David B. Cox, North American Head Energy and Utilities Consulting, Cognizant
Data modernization can either be a strength of an organization, driving growth, or its weakness, hindering innovation.
Utility companies are gathering data at unprecedented levels due to investments in new technologies, yet research shows that only 30 percent of these companies currently have a digital roadmap on how to leverage this information. Where digital maturity is concerned, the utilities industry lags well behind other industries.
Utility companies are under pressure from customers and government regulations to reduce costs and improve operations. Without data modernization, a modern architecture, strong management and a data governance foundation, utilities will struggle to layer on advanced capabilities or implement emerging technology.
Research shows that almost 60 percent of utility companies plan to increase their digital budgets, shifting their focus to data modernization, AI, and drones. While it is common for utility companies to invest in customer information systems or enterprise software, many don’t understand how to reap the intended benefits from these investments. Technology systems at many of these utility companies are siloed, and so are the people who manage the flow of data. Processes are not set up and therefore data is not easily shared among employees or IT systems, which only compounds the issue. Even after companies have implemented the right systems, they are overwhelmed on how to extract the data and derive maximum value from the information.
A top-down, business-driven, analytics-based approach that focuses on a utility’s core operations is critical for success. Developing key performance indicators (KPIs) and dashboards, often with the help of a third-party, can help utility companies undergo a cultural and digital transformation.
In order to advance their digital maturity, certain steps should be taken:
• Focus on processes, not technology. Taking a process-first approach provides needed context for technology investments. The best place to start is not “which technology to use” but how transactions should be conducted in the business based on changes in the marketplace and whether current processes are supporting them.
• Prepare a digital roadmap. It’s essential to develop a strategy that outlines which digital investments will be prioritized over time. Doing so enables companies to present a structured view of what they intend to implement and the outcomes.
• Keep cybersecurity risks in perspective. It’s vital for companies to go outside their comfort zones. By focusing on which processes would benefit most from a digital upgrade, decision-makers have a better view and can make more informed decisions while minimizing security gaps.
Data is, in fact, a hidden advantage that legacy companies have against their digital-native competitors. Finding, managing, and using existing market and customer data – in an ethical and transparent way – is paramount to success. Using data will help utility companies create new revenue streams and business models. It’s also the foundation for strategies pertaining to predictive maintenance of energy assets and anticipating customer needs.
This shift, from a reactive to a proactive business model, driven by data, will define the industry leaders of tomorrow. Utilities that invest in data and technology, and manage it effectively, will thrive, while those that do not will struggle to survive.