More than 1,100 attendees representing 190 different utility companies from 23 countries gathered in San Diego for three days focused on how to get the most from their SAP systems at the SAP for Utilities conference. Attendees represented all types of utilities—both public and private—including gas, electric, water and wastewater, communications, and renewables.

It was a collegial and lively crowd that came ready to share new ideas with old acquaintances, including at a speed networking session that kept going strong after its official end. After a day of pre-conference sessions on topics such as SAP S/4HANA transitions, SAP Cloud for Utilities, intelligent asset management, and architecting the intelligent enterprise, attendees were ready for two solid days of keynotes, presentations, and product demos.

Major Trends for SAP Customers in Utilities

ASUG CEO Geoff Scott kicked off the day one keynote by discussing the three key trends that surfaced in ASUG research on the utilities industry: deciding whether to migrate to SAP S/4HANA, managing data and analytics, and responding to customer demands.

Scott shared that 28% of participants in our study work at organizations that are adopting SAP S/4HANA. He encouraged, “Go find these individuals while you’re here and talk with them.” He mentioned Salt River Project, Dominion Energy, and NRG as just a few of the presenters speaking about their SAP S/4HANA projects. Others included National Grid, Cleco Holdings, and Snohomish County PUD. “We’re here to help you build a business case for migration,” Scott said.

Disruption Shaking Up Utilities

It didn’t take long for the theme of disruption to arise. SAP National Vice President Michael O’Donnell mentioned just some of the factors currently shaking up the utilities space, including deregulation, decarbonization, and heightened consumer expectations. “What got us here will not get us there,” O’Donnell noted, calling out the need for new business models that can adapt to trends like bidrirectional energy flow and real-time customer engagement, as just a few examples.

SAP’s Chief Customer Innovation Officer Eric Stein reiterated the inflection point that many SAP customers are reaching. Describing how organizations have largely spent the last few decades optimizing their systems, “Now both internal and external expectations are coming together for the first time in a generation,” Stein said. “So many industries are changing…that it’s not just about the technology, it’s how you reach the customer and the employee through moments that matter.”

Infrastructure Enhancements and Tough Questions

Other keynote sessions included a stand-up routine from comedian Jay Leno, who referred to the utilities industry in a later Q&A session. He mentioned his hope that the U.S. would introduce a program similar to the Peace Corp focused on rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.

Kat Cole, Chief Operating Officer and President of FOCUS Brands, held the room’s attention on day two as she told the story of how she turned around the struggling Cinnabon brand and became its CEO by asking three critical questions of the organization:

  • What can we get rid of that customers no longer value or use?
  • When do we say no?
  • What is the one thing we can do differently that would improve the business?

Customers Sharing Project Knowledge
More than 90% of the sessions at SAP for Utilities were customer-led—many of which were standing room only this year. Sessions concentrated on critical areas of the utilities business including the customer experience, operational excellence, digital strategy, and data and analytics.

Charge Anywhere, Pay Once

Christopher Swartz of San Diego Gas & Electric shared a close-to-home story about how the company is launching its Power Your Drive electric vehicle (EV) charging program in anticipation of California’s ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for 2030.

The utility is using capabilities in SAP S/4HANA to deliver a simple, seamless customer experience for what is actually a highly complex/technical process for staff on the back end. “This project required us to touch 250 different business processes, integrate 85 systems, and replace 45 systems,” Swartz said. It involved nonstandard data that needed to be managed in real time, including customer and variable electricity pricing data. Customers who use the EV charging stations will be billed directly through their existing utilities accounts.

“Rarely do we get these types of opportunities to not just transform our technology, but our entire business model,” Swartz said. He credited the guiding principles for the project as a way the organization set the tone for its success. San Diego Gas & Electric will be testing the new program through the end of 2019 in anticipation of its 2020 launch.

Utilities, Know Your Customers

Another standout presentation told the story of Duke Energy’s multiyear transformation project built on the data and insights the utility has been collecting from its customers. Retha Hunsicker described how the Customer Connect program is foundational to how the utility is transforming its customer experience. The utility’s five-year project kicked off in 2018 with design thinking exercises to build customer journeys and hit its first go-live in June 2019.

The project started with some surprising learnings for the Duke team. “We thought customers wanted their power company to be at the back of their mind,” Hunsicker said. “It turned out to be the opposite. As a result, personalization has become a theme across the entire Customer Connect project. And you can’t deliver personalization without knowing your customer.”

The three imperatives of the program reflect this: give customers control to use Duke the way they want to, help them self-educate where they want to, and use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to understand what customers are experiencing and what they value. Duke Energy was honored with one of the 2019 SAP Industry Innovation Awards for Excellence in Customer Service.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Interprets the Internet of Meters

To a packed room, John O’Connor, principal product manager at American Water, described how the utility built a meter operations app that reduced faulty readings and false positives by 90%. “Our meters are our cash registers,” O’Connor said. “Most are AMR meters that we drive our trucks by to pick up readings. But sometimes those communications fail, and the meters send error codes.”

He explained how the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company in the U.S. made sense of the massive amount of data it collects from its water meters using artificial intelligence (AI) built into a new app. The app tracks a variety of scenarios ranging from meter tampering to improperly installed meters or out-of-the-ordinary water consumption patterns. “We know when our customers go to work and when they come home based on their individual consumption patterns, and we can send them an alert if something looks unusual,” O’Connor explained.

“This project was born as a big data problem. There is no way we could ever employ enough human analysts to analyze this data, so we need to rely on technology for help,” he said. “AI and machine learning are about looking for patterns and recognizing them.” Now, the utility is reducing the cost of its service calls and prioritizing meter issues by risk and potential revenue loss with the extra intelligence it has on its meters.

“Everything old is new again. The Industrial Revolution happened with humans and machines working side by side,” O’Connor said. “AI today exists to take on repetitive, meaningless tasks so the humans can focus on strategy and relationships.”

Save the date to join us October 18–20, 2020 in San Diego for our next SAP for Utilities event.