Calling himself the “world’s greatest consumer,” utility watchdog Michael Shames helped in 1981 to create the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), where he has served as executive director...
Customer Service: 2020
Grid upgrades spark an interactivity revolution.
customer experience. It will be a significant challenge because utilities haven’t faced this before.
Labuhn, Telus: There might be a change in the utility’s desire to provide differentiated services if some other players start taking revenue away from utilities. At a minimum, regulators need to be aware of the new models that are emerging so they don’t sink them in the assets of existing utilities.
Fortnightly: What are the most important pitfalls or challenges that could prevent the industry from realizing the smart grid’s potential for improving customer service?
Labuhn, Telus: One of the first challenges is the industry’s current focus. Smart-grid investments for most utilities are very much focused on operational improvements. Getting beyond the meter is the next step toward a customer-engagement mindset.
The other thing that inhibits rapid movement is the belief that these changes aren’t worth the investment. It takes a proactive utility to make investments that allow the company to engage clients more deeply. We’re seeing that engagement in more deregulated markets. Deregulated energy companies are taking engagement very, very seriously.
Jimenez, HP: Every utility and state will have its own issues and opportunities. But as states start deregulating, they have to try some level of standardization and consistency. Otherwise we’ll be facing multiple levels of different services and non-standard ways of doing things, and that will drive up the cost of taking care of the customer—and your enterprise.
Sullivan, Vertex: The biggest tactical challenge today is that current CIS systems are designed for one-way flows of information. IT needs to accommodate massive amounts of data and two-way flows. Many companies now are looking at their current CIS, for which they spent $50 million five or eight years ago, and asking ‘Can we add on to it and harden it and wrap new features around it to accommodate two-way customer and asset data?’ That will be a big challenge in the next few years.
Coveney, SAP: We’re focusing a lot of our R&D work on application-level interoperability. As we’re building out the infrastructure, we’re engaged in dialogue with partners and utilities to make sure they can make use of it. From a technology and application interoperability point of view, I think we’ve got it right, and we’re making sure we’re servicing utilities. The technology is well under way, but the industry is a bit behind on the business model.
Hagen, Convergys: With change comes more change, and the biggest pitfall might depend on whether the industry has the flexibility to explore with confidence what a different business model looks like, and to explore the new approaches that become possible. Change will be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept a lot of risk. Systems can be applied with the express purpose of de-risking the change for the utility. For example, why do a full rip-and-replace of your ecosystem when you can run a smart system in parallel with your legacy system, and use it to test new business models without disrupting your whole IT infrastructure?
In the first year or