges of supplying water, energy and communications. Vast networks of complex infrastructure include extensive legacy hardware, often buried underground. This requires ongoing care and attention, and makes peak performance almost unattainable.
As digital transformation disrupts every sector, some utility firms are embracing it. Along with Insightive.tv, we sat down with three senior employees of electricity, water and energy companies to discuss where they are on their digital transformation journey and its link to customer experience.
Our first interviewee was Stephen Green, the head of IT at Bristol Water. His job involves improving efficiency and creating a data driven culture. That’s hard in an industry where each water firm has its own data models. There has been very little data sharing over the years. Other than complaints or fault reports, point of supply insights are hard to get.
Even so, Bristol Water is leveraging digital transformation on behalf of 1.2 million customers. Historically one of the most innovative firms in the sector, they are at the start of their digital innovation journey. Stephen can already see the pivotal role that Low-code technology brings to the table.
He sees decision making as a key benefit of collecting and analysing more data. Extra data inputs determine future investments, supporting best practice and improving operating efficiencies. He cites robotics and automation as two areas where old practices could improve.
Change in the water industry is now being driven by the AMP 7 regulatory update. Customer feedback will expand, meaning Bristol Water needs to do more than before. It will have to deliver services to meet evolving consumer needs. Stephen says improvements to the customer experience are only achievable with digital transformation. He feels this is achievable through Bristol Water’s early adoption of IT best practice.
As water firms battle legacy issues and data siloes, First Utility continues to innovate. The UK’s seventh biggest energy company was only founded in 2008. They have led the market in digital technologies with projects such as smart meter installation. Director of Digital Chris Marsters oversees customer facing digital platforms and internal digital support.
Chris is a keen advocate of change within the energy sector. She says digital transformation improves customer service and experiences, with company-wide efficiencies. First Utility is doing this through data analysis and self service. Digital transformation is part of the company’s ethos, not a separate priority.
Being a relatively new company, they were able to avoid the legacy tech headache. Instead, they build flexible software platforms, with scope to evolve. They have also developed ‘pods’ for managing specific projects. Each pod comprises engineers, designers and product owners. These small groups work by themselves to achieve an outcome. That cuts down on bureaucracy and red tape. The firm encourages staff to innovate new products and experiences.
Chris says it’s hard to predict where First Utility will be in five years. Her aim is to develop a platform capable of adapting to future change. She concludes that legacy is the issue that forces many firms to stagnate.
Our final interview was with Paul Bircham. His role with Electricity North-West involves asset management, investment schemes and commercial functions. He is now in charge of a project to combine AI and IoT sensors. These will transform the control of electrical infrastructure, benefiting five million consumers. But Paul believes digital transformation should be more than a programme or project. He sees it as integral to delivering a wider agenda of ‘business change’.
Like the water industry, looking after legacy infrastructure uses huge sums of money. Paul says embedding digital technology in business processes ensures savings are passed onto customers. A central network now provides oversight of the entire electrical grid. Digital technology generates data, providing insights on systems and customers. In turn, this supports further applications of digital technology. It also ensures Electricity North-West serves its clients well, providing relevant information. As Paul points out, everything comes back to customers.
If you are looking to innovate within your organisation, get in touch for more details about how Low-code can help.