Unexpectedly I was blown away by the outcomes at the WSAA Towards the Digital Utility Conference last week. Now I know what you are thinking – a techno geek gets to see the latest bright and shiny new technologies, and now wants to tell us about them, yawn! Well you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes the conference had its beginnings in technology, being started by the WSAA Metering Network three years ago in response to the sheer pace of change in the smart metering space. To address this challenge the Network thought it would be a good idea to get the technology suppliers and consultants together with water utility people to showcase the latest advances and share how people built up the business case. Prove that smart meters were more than a solution waiting for the right problem.
Haven’t we come a long way in three years! A number of presenters were talking about smart utilities as representing a transformational change for the industry. The discussion often came back to customers, particularly providing ‘delight’ to customers as being the focus of the digital utility. To understand how to delight a customer you need to sit down with them and have a conversation about key decisions you want their input on, particularly around design and investment. This is going to be more important into the future with increasing ‘social democratisation’ – our ability share our opinions online to influence outcomes. Empowering customers to make these decisions is becoming a highly effective mechanism for innovation and driving efficiency.
Stemming from the customer engagement comes opportunities to better shape our regulatory environment to be more about outcomes. How can we do this in a way that provides better outcomes for customers through greater options for innovation, including around pricing to drive efficiency.
To get the most from being in the digital space, utilities need to ensure that any smart utility approach aligns with the organisational strategy. Lessons from organisations that are in the process of moving towards a fully digital utility indicate there are significant implications for all parts of the business if you want to get the most effective outcomes. Particularly around business structure to allow cross business communications to best harness the information being produced.
Supporting the business structure must be the right culture. This speaks to the people and their capabilities within the organisation. A critical thing here was that although there are likely to be some new skill sets required, the technology is now getting to a stage where we should be able to work with many of the competencies and skills available and adapt these to meet the new challenges.
I came away from the conference thinking that we are on the verge of a significant redefinition of water businesses around becoming ‘smart’. Able to harness the improved ways of collecting and shaping data into information across and potentially between water utilities (and other sectors), such that we provide a more optimum experience for customers. Hopefully moving to the point where we will be able to ‘delight’ them by doing things such a predicting failures before they become an inconvenience, in addition to the great customer service many of our operators and call centres already provide.
All of the presentations from the conference have been recorded and a copy of the slides will available next week. If you registered for the conference these are complimentary, if not they can be obtained for a nominal fee by contacting Kristy Drzewucki.