Innovation, Customer Focus, Automation: Top 3 Takeaways from DistribuTech

This year’s DistribuTech in New Orleans truly surpassed expectations. From innovative strategies to emerging trends and technologies, this premier conference for utilities and energy providers had everything needed to inspire participants for 2019, and beyond. Here are my top takeaways from the conference:

Complacency is the Downfall to Innovation

In his keynote presentation, Luke Williams, author and authority on innovation and disruption strategy, emphasized that utilities can’t afford to be complacent or arrogant—or lose sight of the future of the industry.

Business models are important—including the mix of resources, distribution channels, value chain partners, cost structure, and products and services. But, in order to secure future competitive advantages, utilities have to go beyond core competencies by continually exploring new ideas and ways of doing things.

“To be the disruptive change, you have to seek new ideas even when there isn’t an apparent reason for doing so.”

– Luke Williams, Executive Director, W.R. Berkley Innovation Lab

At the conference, Southern Company shared how they are doing this in their energy innovation center. As their Vice President, Michael Britt highlighted, “with demand rising, technology changing, and increasing competition, we need to grow faster and find new forms of revenue.”

In fact, one way Southern Company is innovating across the energy value chain is with new ecommerce solutions that offer smart financing options and give consumers better visibility into their energy usage.

And, while innovation has become critical for utilities to succeed, speed is equally important in the digital age. Driven by rising customer expectations, speed to change and deliver is essential.

For example, with Appian’s low-code development platform, utilities are delivering innovative applications across Field Service, Asset Management, NERC CIP Compliance, and Contact Center operations… in as little as 8 weeks.

This all said, the choice is yours: Be disrupted…or be the disruptor.

New Customer-Centric Programs Emerging

Over the last few years, there has been a big shift and focus on customer engagement for utilities. Customers are no longer seen as ‘ratepayers’—they are becoming an important part of the grid ecosystem—with business strategy starting and ending at the customer.

Utilities are focusing on how they can better engage customers and improve their experience by piloting new programs around payment options, energy usage insights, and energy advisors.

Additionally, they are rolling out smart metering systems, mobile platforms for outage response, and technology to improve how agents engage with their customers.

These types of new programs and technologies are delivering the biggest boost in their call centers. They allow agents to personalize interactions and give tangible offerings they can provide to customers, resulting in both a better agent and customer experience.

“Energy efficiency programs are all about how we can help customers stretch their dollar. When customers are more satisfied, we can make up the costs on the operational side.”

– Joe Thomas, Director of Enhanced Customer Satisfaction, Duke Energy

Duke Energy, with over 7 million customers, talked about how they are focusing on customer satisfaction and monitoring Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to reduce detractors and improve engagement. By leveraging data and predictive analytics, they are able to reach out to customers midway through billing cycles to share insights like anticipated usage, spending on HVAC, and other energy consumption stats.

Automation Driving New Levels of Efficiency and Performance

Automation is having a big impact on the utilities sector. From smart metering and mobilizing field workers to highly automated plants, organizations are seeing new levels of cost savings and operational performance with automation.

Automating tasks and processes end-to-end through software reduces costs significantly, typically by 25% to 50%, and sometimes as much as 65%.

Tucson Electric Power, for example, shared how they implemented a mobile workforce solution to automate their paper processes across their field work activities—from technicians response to meter exchange work to pole inspections.

Additionally, utilities are incorporating intelligent automation, including robotic process automation (RPA), to automate repetitive, labor intensive and high-volume processes. From supply chain and field work to finance and compliance processes, freeing up employees to focus on value add work and customer-facing interactions is driving new levels of efficiencies, quality, and cost savings.

From the inspiring ideas and knowledge exchanged to the quality conversations, DistribuTech was a wonderful event. I hope to see many of you there again next year.

Until then, if you are interested in learning more about how utilities are embracing digital technologies and intelligent automation to scale innovation, I invite you to read our eBook on Four Areas Energy Organizations Can Power Digital Initiatives Today.

Jenna Harvey
Industry Marketing Manager
Appian

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