In the Utility sector, the technology trends that are shaping the immediate future largely converge around building a better end-user experience. They take the form of developing solutions that meet the ever-higher expectations of end-user customers, and at the same time, manage to clearly communicate relevant content.
On the one hand, consumers have become accustomed to using digital tools and to independently manage, in self-service mode, the relationship with the supplier company. And on the other, they are increasingly aware of the need to accelerate a change in direction so as to move unhindered toward greener, more efficient and sustainable forms of distribution and use.
Utility end-users want to have a detailed overview of their consumption, do not accept ambiguity in terms of pricing, and show a growing interest in all the measures that guarantee both reduced costs and reduced emissions.
End-users demand transparency and at the same time, they expect impeccable service. While transparency derives largely from the implementation of consumption-based charging systems and features such as consolidated billing, a service that lives up to the expected standards may include an immediate and easy-to-use online portal, apps developed for an appropriately segmented user base, and, unfailingly, personalized and interactive communication suited to support a fully customer-centric approach.
Utilities: technology trends to deliver the best possible customer experience
Until a few years ago, to gain a competitive advantage, Utility companies had to use traditional marketing levers: from providing ever lower prices to ensuring greater security, continuity, and reliability, from progressive ease of access to ease of service use. In general, within a system of poorly differentiated and basically unidirectional relationships, the customer was traditionally considered a rather passive actor.
Today, the situation has completely changed, and technology trends in the Utility sector are aimed at developing solutions that are able to combine major collective issues such as responsibility towards the environment, compliance with national and international regulations, and attention to the specific needs of each customer.
Energy transition and new modes of communication
The Utility sector is at the center of an inevitable energy transition process that involves public service functions and business activity, organizations, communities, and individual consumers. Companies in the sector must offer proposals that are in line with these complex needs, concretely articulating their contribution to environmental and community protection in the implementation of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) initiatives.
A cultural shift: from one-to-many broadcasting to conversation
Digital transformation has profoundly changed the operating logic of the entire industry: it has made it possible to replace outdated, ineffective strategies with others that are capable of intercepting and keeping the relationship with users alive; it has redefined the business model based on a new digital culture that is centered on the use of granular, quality data and a more balanced exchange between business and customers.
Digital technologies can provide Utility companies with the right tools to both respond to the needs of the market as a whole and to interact with the individual customer in the most effective way possible. Here, the customer is considered as a communicator within a real conversation, who must be listened to and recognized as an individual. That is why it’s crucial to implement integrated, innovative, and simple solutions that are able to enable tailored communication based on the history and characteristics of each user (from consumption preferences, to payment habits, to educational and insight needs).
All of the utility technology trends we will see throughout this post—from the increasingly advanced use of data, to the full adoption of the 5G protocol, to the entry of smart metering—support the shift to a technology paradigm that is built to deliver the best possible customer experience: the personalized one.
The three main Utility technology trends: advanced use of data, 5G, smart grid
According to a recent Accenture survey, 98% of utility executives believe that ongoing technological advances enable stable and continuous growth over the long term, more so than other economic, political, or social trends. It’s thanks to technological development, then, that Utility companies are gradually paving the way for an increasingly sustainable future, one where resource management occurs more efficiently, the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is realized, and the grid infrastructure is capable of withstanding systemic emergencies, unexpected events, and natural disasters.
What technology trends will make this future possible?
Use of data
In the energy and utilities sector, big data analytics will continue to determine the form and content of business proposals. And it will do so to an even greater extent:
- Data on consumer preferences on price, quantity, and type of energy consumed will increasingly be used by companies both to define interaction patterns with different user segments and to resolve critical issues in a timely manner. With the data collected on the different touchpoints, enterprises will be able, for example, to provide technicians working in the field with all relevant and up-to-date information that is useful for solving problems that were previously raised by that particular customer.
- Through advanced analysis of geolocation data, companies can formulate more accurate weather forecasts and thus prevent possible service disruptions. In the event of critical situations, they are also able to arrange for automatic notification messages to be sent to warn customers of potential disruptions.
- Big data analysis helps utilities improve customer segmentation and develop products and services that better match the preferences of increasingly precisely qualified targets. For example, an offering that excludes print and limits its communications to digital messages (emails, mini-sites, apps, interactive videos, and so on) may cost much less than more traditional contracts that also include print materials. This type of offer could be a plus for users who have shown sensitivity to the issue of dematerialization in the past.
