[Editors note - May 2021 update]
With eased restrictions rapidly changing work in the energy and utilities sector, it felt right to revisit this article and update it based on new data.
6 months into 2021 and we're pleased (and sad) to see that many of our insights are proving true.
- Digital channels are fast becoming the most popular way for consumers to interact with brands.
- The industry is growing more competitive.
- Cybersecurity is an increasing concern in the sector (exacerbated by the most significant national infrastructure attack in US history in early May 2021).
Where we've been pleasantly surprised is which technologies have emerged to solve new challenges. Supported by 5G, cloud computing, industrial wearables and office automation have become hugely popular in the last 6 months.
Read the article below to learn more:
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: High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
Based on this 2021 Microsoft survey of 31,000 workers, high productivity from remote work is masking how close our workforce is to burnout.
A big part of the problem? Digital intensity. Here's a snapshot of how busy our digital working lives are compared with 2020:
Insights available through Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index survey, available here.
Although we haven't quite reached a national burnout crisis, growing digital pressures could lead to dropped productivity, disengagement, and high turnover if unchecked.
Responsive technology trend: Hybrid work and cloud computing
The pressures of a high workload affect people differently - some crave more in-person time with their teams whereas others might want a quiet space to focus.
To support colleagues in managing their workload and mental wellbeing individually, employers need to invest in workspaces that encourage flexibility.
Employers are already taking note, with 66% of surveyed decision-makers considering an office redesign to accommodate hybrid work better. That said, office space isn't limited to the office.
Through 5G, and cloud computing solutions like Modern Desktop on Demand, leaders can equip all workers with the tools they need to stay productive wherever they are.
That could be working from home, the field, the office, or wherever they work best.
Insight 2: Digital engagement is on the rise, and customer experience is king
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: Office Automation
To provide the best possible CX through digital channels, energy and utility companies must focus on two things:
- Personalisation: With personalised services, companies are remarketing themselves as 'meeting needs' and not 'pushing products'. In an industry as competitive as energy and utilities, where customers can change suppliers effortlessly, personalisation is vital for building customer loyalty and retention.
- Efficiency: Based on this 2021 survey of 28,000 consumers, people would choose a simple and efficient customer journey over a low service price. As people spend more time online, tolerance for clunky, outdated digital experiences has all but vanished. If you can make things easy for customers, you'll keep them around for years to come.
Office Automation technologies, like Robotic Process Automation, can help achieve both. Here are three ways that energy and utility companies are personalising their services and making them more efficient for customers:
- Meter Reading Validation – Like we know, utility companies need a meter reading before they can bill a customer for usage. Unless they have a smart meter, the occupant will take a measure manually and its not unusual to make a mistake that leads to an incorrect bill. With RPA, companies can validate meter readings automatically and flag the customer to let them know something is wrong. This small intervention is helping companies cut complaint volumes and offer a better customer experience.
- Unique insights – Using data automation to create personalised dashboards and make digital insights available to customers, energy and utility companies are building better customer relationships. In an increasingly competitive sector, it pays to offer personalised value at every touchpoint so that companies can reinvent their transactional relationship with customers and build brand loyalty.
- New Account Setup – As a rule-based process, RPA is perfect for speeding up the account opening process and helping customers get things right first time. If there is any issue, the software flags it to an employee who then resolves it. By reducing errors like wrong information or checking for duplicate accounts, RPA can make new customer acquisition frictionless.
Insight 3: The Great Crew Change
Most large companies in the sector acknowledge that up to 50% of their engineering workforce will retire soon, taking essential skills and decades of experience with them. Depending on who you ask, the change is either due in the next few years, or it's happened already.
Regardless, the sector will feel the impact for years to come. New hires have a ton to learn, and the growing push for green energy is making their work more complex.
The challenge is to make it through this adjustment while:
- Preserving the best elements of a business.
- Paving the way for innovation.
To be successful, organisations need to facilitate a solid skills transfer and find new ways to support inexperienced field workers with essential maintenance.
Responsive technology trend: Industrial Wearables
Valued at $1.64 billion in 2018, the industrial wearables market wasn't a tiny industry before 2021. Still, bolstered by the rollout of 5G and social distancing, the market value is set to double by 2024.
What are industrial wearables?
Industrial wearables are an increasingly popular branch of smart device used to enhance frontline workers in the energy, utilities, oil, manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
Built rugged and designed for hands-free use, these gadgets are built with practical fieldwork in mind.
The industrial wearable that has us most excited are RealWear Head-Mounted tablets.
Coupled with 5G cloud computing, technicians can use them to record their work for quality assessments, video-call remote colleagues for real-time advice, and use integrated AR apps to reference technical documents on the go.
In a nutshell, they can take decades of expertise with them everywhere they go and be much more dynamic in the field.
Insight 4: More competition between suppliers for less demand
Given the 2021 US Colonial pipeline hack, we imagine 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.
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.