The UK has seen huge swathes of change in recent years, driven, in part, by the disruptive force of technology. With every sector undergoing change, utilities has certainly felt the impact of transformational technology – whether it is the development of smart meters or customer service chatbots.
But to what extent? And how do people and those in the industry feel about the changes that technology is bringing to the industry?
To understand this, we recently spoke with 2,145 consumers and 647 business leaders, with 67 from Utilities, as part of our new Transforming Britain Report.
Supercharged confidence in technology
At the highest level, there is huge confidence in the power of technology. The findings of the research revealed that 7-in-10 utilities leaders believe technology is helping Britain overcome the socioeconomic issues it faces today.
Adding to this, 94 percent of leaders in the sector agree technology is driving change in their organisations, with 84 percent stating they are positive about that change. With this in mind, technology can clearly be viewed as a transformational force being embraced by the vast majority of business leaders within the sector.
Exploring why technology is being cited in such positive ways, the regulatory context is worth considering here. More than most other sectors, utilities companies find themselves experiencing ongoing pressure around operational performance and service delivery, as well as cost restraints. This has instinctively pushed companies down a path of innovation to secure their futures – and technology naturally sits at the heart of this.
And why not? It’s already having a big impact on the way the industry works.
Technology powering change
When asked to rank the top benefits of that technology has brought to the sector, utilities leaders point to improving operational efficiency (48 percent), boosting employee productivity (41 percent) and bringing new products/services to market more quickly.
We see this happening each and every day. Take operational efficiency as an example; once upon a time you might have had a huge team of engineers out in the field to monitor equipment, infrastructure and facilities. This might have been to check for degradation, a response to a fault or even vandalism.
Today, we have technology that completely streamlines this. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can share real time information about the status of equipment, preventing the need to have a team of roaming engineers to monitor.
In fact, IoT not only reduces the burden on the engineers, but enables predictive maintenance. This means addressing potential faults in systems – identifying by the IoT sensors – and improve quality and reliability of service.
More innovation to come
The utilities sector is also one of the most forward-looking when it comes to technology adoption. When asked which technologies would be implemented in the next 12 months, utilities leaders pointed to the Internet of Things (IoT) (42 percent), wearables (40 percent) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) (40 percent).
The breadth of innovation that such technologies present is truly remarkable.
Wearables can help make dangerous jobs far safer. There can be a reluctance when it comes to adoption, with some workers seeing such devices as feeling quite Big Brother. But when implemented properly, where users are empowered by technology to operate more safely and effectively, the value is clear.
The way that AI is being fused with Mixed Reality (MR) headsets is presenting entirely new ways of working. With the right information available wearing an MR headset, an engineer can do their job more effectively and more accurately. With the wrong information, or with it presented in an unhelpful way, the technology can be less efficient and potentially contribute to dangerous results.
The consumer benefits
Despite the impact that technology has made in the sector – whether enabling smart homes or predictive maintenance – just 53 percent of the public agree that utilities have been dramatically been changed by technology.
Perhaps this is testament to the quality of utilities’ services in the UK. As long as the water runs or and the electricity flows, the average consumer may not think about what’s happening behind the curtain.
But changes are coming for the consumer. Smart meters are now the norm – allowing people to take more control of their energy consumption. And online chatbots are, when done properly, helping improve customer experience.
An exciting area to see develop is the use of voice. Voice assistants were a huge success in 2017, with services like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, and with continued popularity, there is an opportunity for service providers to use voice a new platform to engage with their customers.
Focusing on long-term success
While the public may not believe the sector is seeing much with technology, it is extremely encouraging to see the sector leaders be so forward-thinking in their approach to digital transformation.
There is a clear recognition among utilities leaders that – as technology has been embraced in infrastructure, management and customer engagement – it has had a huge impact on the sector.
It must not stop here, however, so the sector should be pleased with the continued technology-driven approach it is taking with new services – such as IoT and AI. To ensure these make a real difference, utilities companies must invest in technology and people to build a strong platform for long-term success.