Matt Gleeson, vice president for strategic alliances with Oracle Utilities, spoke at Asian Utility Week recently in Kuala Lumpur. We took the opportunity to discuss the role of Oracle Utilities in the digital transformation in the Asian market, as well as the global utility industry.
Can you review how Oracle Utilities brings value to the utility sector?
Oracle Utilities looks after an industry leading set of applications and business enablers that organizations use across the entire value chain of a utility. We are focused on bringing global intelligence together not only to help our customers and business partners advance their own market, but equally to drive the best practices globally as we all seek to make safe, clean energy and water accessible across the globe with lest impact on our environment. Many utilities across the globe are undertaking significant transformation projects both in the advancement of their intelligent grid networks, and their engagement of the changing expectations from their consumer base. We embrace the challenge of helping the most dynamic thinking utilities across the globe to achieve digital and organizational transformation success.
What industry topics are trending at Asian Utility Week, and why are these important?
Earlier today we were talking about how the energy industry needs to transform its thinking from a traditional poles, wires, meters and bills view- into that of a customer centric point of view. Utilities have traditionally over many decades, and in fact hundreds of years, had the view that they should supply only a very limited amount of information to customers – leading to consumers only really giving their energy or water consumption a handful of minutes thought throughout the year.
So, Utilities tell them what Utilities think that customers need to know, in the past that was a bill. Or if there was an outage, we tell them about the outage. Customers don’t want that model anymore. They want information across a broader span, and want information that can help them make proactive decisions about their consumption, provider or household/business.
Customers want to be able to access information from the utility about such things as aggregated usage (traditionally the context for their bills), but they also want information that is very specific about themselves, about how they’re using power, water, and gas, in their lives. So, today’s customers are wanting to connect with their utility on a different level. Success will only come from changing a utility’s engagement behaviors, such that the interchange with consumers attaches at an emotional level with the customer – because it is about them. And that’s where we’re helping utilities start to make a change.
For if we don’t, the disruption that is already coming to the industry will displace those ‘traditional utilities,’ as customers see them. Most importantly, it will encourage a new set of players to come in that genuinely do want to have that connection with the customer.
How will future deregulation affect utilities, and customers?
We’ve seen a lot of corporations, and a lot of energy markets go through that journey of deregulation, and the introduction of a retail sector, and then the aftermath of that introduction. Here’s the one thing that we can say for sure: in the lead-up to deregulation, if the incumbent companies have not taken the advanced steps to embrace the customer…. Then when the customer gets autonomy to make a choice about who they want to deal with, in almost every case there is a backlash against the incumbents.
So, it’s essential that you start a modern digitization journey that engages customers well in advance of any change of market reform – even if retail competition it still a decade or more away in your market. And don’t just think of the threat coming in to occurrence through re-regulation or reform; it will also happen based upon the intrusion of other forms of energy supply, be it solar, be it through creation of private and community microgrids, or perhaps even new future where energy is transmitted without wires. So, it’s not a case of waiting for reform, and being ready for just in time for reform, but it’s about being proactive so that reform or any other disruptor can’t hurt you as badly.
How would you assess Malaysia’s digital utility journey?
It’s been very interesting. If we look at Malaysia, the energy demand of the country, and the incumbency and role that TNB (Tenaga Nasional Berhard) has played, it’s clear that TNB has taken the first steps into digitization. We’ve heard a lot about that throughout the conference, and that’s exciting because that starts with the dialog that comes from the customer.
The important thing now as TNB starts to put information into the field and gather more data from customers, the technology is there to take action upon the insights we can glean from all these devices. But it’s a case of converting that massive amount of data into a customer centric mindset (not stop at a financial or asset intensive mindset) and then do something with that data that really means something to the customer, not just the performance of the utility. And I do think that TNB understands this. Creating a path to doing that is the next step, and that that step is ready to be taken now.
Can you elaborate on how a utility can make itself customer centric?
There’s often a very traditional mindset embedded in the culture of the utility and the way it embraces the customer. I’ve seen companies go through a total rebranding exercise where they basically turn themselves 180 degrees to say, “this is no longer the way we want to be considered in the market,” and in doing that have made themselves customer centric.
On the other hand, I’ve seen the need to balance the journey to a sustainable and reliable grid with a better consumption model, and a better engagement with utilities. It’s a tricky balance. The only way I can say it ever works successfully is if all layers in the organization buy in and move toward an aligned customer-centric goal. It tends to be that organic change from one department on its own takes a long time to take seed and won’t reform the utilities culture.
Undertaking pilots that engage customers in that dialog and feedback and then refining and re-testing the way the utility wants to take customer engagement programs forward in their market is the way to find the future that engages your customers best. Utilities can’t do projects in a shut off laboratory where they test something on a theory of that they think might work. Instead utilities must engage customers on the new level of expectations that the digitally competent consumer now demands.
I believe this can be achieved at any utility. They’ve just got to engage the right people. And the right people to engage are their very own customers. Customers are the one central part of the future of any utility. And in that future, those consumers will no longer accept being dictated to the way the utilities have engaged them in the past.
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