In general, the more data that flows into the company’s technology infrastructure, the greater the value generated, from which all stakeholders will benefit. Without detailed information about the current state of the grid and the flow of energy through the system, utilities cannot decide how to evaluate the effects produced by previous actions and what levers to act on to improve their results. In short, they cannot optimize what they do not measure.
As the frequency and quality of data increase, so do the opportunities for process optimization, and as a result, the value produced increases. The data we have referred to so far can come either from the channels manned by companies and the touchpoints set up to guide the customer along the marketing funnel or—and this is the very important technology trend we will discuss later—from the “smart grid” ecosystem of which smart meters are also a part. First, however, let’s focus on 5G, the technology that sets the structural conditions for the acceleration of many technology trends in the energy and utilities sector.
The term “5G technology” refers to the set of mobile and cellular wireless technologies that is helping to improve the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of businesses in the Utility sector.
- 5G provides faster and more reliable wireless connectivity, which is essential to support data exchange and control between sensors and digital meters. With 5G, Utilities can more quickly identify and resolve problems on the network and optimize its operation in real time.
- 5G enables the deployment of a higher number of sensors and meters that will ensure even greater coverage of the territory. This can help Utility companies identify problems more quickly and take timely action on the network to reduce waste and improve efficiency.
- 5G supports machine learning (ML) applications that analyze the massive amounts of data generated by sensors and smart meters. The results of these analyses are used by Utilities to identify patterns and trends and to extract useful insights and make better network management decisions.
The smart grid ecosystem
The two technology utility trends we have mentioned—use of data and 5G—converge on a third technology that somehow encompasses and reinforces them. It’s the smart grid, the electricity supply network that uses digital communications to detect and react to local consumption changes. A key element of the smart grid is the smart meter, an electronic device that records information such as consumption (of gas or electricity), voltage levels, current, and power factor.
The launch of 5G technology is both increasing the power of smart meters and sensors and enabling new features. The new generation of smart meters is easier to install and connect, is increasingly connected to sensors of different types, and is therefore able to transmit data more quickly and efficiently. This enables Utility companies to get an extraordinarily granular and accurate overview of their customers’ energy consumption and to respond more quickly to changes in demand. On the end-user side, smart meters measure and transmit real-time information on utility usage, enable consumption-based billing, and provide up-to-date information on their status.
Utilities and technology trends: the tools to build a trusting relationship
In a previous post, we investigated major trends that were emerging in the Utility sector at the time: from artificial intelligence applications, through which companies can enhance customer interaction, streamline and simplify processes (transactional and communication), and reduce costs, to automation programs, which are used to solve contingent problems of excessive load (e.g., in call centers) to systems for collaborative management of multichannel document creation, storage, and distribution processes, in which transactional data and data stored in CRMs are transformed into documents and communications.
Continuing that reflection, the point we want to make here is that technological advancement has brought significant benefits from an operational standpoint (improving core activities of energy production and distribution, waste disposal, water management, and so on), but it has also produced an equally revolutionary impact in communicating with target audiences. Tools that enable end-users to enjoy the benefits of technological innovation include:
- Products for the dematerialization of document processes, which ensure compliance with Italian and European regulations, reduce the economic impact related to document and fiscal management, and facilitate interactions between company and end-user. The assurance of digital, correct, attentive, and complete communication has an undeniable positive effect on the customer experience;
- Digital tools and channels that enable more advanced forms of personalization, self-service services that create new opportunities for engagement and increase end-user empowerment by helping to decrease the volume of calls to call centers. More and more utilities—from multinational corporations to start-ups—are making personalized apps, microsites, and interactive videos, also accessible via mobile devices available to their users that allow them to manage and pay their bills, independently update their customer profiles, resolve outages, provide alternative scheduling, and explore topics of interest. A dialogue that can be said to be satisfactory between company and user today must necessarily include the creation and targeted distribution of interactive content through which to build a trusting relationship. By using digitization to revamp their messaging system, Utility companies can achieve better results in terms of engagement and retention and significantly decrease customer churn;
- Software for Customer Communications Management dedicated to document process management, which can make a decisive contribution to modernizing communication in the Utility field. These are cloud-based products that support the creation, multichannel distribution (online and offline), and archiving of documents, including paged documents, from the processing and enrichment of complex data to the administration of the most complex workflows. For the end-user, this means being reached by the most meaningful content, on the right channels, at the right time.
By relying on these technologies and governing the technological utility trends we have discussed, organizations in the field can develop a number of important services. In particular, they have access to tools that enable profiled and interactive communication. In effect, this means operating under the banner of quality and acting on the real needs of customers and citizens.