Thinking about the topic for this month prompted many thoughts about digital transformation, what it means for utilities, and the impact it is having on people and how they adapt to this new way of operating.

The Backdrop for This Journey

As my focus is continually on the human factor associated with the pace of change through technological innovations in AI, Internet of Things (IoT), and Cloud Computing technologies, it is important to look at the “ripple effect” for all industries. By “ripple effect,” I mean where one small change is made, and it starts to affect other parts, and this continues on and on in ways that weren’t expected but are usually positive.

From Smart Meters to Smart Cities

When an energy provider can reduce their expenses through digital transformation and invest in smart energy grids and smart meters, it allows better planning and energy management of consumption patterns. On a fundamental level, it changes the paradigm of needing a meter reader in the field to collect data on consumption. These changes to increase efficiency in producing, selling, and distributing energy have enabled Smart City ecosystems to grow. These Smart Cities allow communities to share data on traffic patterns and volumes and, through algorithms, provide insights into the most efficient parking spot to prevent you from being late for an appointment. The growth in Smart Cities is only possible due to these types of advancements and many others that efficiently allow the management of electricity, gas, and water supplies, along with a focus on renewable energy options and sustainability.

Vertically Integrated Supply Chains

The growth in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road requires strengthening the EV charging infrastructures as the demand grows and the need to provide real-time monitoring capabilities increases. No one wants to be stranded in an EV without a place to charge it. This impacts the energy provider power grid; however, it also influences strategies and decisions for the automotive industry, battery manufacturers, battery raw material mining operations, renewable energy providers, and construction companies that have to build new plants to support the EV industry.

Consider the Real-World Implications

Digital transformation for utility companies means focusing on reducing costs, improving infrastructure and services, and enhancing the customer interaction experience; however, it must balance that with real-world implications.

One client shared a story of their rural-based utility customers. He mentioned a power outage on a very cold winter day. The temperature was low enough to be life-threatening if power wasn’t restored quickly. Their business got a wakeup call that day. They were reminded that when these specific rural customers lost power, they also lost access to the internet. They couldn’t check the status online with an AI chatbot or view an email regarding the service outage. In this case, they needed the option to make a phone call on their landline and speak to a human in a call center to get support. Fortunately, they were staffed to handle the challenge and dispatch service crews promptly.

Empathy Is Essential

As the push to increase efficiency, scale faster, and optimize processes, the employee end user and customer may require additional training and support to adapt and embrace these changes. Concepts and terminology that we may take for granted in the IT field have yet to reach all those whom the advancements in AI will impact.

As long as there is sensitivity and empathy for the learning curve required for employees, contractors, and customers, then all industries will be able to embrace the changes propagated down from the investments made by utility companies to transform their operations.

Kimberley Reid is VP of Digital Enterprise, SAP Solutions for Hitachi Vantara. She continues her people focused commentaries for ASUG Executive Exchange. Reid draws on everyday technology, project, people, and leadership experiences of her career. She plans a forthcoming book based on these experiences and reflections.

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