Around the world, utility companies are entering a new age of customer power. Gone are the days, when inelastic demand allowed the option for companies to pay lip service to customer engagement. Today, the convergence of technological progress with the drive for sustainability and decarbonization, alongside regulatory intervention in the interests of consumer choice, mean companies must recalibrate their relationships with customers as valuable, autonomous assets within their systems. They need engagement which is not only service-based, but symbiotic.
For most, this new perspective is likely to require a redefinition of effective technology infrastructure in order to support far greater levels of interoperability between different elements of customer experience. For all, it will require an intense focus on data capture, management, accessibility and exploitation.
Maximized data capital is the constant that will link high performing utilities of the future, from best in class asset performance to best in class customer experience.
Over the course of the coming decade, we will see data unlock new ways to deliver customer value and system value that we may not be able to conceive of today. Already however, we know, that data – combined with advanced analytics – can enable win-wins for individual consumers and efficient infrastructure.
For example, increasing visibility of consumption data can enable behavior changes that lower consumer bills, and allow utilities to fulfil a greater social purpose for vulnerable consumers – by monitoring abnormalities in their usage patterns and alerting appropriate third parties if these suggest there is cause for concern about an individual’s wellbeing.
Perhaps more importantly though, this increasing ability to empower customers to visualize and flex their demand is beginning to allow for smarter infrastructure operations and a growing focus on optimizing capacity. The continuation of this focus is crucial to unlocking new business models, but also to global efforts to decarbonize and create more sustainable ways of serving growing populations.
But utilities can only do so much for customers and the environment with their own data. In order to get the best results for individuals, infrastructure systems and society, data needs to be able to be shared more freely between different elements of the utilities value chain, and between utilities and parallel sectors.
We can look to parallel sector for examples in how this is already being done elsewhere. For example, the
Open Subsurface Data Universe (OSDU) initiative for oil wells, or the Open Banking Initiative, which seeks to extract consumer financial records from an industry “black box” and place them back in the control of the individuals to whom they belong.
A cross-sector effort to further leverage the value of anonymized data could bring big picture benefits. For example, supplier switching data for a particular geography could be clubbed with real estate data (rents, buys) to bring a new perspective and understanding of customer behaviours for that geography. This could be used to create innovative new tariff structures and prioritized system capacity, benefiting the entire utility value chain.
By making a new world of data insights available, open data initiatives will help utilities to overcome conventional industry thinking to run more efficient operations, more connected and innovative business functions and more engaging customer experiences.
Vijay Dwarkanath leads Wipro’s utilities digital transformation initiatives, working with Power, Gas & Water Utilities globally. Manish Kumar Ojha, a domain architect for Wipro, Energy and Utilities.