Whether you want to ensure business continuity or improve your customer experience (CX), these are the technologies that we think will dominate the board room meetings and budgets of energy and utility providers in 2021.
Looking back at 2020 objectively, here's what we can see:
- UK demand for electricity dropped by as much as 18% in 2020, with the most significant drops coinciding with the strictest lockdown measures;
- 40% of CX leaders exceeded their targets in 2019, compared with just 13% of their mainstream competitors - a similar trend expected to show by the end of 2020;
- 33,750 surveyed consumers have said that digital channels would be their primary way of contacting brands in the future;
- Consumer use of digital contact channels to interact with brands (like social media and messenger apps) has increased by 10% in 2020, alongside a 6% growth in website engagement.
There is a lot to unpack from the above, but there are also clear insights that we can use to predict the 2021 technology trends for the energy and utility sector.
Insight 1: Organisations that invest in relationship-building technologies out-perform their peers
As found in KPMG's November 2020 COVID-19 Pulse Survey, value for money is a consumers biggest concern when making any purchase decision, no matter which sector they're buying in.
In our recently published Technology Strategy Guide, we found that a similar trend emerged during the 2008 recession. Based on this, our guide highlights two technologies that would help energy and utility providers to build better relationships with their customers during this pandemic.
Value for money includes convenience, which is why an increasing majority of touchpoints between organisations and their customers are digital. With so many creative digital experiences on offer, consumer tolerance for clunky, impersonal or frustrating experiences is falling.
Responsive technology trend: Remote Team Optimisation
A priority for energy and utility suppliers in 2021 will be to ensure their staff are fully productive – not held back by out of date systems and counterintuitive processes, but able to provide the best possible CX through digital channels.
Suppliers can achieve this with larger platform or hardware projects, but the optimisation process doesn't need to be so substantial.
This can be as broad as helping individual users to personalise their digital workspace for a better user experience and more efficiency.
Software solutions like Dell Optimizer use artificial intelligence to understand and respond to the way that users work. After learning which applications they use most often, Dell Optimizer automatically boosts their launch times, improves performance and makes switching between these applications seamless.
By providing solutions that enable flexibility and location neutrality, suppliers will give their teams the tools to deliver a quality service wherever they are.
Insight 2: More competition between suppliers for less demand
Although the University of Oxford has announced its promising vaccine, this report by the Royal Society of Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics suggests that it will be some time before life in the UK returns to normal.
Suppose the government reintroduces stricter regulations in 2021, as it seems they might. In that case, the entire energy sector will feel the effects of higher competition for lower demand.
To prepare, suppliers will want to invest in risk reduction. Specifically, we imagine that many will be looking at the recent £20m fine that the Information Commissioners Office issued to British Airways for a data breach caused by a cyberattack.
While competition is fierce in the market, a fine of a similar size could be difficult for some energy or utility suppliers to recover from. Because of this, we imagine that cybersecurity will be a priority for many in the sector. If not, there's evidence to suggest that it should be.
In their 2020 Cyber Readiness Report, Hiscox found that the financial cost of cyber attacks had increased thirty-fold for energy companies in the past 12 months.
Hiscox concludes that this is because cybercriminals see energy as an increasingly easy and profitable target, with 'low maturity in cyber resilience'. COVID-19 is a factor here too, as 93% of surveyed IT leaders have reported falling victim to pandemic-related malware.
Responsive technology trend: Intelligent Cybersecurity
The solution is to identify any vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit to access sensitive data and plan accordingly.
Not sure where to begin? We recommend starting with an assessment of the following three areas in your organisation:
How well informed are your staff on cybersecurity? As confirmed by the founder of the 'hacktivist' group Anonymous during a recent Reddit Q&A, weak and reused passwords are one of the main tools that cybercriminals exploit to gain access to restricted information. Do your team know how to create a strong password, and that they shouldn't use the same password twice?
If not, additional training is essential.
Your cybersecurity process
Your cybersecurity is only as good as your team's ability to respond to incidents. Do your IT team know how to react effectively to different types of breaches? If not, training and process mapping should be a priority.
Your cybersecurity platform
In their 2020 Cyber Security Breaches Survey, the government found that 63% of UK companies relied on staff to identify their last major security breach. Attackers can easily exploit a vulnerability like this by targeting organisations during out-of-office hours to remain undetected for longer. Do you have an intelligent security monitoring system in place to maintain your cybersecurity 24/7?
If not, solutions like SecureWorks are worth exploring. Their Red Cloak™ Threat Detection and Response software is built to make cybersecurity manageable for teams of any size and to ensure that both employees and customers feel safe and secure while sharing information.
With it, users can automate responses to common threats to reduce security workloads, and take advantage of built-in analytics and threat intelligence to only receive alerts when human intervention is required.
You can also build on your cybersecurity by integrating specialised solutions like VMWare Carbon Black, which proactively uncovers attackers’ behaviour patterns (by analysing over 1 trillion security events per day) to detect and stop attacks as they emerge.
If this process looks intimidating, you can book a free consultation with one of our cybersecurity specialists who will help you map your organisational maturity across each of the above three areas.
By understanding any vulnerabilities, you can start securing your business against future threats.
Insight 3: Digital engagement is on the rise
More than thirty thousand consumers have said that they prioritise ease of buying when making a purchase decision during the pandemic, which is strongly associated with a rise in digital engagement.
In their 2020 Consumer Pulse Survey, KPMG concludes that this is because consumers are motivated by the convenience of home delivery and the desire to avoid any face-to-face interactions where consumers might risk infection.
Although this is creating a surge in the use of digital contact channels, they aren't a permanent solution for the energy and utility sector.
As found in the 2019 government report on the UK' Poverty Premium', as many as 1.2 million UK households are paying more than they need to for energy and utilities.
Studies by the Department of Work & Pensions and the University of Bristol show that a contributing factor is that these households lack 'gateway products' - like a computer or reliable internet access - which are necessary for finding other service providers or better prices. This is a vast market that energy and utility suppliers aren't able to engage with currently.
When lockdown measures ease, these same suppliers will want to re-engage this market as quickly as possible to make them aware of lower-cost alternatives to their energy needs.
Transparent processes around personal safety will be essential for reassuring potential customers in those interactions which, by nature, will need to be face-to-face.
Responsive technology trend: On-site Health Monitoring
Organisations with physical premises will need to rethink their buildings by:
- creating space for social distancing,
- completing risk assessments, and;
- ensuring safe operations through data driven-governance.
For organisations that need to coordinate their door-to-door sales activity from a physical location, this means regularly testing their staff to eliminate any risk of spreading infection.
We predict that many businesses will adopt on-site assessment and monitoring technology to create a secure environment for employees and reassure customers. Dell's IntelliSite Thermal Vision and Detection Solution, for instance, is an innovative technology that we predict will become more commonplace in 2021.
Using thermal cameras and AI, IntelliSite can detect temperature variations in the workplace and create automatic alerts when it detects potential infections.
Digital transformation in the utilities industry
Remote working, safe workplaces and cybersecurity are trends that will shape the next year – and even the next decade – for the energy and utilities sectors.
While the challenges we are facing today are unique, massive disruptions in our recent past provide useful lessons as we begin to navigate the uncertain landscape before us.
In our latest Technology Strategy Guide for the Energy and Utility Sector, we analyse the response to disruptive events such as the 2008 financial crash and 2011 Thailand floods and highlight the factors that turn outlier events into growth opportunities.
Doing so, we explain how the energy and utility sector can leverage new technology to provide unique and better services to their customers.