In October, I had the pleasure to be amongst peers at European Utility Week in Amsterdam. Across all the topics discussed at the conference, I saw one central theme: disruption. Disruption in the way we produce and exchange energy, disruption in the way we operationalize data, disruption in the way we serve customers—disruption is here. The only difference throughout Europe is the pace at which energy companies are feeling that disruption and from where.
So what can retailers do to prepare to not just survive the disruption but thrive within it?
We have the advantage of learning from those who went before us. For instance, according to McKinsey, telecommunications saw a 365% growth in mobile revenue pool throughout the industry’s heaviest years of disruption. Nearly all of that new revenue was captured by new entrants ready to disrupt the traditional models. We must look to examples like this and learn. Why did disruption in the telecom industry favor new entrants?
The answer: Change necessitates agility. Traditionally incumbents have been slower to change and less able to adapt.
Retailers in the utility industry must be at once reliable and agile. The key to thriving within disruption is a platform upon which both core business processes and new business models can be transformed. One that supports the balance between reliability and agility. Thriving requires both tracks to work in tandem—so that while core business processes are fortified with automation and deeper customer engagement, new models of innovation can be explored and refined. It is only when teams fiercely commit to these dual tracks that we achieve the agility required to thrive within, and even begin to fuel disruption.
Let’s dive further into these three key areas that are necessary for retailers to nurture both the core business model and new business innovation: engagement, automation, and agility.
For retailers, engagement embodies that customer-centricity that must be at the core of the business. Based on an Accenture global survey of utility customers, customers only spend 9 minutes a year interacting with their utility. Compare that to Facebook, where the average user spends about 50 minutes per day on the website. Per day. These moments represent opportunities to both improve the core business but also pivot towards new business models of selling value-added services. But to take advantage of these moments, retailers must have the context to make those moments matter- they must understand how to personalize not only the information they communicate, but how they communicate it, they must be able to personalize the service they deliver to each customer.
Often, customer systems get in the way of this context though, siloing the data needed to understand the customer, and the business processes needed to engage fully. NRGi is a fantastic example of a utility that saw that challenge, and the critical need for customer-centricity. NRGi kicked off a digital transformation project to put the right customer platform in place to nurture engagement in preparation for Danish market transition. NRGi established a new cloud-based, complete meter to cash platform. The complete meter to cash to customer approach gives NRGi the context and the business process continuity to engage with each customer on their terms. While taking advantage of cloud gives NRGi scale and flexibility to continue to change and grow as needed.
Automation, the second critical piece of the platform for success within disruption. If we think about it, we’ve all become quasi employees—we do our own banking, check ourselves in to airlines. Automation across industries has enabled that. Retailers can leverage automation to fortify core business processes, streamline the amount of staff time and technology required to support it.
But to be truly transformative, automation is crucial across all processes, not just self-service, not just automating the happy path. Retailers that automate throughout front and back office gain the ability to mitigate issues or fallout that arise from typical utility customer challenges.
Take Green Mountain Power, for instance, in Vermont. The people of Vermont know what a bitter cold winter can feel like. Green Mountain Power recognized that these harsh winters were a major burden on many of its customers who simply could not pay high winter heating bills. GMP put in place a Heat Pump Rental program, to automatically target those customers who were most vulnerable to high bills in the winter, getting them enrolled in programs to provide more energy efficient options and avoid unexpectedly high bills. GMP leveraged automation and a great deal of customer-centric thinking to find a resolution to a common and devastating challenge many of its customers faced.
Utilities around the world have continued to pilot new methods for automation as well. For instance, Exelon is leveraging Chatbots with Artificial Intelligence to deliver 24/7 customer service – with machine learning these chatbots grow more and more intelligent as they interact to provide not just responses to questions, but advice. And as we look down the line, we see so much potential to use automation to streamline core business processes and enable new services – like using drones to heat map solar panels. We’ve seen this in utility-scale solar to monitor performance, what if we used this as retailers, to heat map neighborhoods and automate outreach to good candidates for a new solar program? There is so much potential that we can achieve when we remove barriers to automation in technology systems and business processes.
And finally we get to agility, the third crucial piece of the retailer platform. This continues to be one of the biggest pain points we see for retailers facing disruption; as we said previously, change in the industry requires adaptation, and quick adaptation at that. Incumbent retailers, and even new entrants, often find that they simply do not have a foundation that supports the level of agility they need. Some of the biggest pain points we hear about are rigid systems that don’t communicate, don’t share data and information efficiently, or siloed technology that stifles innovation – how many times has your marketing team come up with a great idea that sits on a shelf because legacy architecture simply cannot support it?
So much of this pain comes from customer systems that were designed for an outdated approach. To thrive within this disruption around us, we need to throw out everything we know about that CIS. We need to focus on the new retailer platform that was architected for flexibility and modularity, that balances reliability and agility, and one that supports a customer-centric, scalable data model. This is where we get that flexibility, that agility to pivot when disruption requires us to do so, to strengthen our customer engagement, to automate our core business processes, while exploring new business innovation.
Some of the largest retailers in Europe that we work with are breaking the traditional CIS model, driving instead from a customer-data centric model—deconstructing systems into a micro-services model; throwing away the traditional rule book of the CIS, look instead at the right data model to enable a federated approach to flexible, scalable, AGILE customer-centric systems. We continue to architect this customer-centric, agile platform to allow retailers to step away from the old transaction business and step into a relational business.
Why is this important?
Because this is exactly where retailers shift from surviving disruption, to thriving within it and even fueling it.
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